George Heriot's School from Edinburgh, UK, visited Kenya in June 2013 hosted by RVA. This company were recommended by our UK travel agency, Key Travel. RVA were able to provide a flexible, tailored itinerary which met the aims set out for the trip at a competitive price. A recce trip was undertaken three months in advance by the group leader primarily to complete the details of the school's risk assessments for the trip.
On arrival at Nairobi we were met by RVA staff and transported by 'African' bus (no luxury air-conditioned coaches here!) to the Camp in a corner of Ol Pejeta Conservancy, near Nanyuki in the Laikipia district of central Kenya. The camp is in a beautiful spot overlooking the conservancy. Accommodation is in large safari tents which can sleep 12-16 (our students were 8 to a tent so there was plenty of room). There is an attractive communal lounge and mess area also overlooking the reserve. There were always animals to see from the camp including elephant, buffalo and rhino and the ubiquitous impala. The camp has a feel of being part of the reserve even though there is an unobtrusive electrified fence to keep larger animals out of the immediate camp area. The ablution blocks have an African feel with bucket-hoist style showers using sun-heated water. Far from causing complaints this was very popular with the students who organised themselves into teams to operate them! The whole camp is kept in pristine condition by the staff.
Food was also to the students' taste with a mix of local variations on beef stew and chicken along with the ubiquitous pizza. A fresh fruit platter was provided at every meal. Our group stayed on a full-board basis. The students helped the kitchen staff with dinner on a rota basis. This turned out to be a very popular activity as the kitchen staff were great fun!
There is no mains electricity - a generator provided electricity for a few hours in the evening. Wifi was available while the generator was running but proved unreliable. Mobile phone coverage was no problem in camp and indeed everywhere we went.
One issue at camp is security. We were provided with a lockable trunk but I would recommend some really secure system be worked out to enable group leaders to look after passports, valuables and money. Baboon raids were a problem with tents entered (while vacated) and belongings scattered a couple of times during our stay. We were warned of this in advance and steps were taken during our visit to control the baboons, however it is a difficult problem and needs to be kept on top of.
RVA provides training for British Army groups, and there were such groups in camp at the same time as our group for a short time. The soldiers can be boisterous and intimidating for youngsters, and their language is foul, so I would recommend that school and army groups be kept completely separate.
The first few days were spent in camp and the local village acclimatising and getting our bearings. The camp has a climbing wall, a fleet of mountain bikes and plenty of room for games and activities such as bush-skills. The kids were all introduced to the bikes and used them to get around locally, including a 'game cycle' in Ol Pejeta and a visit to Morani's Restaurant (highly recommended!). Then local cycling is not too demanding as the terrain is flat and the tracks especially in Ol Pejeta are in good condition. Our versatile and knowledgeable RVA instructor, Joyce, gave talks on local culture, history, politics and basic Swahili as well as leading the group on the various activities. The continuity provided by having one instructor attached to us for the whole visit was excellent. We met all the other instructors over the course of our stay and were impressed by all of them - they are very high quality staff.
An informative visit by bus to the local town Nanyuki was followed by a visit to a commercial flower farm. The students found this far more interesting than they had expected! We then continued on to the Ngare Ndare forest for a 'wild' camp. Tents were pitched, food cooked and elephant spotted from the canopy walkway at dusk. After dark some excellent campfire games were played. The forest rangers kept watch over the camp overnight. The camp coincided with a visit to teh Cottage Hospital in Nanyuki with a sick student. He was given a private room and very good treatment which enabled him to rejoin the group after a couple of days - reassuring for group leaders!
An hour's walk into the forest, with a nature commentary by the excellent rangers, led to a gorge formed by a spring from the mountain.
After changing into wetsuits we were instructed as to the correct technique for safely jumping into the pools and introduced to the training jumps of 4-5metres. The group then walked up the gorge about 20 minutes and some opted to do the big one - 11metres. his was followed by two 8-9m jumps. All great fun and safely led my Matt and Kate. Unfortunately there was too much water in the gorge to attempt the 30metre abseil through the waterfall - a good safety call on the part of the instructors.
Community and Conservation
Three days were spent in the primary school near the camp meeting staff and pupils, plastering the walls of a classroom and building school desks from scratch. The students learned joinery and plastering skills very quickly, and managed to complete 30 desks and the classroom walls with help and instruction from local skilled tradesmen. The students had previously raised the money to buy all the materials required, and this was all organised by Dipesh at RVA. The school made a big fuss of us with the whole school turning out and much singing and dancing. We finished with a sports afternoon led by our students which was great fun.
One day was spent in a more remote area in the Mount Kenya reserve visiting a local mobile clinic run by CHAT. Again we learnes a lot and were made very welcome.
One day was spent in Ol Pejeta learning about the management of teh wildlife and cattle and how they can successfully coexist. We also visited teh Northern White Rhino sanctuary to get up close to these highly endangered animals, and had a 'behind the scenes' visit to the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary.
On our last full day the students could choose their activity with options including a bigger mountain bike ride in the Mount Kenya Reserve or a final visit to Ol Pejeta. The group met in Nanyuki for lunch in an African restaurant and some souvenir shopping. We were rather pestered by hawkers in Nanyuki but RVA and GHS staff kept them at bay.
The 4 hour trip to Nairobi Airport was broken with a visit to Africana, a large emporium selling all sorts of African crafts. Bartering was the order of the day and some students took to it better than others. Well worth the visit, though.
RVA put together an fantastic trip for us. A lot of organisation went into it and it all went very smoothly. The RVA instructors Joyce, Nick, Maina, Nixon, Matt and Kate were outstanding - friendly, knowledgeable and safe!
The recce trip by the leader was essential to get a feel for how things were on the ground and allay safety concerns. The itinerary agreed was based on information gleaned during the recce and discussions with Nick. A couple of unpredicted safety issues arose during the main trip but these were discussed at the time with Dipesh at RVA and either action taken at the time or steps put in place for the incident to be managed differently or not repeated. Dipesh was always receptive to feedback. In particular his detailed organisation of the community and conservation project days was excellent. We always got the impression that RVA valued our custom and wanted us back, and they looked after us extremely well. Our students had a ball and got a huge amount out of the trip; feedback from them and their families since returning home has been univeraslly positive.