Friday, September 10, 2010

Arriving at Ol Malo

Hello everyone!

I am so sorry it has taken me so long to get these blog posts up, I have been away from the internet and it has been so lovely! :)

I want to start by acknowledging the huge difference in the subject matter of my posts in comparison to Ciara's posts. We are both experiencing different sides of Africa and are obviously both incredibly moved by them. I want to send Ciara my love for being so brave and strong for those babies. I can't wait to see her and help do what she's been doing for the past few months. Her spirit is absolutely incredible to me!

On the 8th of August I got on a plane from Wilson Airport and flew to Naynuki to meet a family friend of Guy's named Chyulu Smith. She rides horses for Kenya and was competing in a horse show there and is the fiance of Andrew Francombe whose parents own and operate Ol Malo. I was to find my way to the sports arena and drive up to Ol Malo with Chyulu after the competition.

I got off the eight-seater plane and my plan was to grab a taxi and ask where the sports arena was and wander around until I found Chyulu (who I'd only met once). As soon as I got off the plane and grabbed my bag from underneath a man came up to me and said, "Are you Kezi?" Close enough! I decided I was and asked him how he knew I would be here. :) He replied that blonde horse girl asked him to come pick me up and I decided in Africa this was the closest thing to a safe bet I was going to get and hopped into his taxi and prayed he would take me to the right place. Don't worry, he did! He also offered to take me climbing up Mt. Kenya someday because his second job is a guide for climbers, so I got his information and wandered around the sports arena looking for Chyulu. I found her quickly and decided to relax and enjoy the sunny weather since I'd been stuck in freezing Nairobi for weeks. After she was done we loaded up the horses, packed all the stuff away and headed down the road toward Ol Malo. After about five hours on a washed out dirt road, I thought I had a mild concussion from all the bouncing, but we had made it. The drive for the most part was absolutely beautiful and I was so excited to be getting farther and farther away from towns and cities; this was The Bush.

In the dark I could tell we were in the middle of nowhere and Chyulu and Andrew's newly built house didn't have electricity so I couldn't wait to find my bed and wake up to this place everyone revered so much. It took me a few minutes to find my tent in the dark, and I remember running into a large steel drum at one point and running into what seemed to be small structures built with sticks and grass. I slept soundly despite all the far away animal noises and woke up to a man "knocking" on my tent to serve me hot tea around 7am. Wow!

I spent the first four hours there learning how to clean horse tacking and it was a messy job! I hadn't seen much of the grounds yet, but it was green as far as I could see. From the horse stables I recognized both the Lodge (the original building where Rocky and Collin Francombe host guests) and the House (built four years ago, where Andrew and Chyulu host guests), each right up on the edge of the plateau overlooking the whole of Laikipia. After earning a professional degree in horse tacking-cleaning we headed down to the river to share lunch with some guests.

On the way down I saw both types of zebra they have at Ol Malo, giraffe, their camel herd, Impala, and elephant! The lunch site was the most beautiful picnic you've ever seen looking upstream on the Ewasso River right next to some rapids on a clean patch of sandy beach underneath a massive fig tree. I was in love already. We set up safari chairs, small oak wood tables, a small bar area, and a table full of fresh salads, quiches, fruit, and cheese for lunch with the guests. We had towels for everyone, intertubes for going down the rapids, a rugby ball, and lounging areas. I would get used to setting up this site many times but I was always amazed at how civilized and and luxurious a lunch in the middle of nowhere could be. We had a great lunch and the river was cool and refreshing, and after the guests left Andrew suggested I stay behind and help pack everything up.

This is where the hard work began, and it was a welcomed task having spent so much time with people not letting me lift a finger or clean up after myself at all. The hot sun factored into the speed of our work, but after about an hour the three guys from the house and I had everything loaded up onto camels and we started walking towards where the car had been hidden. It is about a fifteen minute walk uphill from the lunch site to the car and carrying baskets full of wet towels and jugs of water wasn't easy. I was happy to see the car, and we unloaded the camels and started loading up the vehicle. This took another 20 minutes and we loaded into the back of the truck right as the sun was setting. On the drive up we looked for game, discussed where my ancestors came from and they tried to teach me some Swahili and Samburu. The latter is the language the local tribe near Ol Malo speak, and it is very different from Swahili. I would come to know all the kitchen guys and drivers very well, and we were friends quickly.

Upon arriving at the Lodge I was instructed in broken English to go back to Andrew and Chyulu's house because I smelled bad. I giggled at their honesty and headed toward where I thought was Andrew and Chyulu's house. :) Well about 30 minutes later (literally on the correct trail it takes five minutes to walk to their house from the Lodge) I arrived in the dark to their house sans flashlight or torch of any kind, with a huge gash in my left leg with a thorn stuck inside it about 3/4 an inch.

I literally ran straight into Muriuki, the man who served me tea that morning, and he told me my shower was ready. I didn't know quite how that worked since a shower is ALWAYS "ready" and was pleasantly surprised by the accommodations. My shower was basically a tin bucket with a fawcet head coming out of the bottom, with water heated by a small fire from underneath the steel drum I ran into the night before. The water is hoisted up by a rope thrown over the branch of a tree and a flat rock is placed underneath for you to stand on. So clever! The shower area itself is enclosed by large branches and filled in with grass. It is surprisingly private and works very well! I had a hot shower under the stars and thanked God for allowing me to be in such an extraordinary place. Then I remembered I had a gash on my leg and quickly went back to my tent to sort things out. I brought my first aid kit and decided it would be more fun to use the gloves and sterilize the tweezers to get out the acacia thorn. I thought I was being so brave and rugged sitting in my tent performing small surgery on myself, but the reality is I might have only gotten on stitch at any hospital and any African would have just pulled it straight out, dusted off the dirt and slapped the leg and said "I'm fine." Well I'm from California and I thought I was being brave. :) I butterflied the thing and got dressed for dinner and didn't mention my adventurous hike to anyone.

Dinner is a always a four course meal beginning with cocktails and ending with fresh ginger or mint tea. I served drinks in the beginning and helped host during the meal and took wake-up tea/coffee orders for the following morning. Every meal goes down relatively the same in each of the different breakfast/dinner/lunch settings and I learned quickly the order of business and my role and hostess with an eager enthusiasm.

The first day, although I didn't know it at the time, was a very typical day at Ol Malo: wake up early, have tea, organize the guest's day, go to the House and help prepare either breakfast or lunch, go down to the river and set up lunch site, pack everything up, get back and shower, serve drinks before dinner, eat dinner, prepare for the next day, sleep like a rock. There was a certainty you'd run into some kind of danger or have an adventure of some kind. This guaranteed bit of excitement made every day different and so much fun. I could make a blog for every day in the near month that I stayed there, and am so thankful to have learned so much about the Samburu tribes, the people who lived and worked at Ol Malo, the animals, the land, and some interesting high-profile guests we spent so much time with. I am forever grateful to the Francombe's for allowing me to stay in that tent I came to appreciate so much and for feeding me and keeping me safe but on my toes. I feel like a different person having stayed there and seen so much, and I hope you enjoy reading about all the different facets of Ol Malo through my experience.

I will keep blogging as fast as I can, because I leave for Mwanza in three days! I can't wait to see Ciara. I miss everyone so much, and am looking forward to December when I can give my parents and brother long obnoxious hugs. :)

Love, Cace

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