Visit the Chyulu Hills in south-eastern Kenya and you’ll discover an Imax-view of rolling green hills, golden plains and black volcanic soil, herds of Masaai giraffe, zebra and antelope. Looming over it all are giant bull elephants and the snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro just over the border in Tanzania. Discover 10 reasons to visit ol Donyo in Kenya’s Chyulu Hills.
If you’re adventurous and energetic, go on a geological hike to explore one of the lava tube caves – at about 11km Leviathan Cave is one of the longest lava tubes on the planet – or to the top of ol Donyo Wuas for wonderful views.
2. Game drive
Watching the changing landscape of volcanic hills and open plains is as much part of a safari here as the wildlife itself.
4. Smart plants
Our guide Konee Kinyaku touched two or three of the galls and we watched the ants dash out, not only from those he’d touched but from others on the bush too. ‘They even send messages to the next bush to warn it that animals are coming,’ he said.
He also told us about the sandpaper bush, the rough leaves of which are useful as sandpaper or emery board. A twig of the bush is used to bring peace in Maasai families because in Maa (the language the Maasai speak) the name means peace. The idea is that you have a twig of this useful bush, you can’t continue to disagree.
5. Bush walks
Enjoy a bush walk with your guide, a chance to feel the black volcanic earth beneath your feet, smell the aromas of the bush, hear the birds calling and learn about medicinal uses for plants that grow here. Superb as a game drive in a 4x4 vehicle is, sometimes it’s good to have a change of pace, to still the sound of an engine and open yourself to the wonders of tracks in the sand, and other small signs that your guide will interpret as if he’s reading the morning newspaper.
6. Horse riding
7. Maasai culture
He also took us to a Maasai village, where women sang, wafted a tuft of grass at us to wish us good fortune, and dissolved in fits of giggles. One of them invited us into a house through a low door and curved tunnel that unnerved me with its tightness. Inside were two beds, just a calf skin covering the hard surface.
In the central area was the fire place, with storage space for wood. The hut was murky and smelt of wood smoke from countless fires. With Konee as interpreter, we learnt that men’s duties are to check young boys are herding responsibly, build a fence around the animal pens and take animals to sell, while women cook, do beadwork, collect firewood, build the house and look after the kids.
The Maasai today straddle two worlds. On the way back from the village we passed through a little trading centre and got a sense of the less traditional side of Maasai life. It was like a Wild West cowboy town – not the sanitised Hollywood version, but dusty and disheveled. Yet you could get just about anything there, from groceries and airtime to tyres or a haircut, and you could pay with M-Pesa, the ingenious mobile phone payment system that means Kenyans don’t have to carry cash.
9. Five-star food and wine
He loves when guests appreciate his team’s efforts and enjoys taking an under-appreciated ingredient and making it exciting to the palate – saffron-pickled turnips, for instance.
We Are Africa reignited his desire to showcase local and African ingredients on future menus. ‘Things like springbok steak, tamarind and Ethiopian passion berry or Madagascan chocolate, caramel and pear dessert,’ he says.
10. Star bed
Note: I was a guest of Great Plains Conservation’s ol Donyo Lodge for two nights, but I was given free rein to write what I chose.
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