For centuries people have tried to convey Africa in words - for distant friends and family, for publishers, or just a paper memory for themselves. It's impossible for me to write about my last 6 months without over-using cliched adjectives, and I'd fail in comparisson to some of these brilliant writers; and even the majority of them struggled to adequately sum up the way a place like Kenya touches your soul.
All I can write about is the incredible (oops, there's the first one) journey I've started, that will continue through South America, New Zealand and Australia this year.
Living with Dad and stepmum Jo in the middle of Lewa wildlife conservancy was the materialisation of a childhood dream for me; being surrounded by and immersed in wildlife, the time and freedom to go exploring the wild bush with my dogs, the views of a never-ending Africa and being surrounded by people with a passion and drive for protecting the animals and communities that co-exist here.
The organisation Dad works for, the Northern Rangelands Trust, is a really exciting project with so many trajectories. The sustainable unity being brought about between the rural communities and the land they share with wildlife is inspiring. As is the work done by the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, who share their office with NRT. I offered to take some photographs for Lewa to use for promotions, which meant I got the opportunity to go out on patrol with the rangers.
These guys are out 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on the front line in the war against poaching. Many of them are stationned out on foot, and it wasn't unusual to be driving through the conservancy and come across a ranger perched up a tree with his binoculars, scanning the horizon.
It was on one of these patrols that I met Elvis. I'd heard about this young, handsome, well mannered character through the grapevine, and was keen to see if he lived up to my expectations. Sure enough it didn't take me long to fall madly in love. Elvis is a 5 year old black rhino, hand reared and released back into the conservancy. Although he's been wild for 3 years now, he still relishes a good tickle from the rangers, who's smell and voices he recognises. He can regularly be seen strolling into headquarters to turn on the water tap and have a drink... doesn't have the manners to turn it off after he leaves though!
How anyone could lift a gun up and destroy such a beautiful, gentle, emotionally complex and iconic creature was totally beyond me. Just for some keratin that grows from his nose. Living in Lewa brought home the true scale of the poaching wars to me - and just how powerful the corrupt, dirty underworld is that ensures it never ends.
Another conservation inspiration was the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a few hours from Lewa. I spent 2 weeks volunteering with the Chimpanzee Sanctuary here, who work with the Jane Goodall Institute to provide a haven for chimps rescued from the black market. I was fascinated by these creatures; so uncanilly like their cruel human cousins that were the reason they were behind bars. I spent hours sitting by the electric fence to their (huge) enclosure, just watching and interacting with them whenever they came past. I became especially fond of one chimp called Saidia (which means help in Swahili.) We'd sit opposite eachother separated by the fence, and share sticks and fruit and play catch with small stones. On my last day she put her hand underneath the wire, and left it there. I slowly reached out and rested my palm in hers, and we held hands for all of 30 seconds. I wanted to apologize to her on behalf of the entire human race, to give her a big hug and tell her she was probably better off in here - a safe open space with food and shelter and vets on call. She was very special and I'll never forget that day she let me hold her hand.
I stayed at the research centre during my time in Ol Pej, and met some fantastic people. Ryan, Keighley, Tatjana, Lukas and I were each there to do our little bit for the planet; be it with people or animals, but shared a common passion for the beatuiful space we were in. We had some great game drives and even greater giggles. Where else can your breakfast be interrupted by a German flying into the car park in a pickup shouting 'there's a lion kill!' and everyone uniformly abandoning toast, cornflakes and a timely arrival to work to jump in the back.
But then it is a place where the norm becomes distorted to fit in with the bush. Going out for dinner in Lewa means going to a stunning viewpoint to set up the dining table and eat. Going to get some food for dinner meant walking up to the orchard to pick our own fruit and veg.
My last two months were spent to-ing and fro-ing between Lewa and Nairobi, as I picked up a work opportunity in the city. I stayed with Ruth; reikki master, BodyTalk practitioner, dog lover, polo player. Between her dogs and mine we created a pack of 8, and what a sight we were on our thrice weekly walks up the Ngong Hills. Two crazy white girls in gum boots with a never ending supply of woofs. Mad dogs and english women.
So to end, sorry for those of you who have no idea who the following are, but I just had to say my thank you's.
Dad & Jo - thank you for having me and for being awesome people to share paradise with
Larissa, Toya, Luka - thank you for keeping me sane (and drunk)
Struth - thank you for all the healing and spiritual guidance, and for adopting me and tegan and skye
Thump, Moses, Catherine, Jacob the ranger, Les - thank you for making an incredible trip that much more incredible
Next blog - Lima!