Ol Pejeta Conservancy. You cannot come to Nanyuki and not go to this place. A few days ago, the friend who recommended this place sent me a Business Daily article about the tycoon who popularized both Mount Kenya Safari Club and Ol Pejeta. I will not write this one chronologically because things fell into place from a combination of lessons.
For starters, I had no idea if Ol Pejeta works like national parks and I did not know that Sweetwaters Tented-Camp was right inside the conservancy. I thought they were two different things, even after scouring through the website. I tried to use the live chat feature within the website for further guidance but nothing gave (someone replied days later after I had already visited), so I decided to take myself there and see what would happen. Google was very on point this time. For most part, the road is great and looks newly-done, but some km before you get to the gate, the tarmac comes to an end but it is very much an all-weather road, even within the conservancy. Ol Pejeta is 23 km from Nanyuki town. According to the guide I met later, there is some politics surrounding the untarmacked part of the road. Ol Pejeta wanted to tarmac but the government insisted on doing it, thus no one did it in the end. This was also confirmed by a woman I talked to on my way back to town.
Cyrus is the name of the guide I met deep in the conservancy. He told me that Ol Pejeta means place of many fires because, apparently, the Maasai men would burn fires across the plains. I have tried to verify this on Google but can’t, so if there is a Maasai out there who can confirm or trash this, please do. 😀
I arrived at the gate at around 11 am and was warmly welcomed by a lady who asked me to walk into the office and receive further guidance. A friendly gentleman requested that a wait a minute as he sent some info to the accounts department. Some tourist land rovers drove in. Again, me, myself and I did not feel out of place having no four-wheel drive. Lol. I chilled. The entrance fee per person is Ksh 1,100 and then KSh 400 for any car with six seats or less. Manageable. No cash is accepted at Ol Pejeta, a recent development. However, you don’t have to pay in advance at all for the day trip, I confirmed that. Network here is not the best as expected, so I had to try thrice for the card payment to go through. Through all this, the attendant was very jovial and happy to answer my stupid questions. After that, the lady who ushered me in described how I would make my way to the first stop, the Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Whoop! Looks like I was going to have a ball here. I was not super sure I’d see a lot of animals, but I am happy to say I was pleasantly surprised.
Way before I got to the sanctuary, I had already spotted a buffalo, zebras and grant’s gazelles. Before you even have time to feel lost, a guide will be sure to welcome you into the sanctuary. By the time I got there, the chimps had already disappeared into the thickets apart from one named Max. I know this because Cyrus educated me. All the chimps have been rescued from different places in the world and brought here for protection. Some were used by people to entertain crowds, locked up in cages too small for them in their unnatural positions. As a result of this, one guy, Poco, can stand on two feet, which is not normal for chimps. I got to see him when we came back later. We have very many similarities with chimps. They are not monkeys (no tails) but apes. In the information centre you learn a lot about the things they can do and not do with 98.5% human DNA. However, when you Google this, you will find that a newer study says it’s 95%.
From the sanctuary, you have three choices, you can carry on on your own—if you have been here before and know your way around, you can buy a map or you can get a guide to accompany you. Obviously, I went with a guide because, mostly because I think it would have been pointless and maybe a bit scary alone. So Cyrus and I set off on the drive. Elephants galore. They get so close, it would have been so scary if I was alone, but he assured me that nothing would happen. So we stopped and watched her cross the road to go to the other side of the river. More zebras, Thompson’s gazelles and Impalas. I still cannot tell apart the gazelles but Cyrus did a good job explaining. There is another kind of zebra around here, the Grevy’s Zebra. They are sturdier and have thinner stripes around them. They live within the endangered species enclosure, no wonder you don’t see them everywhere.
