Crocodiles, Hippos, and Boosting Local Tourism

You know those articles that start with breathtaking sunsets, cascading hills, innocent native smiles and tropical drinks? This isn’t one of them, though it very well could be. When Heritage Kenya asked DR to scope a ranch tour, we were fairly excited. And by we, I mean me, because I’m the one that got the golden ticket. Yay! Preparatory literature mentioned game drives, tents, volcanic lakes, and watering holes, and those are all pretty high on my bucket list, so I was psyched!

The trip was … different … in a good way … and it included alcohol, UFOs, and … artificial nails. The crew consisted of a poet, a journalist, a man, his wife, and me. We started out in a Pajero, but then we insulted a donkey that was trying to cross the road, and in a fit of vengeance, The Universe made our car break down. We tried to push the car about 500 200 75 metres before we gave up and called a tow-truck. The rest of the day was spent in a bar in Loitokitok as we waitied for a new car to arrive. They sent us a silver Rav, and we spent much of the trip berating it.We got to the resort after dark, just in time for a romantic candlelit dinner graced by antelopes, though I was well distracted by the items on the menu.

... um ... crudities ... ?

On Day 2, we visited Gicheha Farm, which was the primary focus of the trip. The farm runs commercially, and it produces seed maize and seed beans. They also breed Galla goats and Dorper sheep on a professional level. Note that seed maize is not the same as maize seed. See, on an ordinary farm, part of the harvest is set aside for replanting. But seed maize is specially grown and bred to give you high quality … um … produce. It’s a long story, but basically, as a farmer, you’re better off using seed maize.

The cool thing about the Gicheha Farm is it doesn’t rely on rainfall. There is a complex system of dams and canals that is tapped to make sure the plants are watered all year round, so droughts have limited effects on produce levels. The animals are also raised in a planned, systematic way so that each month, the ranch managers know exactly how many animals will be born, how many will be slaughtered, and how many will be bred. Male and females animals are kept separate except during the ideal mating time, and young animals are preselected fairly early in life, so you can look at a lamb or kid that’s a few weeks old and know which one will be killed for meat and which one will be kept for breeding. This leads to a consistent, high quality stock that ensures profitability. All animals are organically kept on free range, and they make a mean nyama choma.

The idea behind the ranch tour is to show people the little tweaks they can use to make farming a profit. Nicholas Karanja, the Cowboy of Ziwani, is a mine of information, and he makes it all sound fun. If he had taught me agriculture in high school, I’d probably have ended up in farming. And no, it’s not just because he wore a red checked shirt and Rayban sunglasses. He actually does know his stuff. I asked him why they plant the maize in black cotton soil instead of loam – which is all I remember from my agriculture classes. He explained that the soil was actually vertisol, a kind of black volcanic loam that swells when it’s wet and cracks when it’s dry, and that there are 12 different categories of soil. The red soil I was referring to is oxisol. Yes, I managed to keep my brain out of the gutter. Barely.

In the evening, we visited the Sniper Tree, which has an interesting legend around it. A German woman nicknamed Mama Sakarani dug out the tree, got inside it, and sniped British soldiers for revenge. They had killed her man during the war. Next we had some choma by the campfire and saw the transformation of Stephen Lekatoo, our resident naturalist…

Early Sunday morning I took a nature walk with Stephen. It was a perfectly ordinary stroll, you know, pointing out elephant tracks, spying on a herd of impalas, stopping when some animal roared, standing right next to a crocodile, having staring contests with a hippo – ordinary stuff like that. It was easy to be casual because Stephen was right next to me with his spear, and when you’re watching a massive crocodile and it’s lying there not three feet from you, it’s easy to forget that it can … you know … kill you. Again, the man with the spear helps. A lot.

Voyager Ziwani is arguably one of the prettiest places in the world. We were the only African group there, and I felt very touristy sometimes. I was amused when the Maasai dancing began, and one of the dancers tugged me into the mix. It was fun though. I used my Turkana moves from high school and even remembered the Maasai way to ululate. The dancer that grabbed me was shocked I had done it so well, and said a whole lot of words in Maa, words that may or may not have been a proposal. *shrug* But the thing that really stood out is the tourists. They were mostly Italians with some people from UK, but they all looked so … normal. They weren’t high class or royalty. They were ordinary people doing ordinary jobs, and they had spent all year saving for this holiday. I was really quick to argue that a typical Kenyan can’t afford a resort, but when you think about it, if you really wanted to go, you could save up for the trip. If you can save up for a SONY, a Mac … or a goat, you can save up for a chance to stand this close to a real crocodile …

I guess you’re wondering about the UFO. Well, when we were driving, we hit … something. It had stripes and wings and moved really really fast. It migth have been a bird, or a plane, or even a little bat. Ndeithi thought it might have been a  bwat #NoTypo. Also, on the artificial nails … well, when were chilling at the Rock Villa Pub, this guy walks in with long brown nails and a weighing scale. He said he could give us instant manicures, acrylics, and … um … weight. I was too shocked to take his picture.

I didn’t get my game drive, but we drove through the park as we went to the farm, so I saw a lot of animals. I learnt about farming, and I realized if we implement those lessons, we never need to have cases like this. Oh, and apparently, if you’re ever being chased by a hippo, you should jump over a log. It can’t jump, so it’ll leave you alone. Ndeithi said that, not me, and no, I have no plans to prove it. I went to Voyager Ziwani because I think it’s important to develop local tourism [and because iCon let me.] With the ranch and tented camps being right in the middle of nowhere, it’s a great excuse for some off-road driving. Just remember to check your car before you leave, carry a coolant, and don’t insult the donkeys.