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Sunday, January 12, 2014


In the beautiful season of having my entire family together for the space of 12 days of Christmas (literally), I have neglected this space.  7 of those were work days but 5 were not, and we packed up the Landrover and headed to Laikipia.  Laikipia is the general area of a high plateau west of Mt. Kenya rich in wildlife where European ranchers established vast tracts in the last century.  Several have turned those into private game reserves, and the towns carry a wild-west quirky colonial flavor amidst the African dukas and pickis.  Laikipia is also, it turns out, a ridiculously over-priced vacation destination.  When I started planning our five-night safari over a month ago, I first had dreams of reaching Lake Turkana and the real North.  I soon realized we would be on the move every day, camping or scrambling for accommodation at a new place every night.  That did not seem like a good use of our non-work relational time with our kids (though car trips can be pretty memorable).  So I opted to halt our northward trek in the Laikipia region. (note the pictures below are nearly all Luke's, who is an excellent photographer in a family of creative photographers).

For the first two nights we camped in Ol Pejeta ( which, while pricy (the campsite booking fee we paid ahead was about $80, for six people for two nights that was fine . . but it turned out we had to pay additional daily camping and park fees on entry), does give value.  It is a 90,000 acre ranch that is now managed in a way to showcase the combination of cattle ranching, tourism, and wildlife preservation.  We booked a private campsite, Murera Donga, which is our family tradition after years of campsite 2 at QENP in Uganda.  Just us, tents, a campfire, and the savannah.  We could watch waterbuck and impala and baboons and birds from our tentflaps, and a few of us caught a glimpse of lions retreating as we pulled up.  No people, only stars and smoke.  Lovely.  In the morning there was a spectacularly clear view of Mt. Kenya to our east.  We went on game drives which were also practice-driving-drives for teens.  We cooked good meals, read books, and rested.  We saw rhinos and visited the chimp sanctuary, watched the sunset and talked. It was glorious.

Night three we drove to Timau, after lunch at Dorman's in Nanyuki.  Timau is less than an hour north.  I had booked the Timau River Lodge ( as one of the few affordable places we could stay in a bed and get a hot shower between two two-night camping stretches. This place was, shall we say, unique.  I loved the eccentricity of the scattering of cabins, wandering geese and peacocks, a zip line, dogs, rabbits, secluded waterfall, short hiking paths, and a tiny plank bench located up the hill with another stunning Mt. Kenya view.  The management is Indian and we had decent but not spectacular Indian food for dinner.  The cabins are rustic-unfinished logs, sort of dusty and musty and tacky decor.  But good space for a fair price, and for younger kids the playground/animal aspect would be even more fun.  We were all so tired after two nights on the ground that we slept well.

Nights four and five we drove another hour or two north and slightly west into the Mukogodo forest, which is managed by four Maasai communities.  I found the contacts via the Laikipia tourism web site here:  The directions were a bit vague, drive past this police post, go through this gate, etc.  We sent Luke out to chat with Maasai herders a couple of times and they kept pointing us onward.  Which turned out well, for though we did not find the campsite we had booked, we found a spectacular one run by the same group.  When we drove through the forest and piled out of the car, Luke explored a path and came running back to say he'd found the best view in all of Kenya.  We set up our tents in a clearing of thick soft grass at the foot of a rock kopje. But we spent most of the day sitting on the rock cliff under a fig tree, reading and picnicking with a hundred-km 180-degree view to the north.  The forest dropped away to dusty plains, distant mountains (the Matthews range) and a winding river. A constant wind updraft worked like air conditioning.  One day we also took a hike through the forest to another ridge-top viewpoint.  The campsite was truly spectacular. It also happened to be the home of a leopard who was none to pleased with our presence and spent the night prowling the perimeter with his low menacing coughing growl.  The Maasai group insisted on sending us an man armed with a large gun to guard us at night.  I think I was more worried about his gun than the leopard.

A year ago we had made blanket tarps and bought everyone cool collapsable little camp chairs ( for Christmas, but our camp-out became a sit-in-vigil watching over a severely injured Caleb post-motorcycle-accident.  So this year was a sweet redemption, to pull out the tents and chairs and to set up camp in two beautiful spots, a wild-life rich savannah and a cool forest mountain ledge.  This year for Christmas we gave our kids money to give away, and a kindle a piece.  After many years of all of us sharing two kindles, we decided to buy four more "paperwhite" devices.  I know it sounds a bit extravagant, but I have no regrets.  We all share the same amazon account so everyone could read the best of the books I had bought us over the last few months.  As a family we went through twenty books in those five days.  Reading, hiking, resting, viewing, appreciating.  Music and campfires and stories and time.

I HIGHLY recommend the Mukogodo Forest.  If you hate heights (and as a mom I admit to some anxiety) there are several other sites without death drop-offs.  And if you go, please mention us. If you can afford Ol Pejeta I also recommend the bush campsite do-it-yourself, or the Pelican House if you can share with another family. I probably corresponded with twenty tented camps and lodges looking for something we could afford.  There are many options that charge $250-$800 PER PERSON PER NIGHT, meaning thousands of dollars for our family.  I am not kidding.  Besides the camping, I found four lodges that were on the $30-$60 per person per night range.  They may have been nicer than Timau, but Timau was conveniently on the way between our two campouts.  The others were, and  The Rhino Watch looked perhaps the classiest.

Very thankful for this taste of the timelessness and beauty and togetherness of Heaven.


Stacy Davis said...

So glad you had such sweet family time! Thanks for all the travel tips, I need to bookmark this post for future planning.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I was priveleged to visit this Mukogodo Forest this past weekend and I was glad to come across your article on the same. I do agree with you, best view in Kenya. I'll be updating my blog soon on my visit. Hope you'll have a look and tell me what you think.