Next up was the Rhino Sanctuary. There are three kinds, the Black rhinos and the Southern and Northern White Rhinos. You can see the first two for free so long you paid that entrance fee, but the Northen ones, wait for it… You have to pay 4000 KES to see them in their special enclosure. Only three of them exist in the world, the ones here. You can bet I never saw them. I did hang with Baraka a black rhino, though. 🙂 He was pretty sweet, also blind. He lost one eye in a fight, the other to cataracts. The guide here let me touch and feed him. The first thing you notice are his wounds. Apparently this is totally natural and there is nothing that can be done about it. He inflicts these wounds on himself when he is rubbing against trees in a bid to get rid of the parasites on him. There is no colour difference between these rhinos, just in case you were wondering. The white rhinos graze as opposed to the black that browse, thus their lips are different. The white rhinos back in concave while the black in convex, like a hoof. Jacob, the guide told me all these things. He had this very authoritative way of calling Baraka to him. Loved them both!
On the way to the Hippo Hide, I got to see more elephants up-close. Now at this next stop which, for some reason, was not very popular at this time, we found a guide who was happy to take me through the trail along River Ewaso Nyiro. Before that, he showed me around the small information center. The hippo is among the big three at Ol Pejeta. In addition to the big five you know of, there is also the ugly five. LOL. I told him the hippo is ugly and he almost caught feelings. Haha! I love these people, they love their animals so much. Anyway, four hippos were chilling in the middle of the brown river down the trail, coming out for air after every few minutes and making grunting sounds while at it. These were the usual big hippos, unlike the pygmy ones from the orphanage. It was nice just standing them watching them do their thing while the two guides joked about the possibility of elephants appearing and how fit I was to outrun them. We did walk over elephant crap to get to where the hippos were chilling in the river. Apparently elephants can drop about 25kg of this waste in one go, which other animals actually ingest because elephants don’t even digest it that well. That is not a shock anyway because our dogs at home eat each other’s crap sometimes. The elephant’s crap does not look bad at all or smell though. An elephant did appear on the other side, but concentrated on digging for grass, not the three humans on the other side of the river. Phew.
Back to the chimpanzee sanctuary, I met a whole lot of these boys and girls. Poco decided to get agitated and walk around on his two feet, running a stick through the fence. By this time, there was a group of school boys enjoying the show too. The rest of the chimps came in a bit later when one of the guides here threw some nuts on the ground and they were all busy searching around for them. These guys are not supposed to breed among themselves, however a few ladies are contraceptive resistant and have given birth quite a few times within the sanctuary. I honestly did not understand why breeding is not encouraged but Cyrus did try to convince me on how that makes sense. (See how I was so impressed I am giving the human titles: girls, boys, ladies. If I was stick around a bit longer, I’d probably replace my cat with a chimp.)
After my several hours of learning, my tour came to an end here and I made a new friend. Cyrus was really good to me and he is good at his job. However, if you ever want to go to Ol Pejeta and need a guide, I am right here. 😉 I did not see lions though, maybe I will next time I go on a night drive, if I gather enough guts and willing to spend that kind of money to do so. I am sure this time, someone will come with. On my way back, I met two women going home from work and they filled me in on a few Nanyuki stories too.
As I mentioned previously, I would drop the hotel’s name, the one that held me for the few days I was in Nanyuki. It is none other than the Sportman’s Arms Hotel. I had not heard of the place before my interest in travelling here arose a few weeks ago. Everyone is very nice and the rooms are lovely as described in the first post in this series. I eventually got used to the one or two mosquitoes that would greet me every night and got over the fact that there was no coffee or tea in the room, so I had to drag myself over to the restaurant even when I did not want to just to get some little warmth caressing my throat at night. The food was pretty bland during the weekend because it was a buffet, or at least I think that was the reason, because on the night it was à la carte, it was a beautiful meal of honey-glazed pork chops. (This word “à la carte” did not exist in my vocabulary before that, thanks John, but I acted like I understood what he meant because, I mean, what else can be the opposite of buffet? I confirmed on Google after I sat down to look at the menu that it was, indeed, what I thought it was.) A guard at the gate joked about me being staff because he had gotten used to my face. The club in there was playing loud music on a Monday night. I don’t know much about clubbing so I guess that’s normal. I will go back mostly because I have never been a camping kind of chick and Nanyuki is very much inclined to camping gigs everywhere you look. Or maybe I will change, depending on the company.
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Due to public demand (two people in total 😂) there will be a new section on this blog: Travel Trove.