Kenya Part III – Aberdare National Park and back to Nairobi

17 to 19 August 2015

View of Lake Naivasha

View of Lake Naivasha

The first 20 kilometres of the road from Lake Naivasha to Aberdare, was tarred. From there on we followed a gravel road taking us up to 3,100 metres above sea level. The road was winding through small farms and villages, with the biggest climb at the end near the gate to the National Park.

I’m not actually allowed to tell this, but as I always talk too much, I will (Hugo says I would spill my guts to anything that would stand still long enough, including a rock. At least I don’t need therapy then…). We also never, ever pay a bribe, not even in South Africa. But the National Parks in East Africa charge fees that make your eyes water and have you review all your principles. As this was a very small office with only one official, I took my chance when the other tourists left.

I started by telling the official that we found the prices very steep, especially as we do not earn US Dollars, the currency in which they charged. Then I told him that we are from South Africa and therefore we are fellow Africans, brothers and sisters so to speak. And there should be a special price just for African brothers and sisters…

We got US$100 discount and only paid US$164 in the end. He charged us “local” prices on the invoice, which is less than $10, so where the rest went we decided not to ask.

Gustav had to be carried to the waterfalls - he had short on and flip-flops and there were stinging nettles everywhere.

Gustav had to be carried to the waterfalls – he had shorts on and flip-flops and there were stinging nettles everywhere.

When we packed the trailer way back in January, we packed for all and any eventualities and weather conditions. From minus ten degrees Celsius to wind and rain. The minus ten degrees bedding were in a box on the roofrack, sealed. There were no way that I’m going back to South Africa just to hear Hugo tell me I packed way too much. We will use every single thing at least once, of that I’ll make sure.

Here was our chance to make use of the extra bedding and thermal underwear. The public campsite was on top of the Aberdares at 3,000 metres. Although it was almost on the equator, the height above sea level made for temperatures below freezing point. We were NOT cold that night, although we woke up to a frozen landscape. The children actually complained that they were too warm. But – mission accomplished! A week later we packed it all away again and sealed the box with silicone.

Aberdare National Park covers 767 square kilometres. Aberdare National Park splits into two different environments: the high moorland and peaks which form its bulk, and the lower Salient to the east where the vegetation is dense rainforest and there is considerably more wildlife. In order to protect the park’s wildlife , in particular its fifty-odd black rhino (one of the largest populations in Kenya), but mainly to arrest the conflict between wildlife and humans, which most visibly manifested itself in the trashing of crops and homes fringing the park by “rogue” or “rampaging” elephants, the KWS has built a 388km electric fence to encircle the national park and the forests of the Aberdare Conservation Area, with the support of Rhino Ark ( rhinoark.org ) and the annual Rhino Charge motor race .

The Aberdare range , which peaks at 4001m, is less well known than Mount Kenya. The lower, eastern slopes have long been farmed by the Kikuyu (and more recently by European tea and coffee planters), and the dense mountain forests covering the middle reaches are the habitat of leopard, buffalo, some six thousand elephants and a few small herds of critically endangered bongo antelope.

Above about 3500m, lions and other open-country animals roam the cloudy moorlands. Melanistic forms, especially of leopard, but also of serval cat and even bushbuck, are also present.

HISTORY OF THE ABERDARE RANGE

The Kikuyu called these mountains Nyandarua (“drying hide”, for their silhouette) long before Joseph Thomson, in 1884, named them after Lord Aberdare, president of the Royal Geographical Society. In their bamboo thickets and tangled forests, Kikuyu Mau Mau guerrillas hid out for years during the 1950s, living off the jungle and surviving thanks to techniques learned under British officers during the Burma campaign in World War II, in which many of them had fought.

Despite the manhunts through the forests and the bombing of hideouts, little damage was done to the natural habitat, and Aberdare National Park remains one of Kenya’s most pristine forest reserves.

On the western side, the range drops away steeply to the Rift Valley. It was here, in the high Wanjohi Valley, that a concentration of settlers in the 1920s and 1930s created the myth of the glamorous, decadent Happy Valley out of their obsessive, and unsettled, lives.

There’s not much to see (or hear) these days. The old wheat and pyrethrum farms were subdivided after independence and the valley’s new settlers are more concerned with making their market gardens pay. The memories live on only among veteran wazungu . The Kinangop plateau was settled by Europeans, too, but in 1950 the high forest and moorland here was declared Aberdare National Park .

