Song of the whales

We heard them long before we saw them. Their snorts, blows and bellowing reminded me of elephants having a mud bath. When we reached the ocean after two days of walking we saw them from the jagged cliffs high above the sea. Far below in the cold blue water they were rolling,  jumping and playing. The whales come to this protected marine reserve with sheltered shores every year to calve and nurse their young. Their presence was as enormous as they were.

The fundraising hike went really well. We had the best weather possible for this time of year and the experience of being out in the wild with people who loved it as much as I did was deeply satisfying.

We did not raise that much money with this undertaking, only £275 this far. But this hike did something to my spirit that no amount of money for my project could ever do. I am not sure what it was that touched me so. Perhaps it was the whales, or perhaps the ocean spray and the sense of wild freedom. Or maybe it was the leopard prints I found on the beach in the morning? I don’t know, but a voice in the wilderness spoke to me and told me to be strong and to have courage.

I suppose, more than funding, one needs to have a strong vision and a hope. If the Walking with Maasai project could save only one more life out of hundreds saved so far through the mobile clinic project, or if it could only give one more Maasai child the prospects of a better future through education, or if the Olkoroi Wilderness Camp could secure the life of only one elephant or wild dog, it would be worth the effort – every step of the way.

The JustGiving fundraising page will remain open if anybody would still like to make a contribution. See some pictures below of the Whale Trail hike. Special thanks to Wessel and Christna Steyn who made it possible for me to undertake this venture.

Eight of the twelve hikers; the trail along the coast and Protea neriifolia

Gone swimming; tidal pool and the whales

Purple Dewflowers(Vygie); on trail and view from a cave

Whales blowing; the hut at Vaalkrans and leopard footprints on the beach

Purple Sea Urchin; thunderous waves on the rocks and a jumping whale

Lost Maasai on the dune and the view from Vaalkrans hut



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The thing about walking sticks…

“Olchore ngo, take this, I finished it, it is yours now,” he said and handed me the smooth white stick. “It is from the East African Cherry Orange tree – Teclea nobilis, they call it in Latin. I found a tree that was broken by elephants while I was looking after my cows and carved it from the straight stem. You need to rub it with cooking fat now and it will stay nice for many years.”

I gently slid my fingers over the smooth finishing. It was flawless, straight as an arrow and solid like the weight of true hardwood. I softly pronounced the Latin name to myself – “Te-cle-a no-bi-lis.” “Thank you Kashu,” I said. “I will always think of you when I walk with this stick.” I quietly wondered how it came that this young Maasai man out here in the middle of the African wilderness would go through all the trouble of learning each tree by its scientific name. ” He must have a very deep passion for this forest,” I thought – “What enormous potential lie within him… ”

It is now ten years later and yesterday when I got my gear ready for the Whale Trail hike, I pondered for a minute as memories came flooding through when I picked up my Cherry Orange walking stick. “What a journey it has been!” I thought.

So the thing about walking sticks is that there are many kinds – those plastic ones you buy in the outdoor shop, those you borrow,  those you carved yourself and then there are those that someone took the time to make for you. I have many walking sticks that my Maasai friends have made me over the years. I cherish them all because they tell me long stories when I hike of the person who carved them. They remind me of where things began with Walking with Maasai and the camp and they help me to think about the people I care about.

I am just about to leave and join the rest of the Whale Trail team for the hike. I must remember to rub my walking stick in with some cooking fat first…


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Final preparation

Final shop has been done and today we prepare equipment and pack our backpacks! Tomorrow is final preparations and the group of 12 hikers will meet on Wednesday at Potberg in the De Hoop Nature Reserve for the starting of the five day hike. It will be a 2 day hike from Potberg to the coast at Noetsie and then a further 3 day hike down along the coast to “Koppie Alleen”. Here is a link for more information about the Whale Trail:

Have a look at the “Walking with Whales” post below, I updated it with the final design for the T-shirts for this fund raising hike. We really appreciate all the support for this venture that people so generously helped with and contributed towards. Now we’ve got to get some more donations in! This blog has just been linked with our Walking with Maasai Facebook page and we ask that if you liked the post, that you share it with as many people on Facebook as possible .

