Words and Photos by Dan Goodwin
The bicycle be it a road bike or mountain bike is definitely one of the best ways to take in a country and absorb the landscape and people within it. There has been two stand out moments on a bike trip for me one was arriving in the town of Aswan in Southern Egypt having peddled from Cairo I felt I had seen and experienced more than most would of the country. The other was spending a long day peddling up the seemingly endless duel carriageway from Nairobi on which Irish Dan pictured left was knocked off his bike by a Matatu to suddenly appear on the edge of the Great Rift Valley before the long descent to Naivasha.
But now a third moment hits the ranks with a trip closer to home in Kenya guiding a group of young people from the United World College in Singapore on a trip with Rift Valley Adventures. The ride took us from Ethi, a small village in Meru County where we have our main base down from the ‘highlands’ of Kenya winding past conservancies rich with Elephant and other game onto the sprawling expanse of open plains and home to the Maasai.
Setting off early in the morning to make best use of the cool morning air we passed the forested areas close to our camp winding up through the Chumvi hills through a series of steep inclines of which the group held strong and didn’t give up. The reward for the effort was the big views gained from our ascent across the Loldaiga hills to the side and below the descent between conservancies. A large herd of Elephant could be seen beside a waterhole and numerous Masai Giraffe were along the way to distract the group from the 'odd' incline as we went.
Descending into Laikipia there is a distinct change from the more fertile lands above to a more semi-arid terrain with what many think of as the 'typical African' landscape of red earth studded with whistling thorns and other members of the Acacia. The group never complained of being tired or that the heat was building but thats the trick wth a good ride. The ever changing scenery and wildlife keeps the attention and determination to keep going on and see what lies round the corner rather than focusing on the physical effort. We continued passing small shambas and manyattas (local farmsteads) all surrounded by thorny bomas to keep the lions from devouring their cattle in the night. Although not in a conservancy and riding through community land, the wildlife is still there in good but sadly dwindling numbers. A watchful eye needs to be kept so as not to ride headlong into a group of Elephant or Buffalo!
The group passed the Ewaso Nyiro River which had some flow in it from the recent rains on Mount Kenya but overall the area is very dry and is in much need of rain which doesn't appear to be materializing very soon.
We arrived at our destination for the night at Twala camp in Il Polei, a Masai community camp set along a dry river bed or sandy lugga. Without too much fuss the group kicked into gear and set the tents and prepared the cooking area for dinner. At this point it was vegetarian pasta on the menu but the group started to realize there was more for the pot than they bargained for when a goat was walked in to join the plate...
Its often the done thing here to buy a goat and BBQ it for the evening meal but its often met with mixed feelings. With a large proportion of the world being carnivores it does no harm for people to realize that the meat they eat was at some point alive and well before winding up in bun or on a pizza. The Maasai are swift in preparing the goat with every part being put to some use and the meat BBQ's over the open fire.
The following morning there was an interesting addition to the trip with a game of cricket with the world famous Maasai Cricket Warriors on the other side of the village. We headed up to meet Sam who is the deputy Captain of the team and who has also played at the home of Cricket Lords. After a quick chat on how best to have a match, it was decided on ten Overs per team with each side a mix of Masai and our student group. Following the toss, it was off with the game.
A very friendly and enjoyable game was then played with plenty of good hits and wickets taken. There is much more to the cricket warriors than the cricket. They have used the game as a platform to build awareness of other issues effecting their community such as women's rights and a voice to speak out against female genital mutilation which is an old custom practiced by the Masai. Everyone, whether a cricketer or someone who had no knowledge of the game had a great and very unique experience.
With the biking finished it was off for some Lion tracking in Ol Pejeta Conservancy - the perfect evening activity.........This trip certainly gave me another great bike journey to add to the list. Multi day or just for a couple of hours you would be surprised at just how wild and memorable an experience you can have on the simple bicycle with a little imagination and a few strokes of the peddles.