– Source: Rough Guide Kenya

The campsite was beautiful with lush, green kikuyu grass, mown short by the antelopes, and a beautiful view. Reedbuck campsite was just a short distance from Fisherman’s Lodge. At a special price, you can camp anywhere in the Park, and at another “small” fee, you can fish for trout in the mountain streams.

Aberdare was one of our favourite parks to date and spending only twenty-four hours here was not enough. Apparently on a clear day you could see Mount Kenya as you head down the eastern side of the mountain. Obviously it was not a clear day for the Van Heerdens…

The pass down the mountain was unlike anything we’ve seen so far. Massive trees lined the road and the mountain, with thick underbrush higher than old Petronella. It made for none to zero visibility but we still loved it. We had a bit of a fright when all of a sudden something screamed in our ears through the open windows. Hugo was busy drinking water from a bottle but without taking the bottle away, he just put his right foot down and accelerated a distance. We never saw the elephant, but we still wonder who had the biggest fright, Sophia or him. I couldn’t stop laughing at Hugo who just calmly kept on drinking his water, after the fourth or so elephant scare, he has nerves of steel.

A bit further down we something weird in the road, even from afar we realised it had a shape we’ve never seen. The thing was obviously very skittish and Hugo shut down the car and slowly rolled forward while I kept on taking photos through the windscreen (hence the quality of the photos). It was some sort of pig, but it was not a wild bush pig nor a warthog nor a domesticated pig. A day or so later we found it on the internet, a giant forest hog. It was giant, alright! It all too soon disappeared in the bush and we caught a quick glimpse of little ones.

Giant forest hog

Giant forest hog

The giant forest hog (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni), the only member of its genus, is native to wooded habitats in Africa and generally is considered the largest wild member of the Suidae pig family; a few subspecies of the wild boar can reach an even larger size. Despite its large size and relatively wide distribution, it was first described only in 1904. The specific name honoursRichard Meinertzhagen, who shot the type specimen in Kenya and had it shipped to the Natural History Museum in England.

Characteristics

The giant forest hog is, on average, the largest living species of suidae. Adults can measure from 1.3 to 2.1 m in head-and-body length, with an additional tail length of 25 to 45 cm. Adults stand 0.75 to 1.1 m in height at the shoulder, and can weigh from 100 to 275 kg. Females are smaller than males. Females weigh a median of approximately 167 kg, as opposed to males, which weigh a median of 210 kg. The eastern nominate subspecies is slightly larger than H. m. rimator of Central Africa and noticeably larger than H. m. ivoriensis of West Africa, with the latter sometimes being scarcely larger than related species such as the bushpig with a top recorded weight of around 150 kg. The giant forest hog has extensive hairs on its body, though these tend to become less pronounced as the animal ages. It is mostly black in colour on the surface, though hairs nearest the skin of the animal are a deep orange colour. Its ears are large and pointy, and the tusks are proportionally smaller than those of the warthogs, but bigger than those of the bushpig. Nevertheless, the tusks of a male may reach a length of 35.9 centimetres.

Distribution

Giant forest hogs occur in west and central Africa, where they are largely restricted to the Guinean and Congolian forests. They also occur more locally in humid highlands of the Rwenzori Mountains and as far east as Mount Kenya and the Ethiopian Highlands. They are mainly found in forest-grassland mosaics, but can also be seen in wooded savanna and subalpine habitats at altitudes up to 3,800 m. They are unable to cope with low humidity or prolonged exposure to the sun, resulting in them being absent from arid regions and habitats devoid of dense cover.

– Source: Wikipedia

Aberdare is also known for its odd collection of black animals, black leopards, black servals and black bushbuck. We kept our eyes peeled but didn’t see any of them.

Once we reached the bottom of the mountain and exited the park, we drove to Nanyuki to spend the night and hopefully catch a glimpse of Mount Kenya. To cut a short story short, we didn’t, again .

We did however visit the Nanyuki Spinners and Weavers workshop. A friendly lady took us on a tour through the process of spinning, cleaning and colouring wool, as well as weaving the scarves, carpets, and other items they have here. It’s a women’s group that employs 130 local women and pay them per finished product. It means that they can work from home and take care of their children and households while still earning an income, which they would otherwise not be able to do. I’ve tentatively decided to support them by importing their products to wherever we live next and sell it at craft markets or from home.

From there we went to a Wildlife Sanctuary where the children could feed bongos, grey crowned cranes and colobus monkeys.

And then it was back to Nairobi and Jungle Junction for our last night in Kenya. We didn’t spend nearly enough time in Kenya and we will surely be back.

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