The first of my travel lessons this past year was in cultural tourism. I also increased the number of destinations which opened my eyes to other dimensions of life.
I visited various cultures to understand their way of life – way different than mine. I toured Samburu. They welcomed us with a dance from the young men, singing in a tight circle, flipping their hairs from side to side as they jump-stepped forward, then the women, donned in colorful multi-stringed, beaded necklaces and bracelets followed urging us on to join in.
Together with the Maasai and the Turkana, the Samburu are some of the few African tribes to remain authentic to their traditional way of life. For instance, they are still nomads moving from one place to another in search of pasture, something that I feel should change. So much do they value this way of life that some parents opt not to take their boys to school and make them spend their lives taking care of livestock. They also practice polygamy as a man’s worth is measured by the number of women he can sustain and the amount of cattle he has.
According to history, the Samburu migrated from Sudan and settled north of Mount Kenya and south of Lake Turkana in the Rift Valley province of Kenya. They are similar to the Maasai both belonging to the Maa speaking group of people. Despite their shared vocabulary, the Samburu are distinguished by their speech’s speed, which is faster than the Maasai’s.
In another trip, I got to experience the Yaaku and their relatives, the Ilchamus. They two can be said to be the cousins of the Masaais and the struggle for land resources as well as the different cultures between the two made them settle in a different area. The Ilchamus settled around Lake Baringo for their love for fish, something which the Samburus consider as taboo.
Travelling made me grateful of the modern life I have, because I didn’t struggle to get an education, or have to fight female genital mutilation, or have to get married to an old man at a young age. One thing I have changed, is my habit of bargaining. Locals in cash they earn from visitors, to support their families and it takes a long time before they see tourists who can buy their products. In addition to supporting the people you visit, why not deepen the connection by learning a few basics like how to say hi or thank you.
The ongoing efforts of conservation in Laikipia County marked the climax of my travels last year. Everywhere there is human – wildlife conflict as we encroach their habitats and most rural areas, use the make them our own.
I got to go on a game drive with the lionscape rangers and learn about how they are preserving the number of lions in the area. Laikipia’s lion population is the third in the country. Lion population is decreasing because livestock owners kill them when they attack their cattle. Currently, there are around 20,000 lions present in the country and their loss disturbs the food chain. Laikipia comprises of large privately owned ranches as well as cattle based bomas. 70% of wildlife which lives outside government protected areas are not safeguarded by Kenya Wildlife Services. So organizations like these assist in solving this issue. It was interesting just being with the rangers and hearing their stories on how they educate the communities on the significance of preserving the lions. The lions have a tracking collar which assists the rangers in tracking where they are and alert the bomas whenever the lions pose any danger. If a collar lion crosses the boundaries, they get a notification via text that there is trouble coming.
I had a similar experience at Lewa conservancy. This place was sentimental to me because a year earlier, Anthony Bourdain, my all-time favorite travel film maker, had visited the place. The late Anthony Bourdain was an American celebrity chef and a gifted travel documentarian who focused on culture and people. I loved how he incorporated people in his travels and how he blended with every race, faith, culture bringing out their stories, helping us understand the wider mission in travels. He made me grasp the true meaning of travel that it’s not just about where you’ve been to but mingling with the people, trying out their experiences, understanding regions from their perspectives and what they go through. It’s so unfortunate that after all that he taught us, Anthony apparently ended his own life in a hotel room after shooting one of his episodes: “Parts Unknown”.
We spent some time following a herd of elephants, taking photos, enjoying a breath of fresh air. Compared to the elephants at the Tsavo National Park, I found these ones, enjoying their acacia leaves, to be relatively calm. Historically, the Tsavo elephants are wild because of their experiences with poachers who for the demand of their ivory has made them defensive. They have also experienced human wildlife conflicts, some communities kill them as a way of defending themselves and their crops. At Lewa, they are protected and I believe this sense of safety makes them friendly to visitors.
One important thing about elephants is that they are sensitive to noise and dangerous when alarmed. Never shout when they come near, nor make disturbing noises and approach carefully, when taking photos.
The Lewa marathon, based in Laikipia county, funds a few projects like the Tsavo Trust, Grevy’s Zebra Trust, Maa Trust as well as the Lewa clinic which offer medical care at subsidized rates for nearly one million residents. Those who can’t afford it are given medication for free and the marathon money caters for it. It made me want to be more active and participate in marathons. I learned that for me, travel is not just pleasure but also a yearning to support projects that are making an impact on local communities.
Once upon a time, Lewa was a cattle ranch and then much later, became a guarded black rhino sanctuary. This has gained it a world-wide reputation. Laikipia doesn’t have national parks, but a network of extensive privately owned lands that allow animals to roam freely. Some put water everywhere, in dams and boreholes for animals to quench their thirst in dry seasons. Other animals being conserved are the white rhino and the grevy’s zebra. Funds raised by the conservancy go towards supporting armed rangers that safeguard the wildlife.
At Olpejeta, I stayed at the bush camp and was ecstatic when I finally managed to horse-ride with the rhinos. Last year as part of an international effort to save the Northern white rhino species, scientists announced that they had succeeded in creating two embryos of the near-extinct species. The whole experience has been documented in a feature-length film dubbed KIFARU which premiered in October 2019. Scientists are now one step closer to saving the northern white rhino from complete extinction.
After a decade of traveling, my journey has just begun. Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater have been on my travel bucket list for a while. I also desire to catch a glimpse of the Murchison falls as well as Kidepo valley national park. Once done with the tours, I will be more than glad to share my experiences with all of you. Have a great travel year in 2020!