Our next expedition was a nostalgic visit, on our own in a borrowed car, round my old haunts up-country. The first stop was the 19,000 acre Ol Pejeta ranch near Nanyuki at the base of Mt Kenya, where we stayed with more friends. The ranch had been developed by one of the earliest and highly influential settlers and politician, Lord Delamare, whose experiments in viable farming practices in Kenya’s varied and difficult soil and climate, with their associated disastrous pest and disease problems, left a blueprint for future farmers to follow. Latterly Ol Pejeta was owned by the notorious arms dealer, Adnan Khashoggi, though he seldom stayed there. A private game reserve was being created on part of the ranch with literally miles of sturdy electric fencing, where endangered black rhino were being protected, along with the recent addition of a few equally endangered white rhino, all translocated from areas where poaching was rife. They were being encouraged to breed in order to re-stock other safe areas eventually. Consequently it was possible to get up close and personal with several of them (from the safety of the other side of the fence) and feed them titbits of grass – a thrilling experience to be that near to such immensely powerful wild creatures with such a fearsome reputation.
Another highlight was a close view of a leopard. A rare opportunity to see one in the open in broad daylight was afforded us when, each afternoon, we were taken by our host on a tour of the new reserve area. Every so often the rangers would put out bait in a particular area to attract the resident leopard, and he had become so used to associating the sound of the vehicle and the appearance of food that he would very often come out of hiding almost immediately. Click! Click! Visitors were always thrilled. The only time I had seen one before was a distant sighting (with binoculars) of one lying up on a narrow ledge, partly camouflaged by the surrounding bush, at Lake Nakuru. He was only given away by twitching the end of his tail! At that time the area had not been developed as a National Park – just farmland surrounding the lake, famous for being an ornithologist’s paradise with its high concentration of flamingo and pelican as well as many other species of birds (I counted 49 in one day) and varied wildlife.
Each morning we borrowed three of the ranch horses, used by the farm workers for daily checking of the boundary fencing and the welfare of the immense herd of the humped native Boran cattle, and, accompanied by the head syce (groom), explored our surroundings. We were intrigued to see Khashoggi’s fabulously-appointed main house, peering in curiously through the windows, and also watching some of the cattle going through the dip – the obligatory method of killing the ticks which carried debilitating tick fever. It looked most uncomfortable as the cattle were pushed down under the water on their swim through the insecticidal water, but they were soon climbing out, quite unperturbed. An elite group of prize-winning Charolais cattle were being spruced up for a forthcoming Agricultural Show, and being reminded of their halter training for the peace of mind of the handlers and the safety of all.
One day a nostalgic drive around my home town of Nanyuki was brought to a sudden halt by engine problems. We limped back to the one and only garage to be greeted by the mechanic who recognised the car as belonging to his ex-boss, Bwana Mrefu (tall man, as Pierre was known), and the immediate repairs were effected free of charge!
The next part of our journey the following day lay across the Laikipia plateau, through Thomson’s Falls, (now called Nyahururu) where I had lived for a short while, stopping to gaze in awe at the falls with their spectacular 243 ft drop, and ending that evening down in the Rift Valley at Lake Naivasha.
The lake area again provided us with a huge variety of general wildlife, with the haunting cry of the fish eagle always in the background, and culminated in a visit to Hell’s Gate nearby. This is a secluded area of the valley abounding in sulphur springs, surrounded by gigantic anthills and with sheer cliffs as a backdrop. We were fascinated to watch the rare Lammergeyers (bearded vultures) riding the thermals on the look out for hyrax or even large carrion, the bones of which they drop onto the rocks below, smashing them and thus enabling the marrow to be extracted.