There was some debate before the tournament as to how to split up the Nairobi players. This wasn’t an issue ahead of the Seven Hills Classic in Uganda last year because we did not even have enough players to field a complete Nairobi team and wound up joining forces with players from other regions of the country just to be able to cobble together one joint Kenya team. By contrast, there were three dozen people from Nairobi at FEAST, enough for three teams. A few people wanted to have an A-team that would be able to compete with the Ugandans, who have the best team in the East Africa region, but they represented the minority view.
Since joining the ultimate frisbee scene in Nairobi, we had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the long Easter weekend. Each of the last four years, Nairobi ultimate players have organized FEAST, the Frisbee East Africa Sand Tournament, taking over the public beach at Tiwi for a weekend of ultimate competition, the intensity of which is only matched by the party that follows. This year, we had twelve teams, including three from Tanzania, one from Uganda, another from the newly formed Republic of South Sudan, and a joint Rwanda – Ethiopia team that went by the name Ethiowanda. We also had six teams from all over Kenya, including three from Nairobi and one team composed of Peace Corps Volunteers.
After holding out for the better part of ten months, S finally gave in and decided to hire a cook. It was a difficult step to take – not just because S loves to cook, but also because she is particular about her food. For instance, she usually scans her favorite recipe blogs before going grocery shopping so that she can prepare specific dishes during the course of the week. It was, however, a necessary step. In contrast to her previous job at the Embassy, S now has to contend with massive traffic jams during her commute to work downtown. She found that there literally were not enough hours in the day for her to work, study Russian, and also cook.
For big game lovers, Loisaba holds out the tantalizing promise of near certain success. Because of its sizable small and medium antelope population (impalas, dik diks), the hillsides of Loisaba’s gorges are inhabited by leopards. One can also descend to the plains below the escarpment, where the larger ruminants roam, drawing lions. Best of all, this private game sanctuary has figured out how to stack the deck in its guests’ favor to maximize their chances of seeing the big cats.
After two days in Ol Pejeta, at the southern end of the Laikipia plateau, we left the well-traveled path for a 61,000-acre private ranch and game sanctuary in the northernmost part of the plateau. There was some apprehension emanating from the backseat as we left the tarmac and jostled along rocky back roads bereft of any signposts. Luckily, we were equipped with four pages of detailed directions that included diagrams and symbols to help us navigate the many unmarked intersections we passed en route to the Loisaba Wilderness Lodge. The directions also included mileage markers that were meant to help us anticipate landmarks. Unfortunately, these were less than helpful as our odometer clocked 20 km less than the directions had indicated by the time we arrived.
One of the draws of Ol Pejeta is the Sweetwaters chimpanzee sanctuary, the only place in Kenya where one can see these primates. Like the Ngamba Island sanctuary we visited in Uganda, Ol Pejeta hosts over forty orphaned chimps that had been rescued throughout Africa. Hunted for bushmeat or trapped for sale, chimpanzees are an endangered species, their survival further imperiled by human encroachment on their natural habitats.
After climbing Mt. Kenya, it made sense to choose a safari destination near the mountain, so we decided to explore the Laikipia plateau, which has become a highland haven for rhinos and elephants after the establishment of various conservancies to protect these animals from poaching. We spent two nights at the porini camp inside the Ol Pejeta Conservancy near Nanyuki before traversing the plateau to spend the last two nights of our travels at the secluded Loisaba Wilderness lodge. We saw a lioness on our way into the park, but that was the only cat we’d see in two days of cruising all over Ol Pejeta. Instead, this turned out to be a canine safari.
Hands down the worst part of mountaneering is that one invariably has to get up in the middle of the night to summit. Groggy and cold, the last thing one’s body wants to do is abandon the cozy warmth of the sleeping bag to trudge up a steep hill in pitch-black darkness. Fortunately, this sacrifice is frequently rewarded with breath-taking views as soon as the sun rises – panoramas that few are fortunate to see firsthand.
With a long day behind us and another ahead of us, our third day on the mountain was designated for rest, recuperation, and acclimatization. We slept in and were greeted by a gorgeous blue sky and a blinding sun, whose dazzling rays gamboled among the crags of Batian, reflecting off the patches of ice and snow that had nestled in its crevices. The porters had set a breakfast table outdoors and we lingered after finishing our meal, staring in awe at the mountain we had come to climb.