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24 February 2017

Kenya 2017

Just before the end of half term, twelve pupils and six members of staff embarked on an inaugural trip to Kenya.

On arrival in Nairobi, and after an initial ‘Miss, I’ve lost my passport’ panic, the group split and departed for their intended destinations: one group headed to Gilgil where they would spend four days working with pupils and staff in local schools, and the other headed to Timau to prepare for a four-day trek up Mount Kenya.

Hosts for most of the trip were King’s parents David and Amanda Beak, who opened up their stunning home to staff and pupils during their stay in Kenya. Their generosity and welcoming nature will not be forgotten, nor will the delicious feasts, morning, noon, and night (oh, and afternoon tea that was complete with homemade cakes!).

After an initial ‘acclimatisation’ day, that saw pupils braving cool waters and tumbling waterfalls to try their hand at abseiling and canyoning in a nearby forest, the final evening arrived for the mountain party to check kit and pack for the four-day mountain adventure that awaited.

As the title of Felice Benuzzi’s book suggests, it was indeed ‘no picnic on Mount Kenya’! The lower foothills resembled Dartmoor (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 weather was kind, not a hint of rain, but this required the application of copious amounts of sun cream at regular intervals. 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 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.

At the end of the first four days, both groups re-convened at the Beaks for an evening together before setting out north to Samburu National Park. Hidden under shady trees lies Larsen’s Camp, a total oasis in an otherwise dry and barren bushland. Here the groups were fortunate enough to see many wild animals up close and personal (particularly lions, cheetahs and a leopard!) on a game drive before relaxing with refreshments on the camp’s treetop platform. The early morning game drive also yielded results – more lions, elephants and giraffe, not to mention Grévy’s zebra, oryx, impala and dik-dik. The luxury tents were the ideal ‘hide’ from which to see some of these animals wandering around the camp – Mrs Crandley and Captain King spotted what looked like a very tame impala, and a family of pygmy mongoose, and Charly Beak witnessed first-hand the havoc that vervet monkeys can wreak if they gain access to your tent!

There was one final evening at the Beaks, where another feast was enjoyed, before the long bus journey in what was affectionately named the ‘Bone Rattler’. As the group departed, the sounds of Wonderwall by Oasis kicked in and the whole bus sang out in unison. Waiting in Nairobi were Mrs Betteridge’s parents, on hand and ready to welcome everyone with samosas and tea in their lovely garden. Beyond that lay the final accommodation, Wildebeest Eco-Camp in Karen.

With the last day fast approaching, final packing commenced and a day out visiting giraffes and orphaned elephants, and a Maasai market was on the agenda. Pupils partook in a little bartering to bag some bargains, with assistance from King’s parent and local resident Mary Mukindia, before enjoying supper at Tamambo Karen Blixen, in what was once the Out of Africa author’s home. Hand written messages on dessert plates offered a really touching moment at the end of the evening.

This was a culturally awe-inspiring 12-day trip. Our pupils were tremendous ambassadors throughout and we would like to thank them for their enduring wit, courage and determination, no matter the situation or circumstance – no moans or groans, just laughter and enjoyment and positivity. We would also like to say a huge thank you to staff members; Mr Shaw for stepping in at the last minute to join the trip; Mrs Crandley and Captain King for successfully accompanying the mountain group to the summit; and Father Mark and Mrs Lavender for their hard work with the community group.

The trip would not have taken place were it not for the hard work, dedication and meticulous planning of Mr Mason (CCF) and tour guide and trip co-ordinator extraordinaire, AKA Mrs Betteridge, and for the sheer warmth and generosity of the Beaks – who were the perfect hosts, making everyone feel so welcome in their perfect piece of Africa!

We’re sure this experience will remain with staff and pupils for years to come.

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