Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Kenyan Excursion

Kiambethu Tea Farm is the oldest tea farm in Kenya and is just 40 minutes from the heart of Nairobi in Limuru. My visit to Kiambethu Estate provided a tranquil insight into the life of a settler farm - it was quite a memorable experience. 

The Kiambethu Estate is located at an altitude of 7000 feet above sea level, in a truly magnificent garden with views of the spectacular Kilimanjaro and Ngong Hills and has lush acres of tea plantations that seem to vanish in the horizon. Two English families, Mitchell & McDonnell built the Estate in the early 1900's. These families are said to be the first to have ventured into the tea business. 

The tour of the farm started off in the garden where one of the owners introduced us to what a tea bush looks like. Next, we were taken into the house and explained the process of tea production over our own cup of tea and homemade bisquits. Yum Yum! I learned that within 24 hours tea goes from being picked off a bush to ready for consumption. The oxidation process is that quick. The quality of tea is dependent upon what part of the leaf was used to make it. In the afternoon, a walk through the tea plantations and forest displayed the conditions needed for the tea to grow. There is plenty of rainfall in the region so tea is picked all year. Kenya is the third largest producer of tea after Sri Lanka and India and Kiambethu Estate has been home to four generations of the first family to plant and make tea in Kenya. 

One other fun and rewarding part of the day was simply strolling around the gardens around the home, especially to catch a glimpse of the resident colobus monkeys! 

*This video footage was not mine, however, it is exactly what the monkeys were doing when I visited Kiambethu Tea Farm.

Cherished memories are worth sharing...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Kissing Giraffes

Kissing Giraffes in August 2004


It's not often you land in a foreign country and wake up to a kiss from the local wildlife. But it can happen in Kenya. And this is exactly what delightfully happened to me! My first full day in Nairobi included visiting the Giraffe Center, a wildlife preserve in the suburbs of Nairobi where a herd of endagered Rothschild Giraffes call home. The Giraffe Center is located in Langata, approximately 5 kilometers from the center of NairobiKenya. It was established in order to protect the endangered Rothschild Giraffe which are only found in the grasslands of East Africa.
These Rothschild Giraffes are a subspecies of the world's tallest mammal, with distinct white stockings and five-horned heads, and a back-story worthy of Hollywood.
In 1975, Betty and Jock Leslie-Melville, a colorful colonial couple living in a country house outside Nairobi, learned from friends that a massive Kenyan ranch was about to be subdivided into small lots — which meant the native Rothschild Giraffes that grazed on the land were doomed.
Betty's son Rick Anderson says three wild Maasai giraffe were already roaming his mother's property, so it was a short step for her to think she might "adopt" a Rothschild, and hopefully help preserve the breed.
A rancher was enlisted to "rescue" a baby, which he did, from horseback, with a lasso.
"Daisy Rothschild," as the little giraffe was named, spent a few terrified days in a pen before a seven hour drive to her new home. She made the trip in a mini-bus filled with straw, her head sticking out the top.
If it sounds a little politically incorrect, the Leslie-Melvilles weren't without compassion: for the next year they bottle-fed Daisy around the clock and later provided her with a new giraffe friend they named Marlon.
Word got out about the eclectic couple with the country house who kept giraffes on the lawn. People started calling about other vulnerable Rothschilds around Kenya. Giraffe Manor, as its name became, would go on to shelter 25 of the world's largest mammals, helping to breed and relocate many of them to national parks. The population of Rothschild Giraffes in Kenya is now a healthy 300+.
Over the years, the Leslie-Melvilles were able to buy adjacent property. Now, Daisy's grandchildren roam over 140 acres, feasting on acacia trees. They spend days at the Giraffe Center, where visitors hand-feed them while learning about Kenya's climate and environment from trained educators. Some 70,000 schoolchildren alone do so each year, thanks to funds raised by the center. Most Kenyans can't afford the park fees or transportation to see animals in the wild; for many of the poorest kids in Nairobi, a day at Giraffe Center is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to encounter the wildlife that the country is famous for.
And for the most daring among them, the giraffes reward kindness with kisses. Place a food pellet between your lips and let a wild creature tickle your cheek with her tongue as she gobbles up her treat. Who needs mistletoe?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Travel Quote

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”
- Mark Jenkins