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Walking with Whales

The big shop for the five-day hike along the coast of South Africa never happened today because of the rugby. Oeps! Here is the final design for the T-shirts for the hike. Many thanks to Chantell Hoeftman from Blue Bird Media for a brilliant design!

We need some more sponsorships people! Any small amounts will add up and make a huge difference in what we can accomplish with the camp project!

I also want to encourage people to leave comments and likes when you visit the blog, especially those who know the camp and the Walking with Maasai project. Your comments will help us in a big way.

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Happy Birthday Madiba!

Nelson Mandela turned 94 today. He once said this –

“Active involvement of communities in managing their environment must be the order of the day. Equality, access, accountability, transparency and sustainable living must be our watchwords.”

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Of Whales and Maasai

Southern Right Whale jumping

One might wonder what the Southern Right Whale has to do with the Maasai people of Kenya. Well,  for starters, they can both jump very high! But really it has to do with the fact that I will soon be joining some friends for a 5 day hike of the famous Whale Trail on the South Coast of South Africa. I decided to dedicate this hike to the work of Walking with Maasai in Kenya. The hike will be from the 25th to the 30th of July. I would like to use the opportunity to raise funds for the Olkoroi Wilderness Camp project under Walking with Maasai. This project is able to make a very valuable contribution to the continued co-existence of the Maasai people and the amazing wildlife on their land. Through sustainable eco tourism both the people and the animals will benefit. You can contribute to this cause by sponsoring me for this hike. Your contributions will go directly towards the development and upkeep of the Olkoroi Wilderness Camp. Click on my Just Giving link below here and walk with Maasai as I go to walk with Whales!

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What are we going to do?

One cold moonlit night in June in 2010 I was woken by gunshots in the far-off distance. I got up and went outside my tent. Was it a dream? No – because while I was standing in the crisp night air at 2 am I heard more shots. Five of them in short succession. AK47? I stood wide awake and tragic scenes came to my mind of frightened bodies huddled together around their young, as they scream and trumpet in panic and mill arround to try to escape the tearing bullets. The Combretum trees was casting dark and sinister shadows all around me in the moonlight and I felt a chill run down my spine. I went back into my tent and got dressed. I took my flashlight and went to the camp kitchen. The coals in the fire pit at the boma was still hot and I got some firewood to start a fire. My hands were shaking. I am not sure if it was anger or cold or both, but my stomach was tense and I felt sick. As I was fiddling with the fire I heard Ole Monchoni, the watchman cough and spit when he came out of his tent. He walked slowly towards the outer fence of logs of the boma and stood there in the shadows for a while listening – “Andrea?” he called. “Eê kake” I replied. He walked through the log arch enterance just as I got the fire going. The warm light of the sudden flames lit up his ghostly frame wrapped in a thick gray blanket. “Kainyoo nyamali?” (“What is wrong?”) he asked, as he came and sat next to me on the ring of stones as close to the fire as possible, hands stretched out over the flames. “Atoningo orbunduki?” (“Did you hear the gun?”) I asked. He yawned a long yawn, cleaned his throat and spat next to the fire before he said, “Antipoti?”(“Anti-poaching?”) I took the kettle and put it next to the flames and got up to go to the kitchen and got two cups when I replied, “A-a, mme Antipoti” (“No, it was not Anti-poaching”) There was no need to say more. I made us some tea and for an hour we sat in silence listening to the night. In my mind I was repeating over and over the terror I thought I saw in the shadows of my mind’s eye. It will take days for them to die …

The next day I drove to the nearest “Antipoti” outpost. Antipoti is the adopted Maasai word for “Anti-poaching” as the Wildlife Authorities was known during the colonial years. The ranger was at his post and carefully logged my report in his events roster. He then immediately got on the HF radio and reported to Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters at Ewaso Ngiro. From the scratchy reply over the receiver I understood that a unit of rangers was to be dispatched the next day to come and investigate the issue. Back at camp we divided ourselves and scouted the area where the shots most likely came from. We found nothing. The next day a unit of eleven rangers arrived and again we patrolled the wider area with them. Again we found nothing. A few days later the wind brought the news of death in the evening. The pungent smell of rotting flesh could be smelled for more than a kilometer. When the carnage was eventually found I went back to pick up the ranger at the KWS outpost. The ranger explained to me how they are handicapped by a lack of resources and infrastructure. Because they do not have a vehicle at their disposal, they are not able to come and patrol the area regularly. Loita is also not a protected reserve and is therefore not a priority compared to places like Maasai Mara and other parks. As I was looking at the painful sight in front of me, I was thinking – What are we going to do?

