Just before the end of half term, twelve pupils and six members of staff embarked on an inaugural trip to Kenya. Two groups with two aims: one to climb Mount Kenya; the other to undertake various community support work in local schools. Based at the beautiful home of King’s parents David and Amanda Beak, the mountain group began with an initial ‘acclimatisation’ day, braving cool waters and tumbling waterfalls to try their hand at abseiling and canyoning in a nearby forest.
As the title of Felice Benuzzi’s book suggests, it was indeed “No picnic on Mount Kenya” It was remarked how much the lower foothills resembled Dartmoor and the Quantocks (albeit on rare and sunny days!), and as the altitude increased the giant heathers and heathland gave way to something resembling a moonscape, dotted here and there with giant lobelias and groundsel. The guides, porters and chef could not have been better: there was local knowledge about the flora and fauna, society and culture on tap, and the group were treated to delicious food including freshly made mandazi, a form of fried bread, also known as a Swahili bun. These were delivered to the mess tent with hot tea one afternoon as the group arrived in camp, tired, grimy and hungry. The hot chocolate before bed also became a firm favourite on the mountain!
Altitude sickness did make an appearance for many, but spirits remained high throughout. On the morning (4.15am!) of the final ascent, 45 degree scree and rocks had to be negotiated with head torches and more than a little courage. Within two hours, the summit of Pt. Lenana was reached; standing at the heady height of 4985m as the sun rose on the horizon was quite an experience. All members of the group made it to the summit totally exhilarated, forgetting the three hour descent to where breakfast awaited, and a further 14km of walking beyond that would see them safely into camp on that final afternoon!
While the mountain group were busy ascending and descending Africa’s second highest peak, the community group, consisting of four pupils and two members of staff, spent time at a couple of schools working on community support projects. Clad in overalls they first set about painting classrooms at the Woodard School in Gilgil before travelling to Ethi Primary School, where they did a spot of teaching, even using the game of Hangman to teach spelling. Outdoor games were introduced and played, and our Chaplain, Father Mark, encouraged the children to join in with some group singing. It wasn’t all play however, as the group put in some hard graft, constructing wooden desks and digging and moving large amounts of soil.
A little “downtime” was due, and so the whole party enjoyed a couple of days in Samburu National Park, spotting wildlife on game drives and enjoying the calm oasis that was Larsen’s Camp, a collection of tents on platforms located beside the Ewaso Ng’iro river. Here the groups were fortunate enough to see many wild animals up close and personal, particularly lions, cheetahs and a leopard. Back at the camp, sixth form pupil, Charly Beak, witnessed first-hand the havoc that vervet monkeys can wreak if they gain access to your tent!
Before heading back to Nairobi on the affectionately-named ‘Bone Rattler’ bus, the group re-convened at the Beaks for a final meal. As they departed the following day, the sounds of Wonderwall by Oasis kicked in, the whole bus bursting into song! With the last day fast approaching, final packing commenced and there was just enough time for a day out visiting giraffes and orphaned elephants, and a Maasai market, where pupils partook in a little bartering to bag some bargains, with assistance from King’s parent and local resident Mary Mukindia. Supper at Tamambo Karen Blixen, in what was once the Out of Africa author’s home was a lovely way to end an unforgettable trip of a lifetime. Thanks go out to the staff who accompanied our pupils, to the Beaks and the O’Briens for their generous hospitality and to Mr Mason for his meticulous planning.