The contrast between the cold gusty winds that saw me on my way from the UK and the peace and tranquility of Wildebeest Camp in Nairobi are clear on this hot January day. It is great to be back in Kenya and I am delighted that I will be joined by our ever generous film maker, Kat, who has generously given up a week of her life to come and film COCO’s projects, not to mention our Chairman and founder who has kindly agreed to journey to remote villages before he is required at the athletes camp in Iten in the cool North of the country.
My arrival in Nairobi was different this year as I was asked to stop to be scanned for Ebola, the screen above me showed my body temperature and fortunately I was given the all clear. As usual baggage took a while but all in all a decent transition, until the 1 hour wait for a driver who was caught up in increased security measures due to recent events in Paris. The normal half hour journey took two and a half while each car leaving the airport was checked and scrutinised by the Kenyan police. These global events are clearly causing great concern in Kenya and I am not surprised that they are being cautious with tourism already suffering due to their own problems with what some are calling civil war and others dismissing as nothing more than tribal differences that have only recently been highlighted in the worlds media.
I for one am glad to see that Wildebeest Camp is busy with backpackers, honeymooners and retired couples set to enjoy the wildlife and adventure that this incredible country has to offer. I truly hope that peace in this country can prevail not only for many of COCO’s friends and beneficiaries but also to enable those who have not had the privilege to visit this great country to do so.
Steve, Kat and I are delighted that we have managed to avoid the 8 hour road journey to Olorte through the generosity of Mission Aviation who have significantly subsidised the cost of a small aircraft to take us from Nairobi to one of the most remote Maasai communities in the world. I was last in Olorte this time last year but in very different circumstances, cycling across Maasai Land with 13 other wonderful COCO supporters to raise funds for a community who have until now, received little assistance to enable them to access education.
The flight is one of the most incredible experiences, seeing the Rift Valley from the air is something that will stay with me forever. This vast country looks bigger than ever from the window of the 5 seater plane which is full with the three of us, the pilot, Daniel and Katie who is writing a story about MAF and chose to come and see the work we are doing. Steve obviously takes the front seat, using his long legs as justification for pride of place. I am pleased to be sat next to Kat, we have been through many an adventure over the years and I suspect this one will be no different. I am proved right when a few minutes into the flight, she is asleep and missing the views of Maasai settlements, waterfalls, impala and the mountainous landscape of the Rift Valley. Gazing out of the window, I have never felt so small and insignificant.
On the approach to the runway, which is marked out in white stones on top of a hill in the heart of Maasai Land, the pilot has to circle a couple of times to ensure there are no obstructions and to plan his landing, we are told later that this is the most challenging landing strip in the country if not the continent!
A safe but bumpy landing takes us to Hennie Marais and his two lovely children Caleb and Taliah who are waiting for us. We stay to watch the pilot take off (along with several local people and their families for whom this is a fairly rare sight to behold). It’s second time lucky for Daniel who finally takes off despite the rising wind and altitude.
All of the excitement is too much for Caleb who falls and cuts his leg so we head to Olorte via the local hospital. There is very little in the way of health care provision in this area and it is only thanks to a doctor from Sweden that this small hospital has been established. We take a look around while Caleb is being fixed up and we are shown the maternity ward and delivery room which has proved to be very important for the number of Maasai women who give birth and suffer complications due to FGM, a practice which despite being illegal in Kenya is still very much a part of Maasai tradition and culture in this area.
Once Caleb is fixed up, we make our way to the home of Hennie and Becca and are welcomed with soup, homemade bread and fresh coffee. Once our batteries are recharged, we will make our way to Maasai Academy…