What are we going to do?

An AK47 is a very light calibre automatic rifle. The bullets from this gun rarely kill a huge animal like an elephant quickly. The poachers usually shoot the elephants in a spray of bullets and then track the blood spoor until they find where the animal has collapsed. Sometimes elephants are killed with poisoned spears. The poacher hide up in a tree on a known elephant path and wait on a full moon night until a herd or individuals pass. The poisoned spear is then thrown down into the rump or in between the ribs into the chest cavity. This also cause a slow and agonising death … I once found a carcass of an elephant where the bush was flattened – for 40 meters the dying animal crawled through the shrub, with the obvious help of his comrades trying to assist him to get up.

Death crawl- 40 meters- dead elephant in the far distance

With the latest poaching incident a friend of ours was staying at the camp with her family. She wrote a poem about it:

Read more on “The Poaching Problem” under the Wildlife page. Please be aware that the pictures are very graphic and disturbing.

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From sketches to construction

From simple sketches and notes in my journal, the ideas slowly grew into more drawings and plans. As I spent time wandering the landscape, the bush and hidden views gradually revealed where each tent should go. It took time to unfold, like a good story, one page at a time. The inspiration came when it needed to, like rain at the right season. As the ideas and plans for the camp structures grew, so did the larger vision. The inspiration for this was wrapped in red and walked around with crooked walking sticks. But that is another story for later.

Several visitors to the camp last year asked me how the camp came into being. It is a lengthy tale and I will have to tell the story in bits in more than one blog post. To keep you informed about the most recent developments I will combine bits of the camp’s history together with the more recent accomplishments.

The drawings seen here was made between 2005 and 2006. The vision for the camp started several years before that. It is still in progress and the camp is far from complete. Perhaps it will never really be complete?

Life is just too short!

In January 2012 we had the privilege of receiving 4 volunteers from the UK who came and assisted us to build a wooden deck for one of the accommodation tents as well as the building of an earth oven. These were Andy Bray, Michael Hector, Dave Hastings-Barnes and Rod More O’Ferrall. We are very thankful to these men who sacrificed their time to help us accomplish this task.

The floorboards here is from the White Mahogany(Khaya anthotheca). These hardwood timbers was harvested from a tree in the forest that died of natural causes. As the drawings above suggest, this floor will eventually be covered by a tent under a thatched roof. As an intermediate stage we are using fly-sheets instead of thatch.



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The water tank

On the 28th of December 2011 this 10000 liter water tank was finally moved to its permanent position at the highest point of the camp grounds.

It was an eventful day when ten community members showed up to lend a hand with moving the massive tank. First the tank was carefully laid on its side and cleaned. Then it was lifted and cradled onto the trailer from where it was pulled by vehicle to as close as possible to its final resting place. After offloading the tank, it had to be inched through dense bush and over huge boulders to get it into position. When the tank was finally placed on the pre-prepared gravel base up on a rocky outcrop it was cause for big celebration and we all ate together and shared stories of the day’s achievements.

We want to thank Marcus Westberg and his family for donating $600 towards pipes and fittings during their stay at the camp last year. This made it possible for us to plumb up the camp kitchen area and have running water!  Follow the links below to read what Marcus and his brother-in-law wrote about their experiences when they visited us.

Future plans for the camp’s water system is to add two more of these tanks and to install a stronger pump that will pump water to the tanks from the river.

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The Weaver-bird’s nest

I photographed this Spectacled Weaver (Ploceus ocularis) one morning in February near the camp while it was busy building a nest. Somehow I wish I had more time to sit and watch him.



“I’ll give you a crash course in weaving. It’s easy! See, you take this twig…




Now push it through one side with your beak…



Now look on the other side where it came through…





Where did it go now?






Got it!





Now pull it through tight…





Then weave it back through again!”



The finished product of the Spectacled Weaver’s nest looks rather rough but still is a masterpiece of intricate design and architecture.

I hope that more of these fascinating birds will come and nest near the new waterhole at camp. Hopefully other species of weavers will also come and nest there.

Categories: Wildlife updates | 6 Comments

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