IN JANUARY 2017, LISA TOOK PART IN THE MAASAI CYCLE CHALLENGE IN KENYA, CYCLING 150KM WITH COMBINED INCLINES HIGHER THAN MOUNT KILIMANJARO! SHE WROTE THIS BLOG AS A THANKS TO ALL HER SPONSORS FOR THEIR SUPPORT, AND WE THINK IT DESCRIBES PRETTY WELL WHAT AN AMAZING, BUT TOUGH, CHALLENGE IT IS!
I’ve just come back from one of the most fascinating places on Earth that I’ve ever visited, Maasailand in Kenya. And YOU helped make it happen!
Over the past 10 days I had the unique privilege to get completely immersed in the culture of one of the most iconic African tribes, the Maasai. As you know, I took part in a cycle challenge in the Maasailand for British charity COCO. Thanks to your support, I joined 10 other cyclists (6 women / 4 men – all between 30-45 y.o; no one particularly amazing at cycling thankfully!) from the UK in this crazy adventure. During the 4-day cycle challenge, we were assisted by a fantastic team consisting of John Blissett, a Brit who was born and raised in Kenya and whose knowledge of the country and the Maasai is just phenomenal, and his 5 staff who were all Kenyans (2 drivers, 1 chef, 1 sous-chef and 1 bike mechanic), including Chief Moses, a Maasai chief full of generosity, humour and a man who killed a lion with a spear before he became a chief !!!! I’m pretty proud to count him as part of my friends and of phone contacts now, it feels pretty special to get Whatsapp texts from Chief Moses I must say 😀
The cycling part was extremely hard, we were cycling at an average speed of 10 km/h, on rocky roads (no tarmac was to be seen for 6 days), there were a lot of hills, up and down, on rough terrain. It was 35 degrees by noon every day. We ‘only’ cycled 150km over 4 days, but boy was it bloody hard!!! Every day we cycled from one village to another and we set up our tents on arrival. We ate delicious food every day, prepared by the chef Gideon, ranging from fish stew to goat BBQ, all served with crunchy vegetables. If you’d seen the conditions he cooked in and the equipment he used, you’d have been very impressed! We met locals at each village and throughout the cycle, when we stopped by the road to hand out treats to young kids or when had a chat (or tried to, using some sort of sign language) with adults in small villages. We were in such remote places that most people, young or old, had NEVER seen white people (“mzungu”). We got to learn a lot about the Maasai, about their relationship to their precious land, the wildlife, their traditions.
More importantly, as a team we cycled to the Maasai Academy, a primary school located in a very remote area of Maasailand and supported by the great work of the COCO team. When we arrived at the school on our bikes, we got the most amazing welcome from the kids, parents, school staff and community representatives. You can view our arrival in this video. I cried my eyes out as we entered the school grounds, and I still feel emotional thinking about this wonderful welcome.
Your support has enabled the Maasai Academy to expand and we opened a new classroom there a few days ago. With one more classroom left to be built, the school will soon be a complete primary school, able to educate children of all ages. The school committee has many other plans though: build a library/computer room to enable everyone in the community to learn computer skills and get access to books, become a boarding school, to ensure young girls don’t get dropped out of school once they reach the (far too young) legal age of marriage. It was very humbling to learn about how the school started and to see what amazing work has been done so far thanks to the support of generous donors like yourselves. It’s even more exciting to see the passion and dedication local people put in it to ensure their children get access to a decent education. Going to school and being able to learn is something no one should ever take for granted.
So many more amazing things happened on this safari (Swahili for “journey”). I can’t list them here but I will never forget any of them and I hope I get the opportunity to share some of them with you in person. I want to take this opportunity to thank you once again for your invaluable support, I can tell you that everyone at the school is incredibly grateful too.
After the last cycling day, we parted ways and a group of 6 of us went to the Maasai Mara area where we did a 3-day safari with John and his team. This was also one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. Thanks to John and Chief Moses’ experience and knowledge of animal behaviour, we were able to spot so many animals and witness crazy scenes from very close: a couple of lions mating (it literally lasts for about 10 seconds – but they generally do it every 20 minutes!!), 3 lions trying to hunt wildebeest and impalas, and also a family of lions eating a wildebeest they’d just killed, and the male lion pulled out a baby wildebeest from its inside… Such is the circle of life in the wild unfortunately. This family was soon joined by 7 other lions, and so we were standing in the car just a few meters away from 11 lions, while a buffalo was staring at them nearby and an elephant was grabbing tree branches in a river at the back – 3 of the Big 5 in one same spot is something very special! We also saw hippos, impalas, cheetahs, eagles, baboons, giraffes, hyenas and many more! And again thanks to Moses and John we managed to spot a female leopard and her cub. Leopards are extremely hard to spot as they are nocturnal animals, so this was also very special.
If you’ve managed to read this email up until here, well done, I hope I haven’t bored you too much and that you've enjoyed hearing about this wonderful trip in the Kenyan Maasailand, an enchanting place I will never forget and I hope to visit again soon. In the meantime I try to put the Hakuna Matata (“no worries”) mantra in practice back in London…