Mzungu is a mzungu
Mzungu – a taxi driver noted after I explained him that I cannot use his services as I lost the paper with Isaac’s telephone and address and I didn’t know where to go.
After few hours nap at airport meadows, negotiations with policemen, sms and phone calls to Bulgaria, Dani managed to open my laptop mailbox and send me Isaac’s phone numbers. But one of the numbers was switched off and the other was answered by a voice similar to Isaac’s but saying he was not Isaac, and I felt off in apocalyptic thoughts. What if Isaac’s wife forbids him paragliding? Or he totally gave up the idea to win 1 million from paragliding by investing 2? How shell I organize the French group transport and whole their guiding without a local man? And Bulgarians afterward?
Finally, the phone rang and it turned out that Isaac thought that I arrive the next night.
He picked me up, we went to his place, sorted out the luggage and went north to eat some kilometers.
Mzungu and kikuyu went to Meru to look for new flying sites
We drove through green paradise gardens with tropical fruits. The freshly cut pineapple was refreshingly juicy and sweet.
In the evening, we stayed at Isaac’s brother – Nicolas – a successful doctor in the area, who was complaining that his kids don’t want to continue his practice. At the same time he admired Isaac, who is not enslaved by business, one son is a pilot and others study at university. Generally in Kenya, as in Bulgaria in the past, there is a bitter competition how successful your kids will be. Which goes with slavery of clichés – how can you explain someone that paragliding is a worthy job.
Other impressions from this visit was the broiler invasions; the confused situation when I shake hand with all including the house maid and that computer games don’t spare anyone – the doctor’s youngest son was fat and obsessed. At the same time, the doctor had a pain in his leg due to pinched nerve in his back, but except buying a comfier chair, he didn’t demonstrate to his kids that health has priority over making money.
Meru is Kenya’s garden of Eden, where everything grows. Unfortunately most land is used for agriculture and there are not many landing fields.
So, we continued our way to Isiolo, where the terrain turns drier and thornier.
In Kenya, highlands are lush green because of more rain and cloud shadows, while lowlands are sunnier and contrast drier.
We took a main dirt road toward Wajir and Somalia. After 60 km bouncing and barriers, we reached the beginning of a hilly area. I picked a hill close to the road, climbed for half an hour, cleared a place for my glider and took off. The climb was smooth, but I had to abandon it as it was drifting me away from the road. Of course, the sinking air ambushed me and I quickly lost height, still managing to admire the view of vast plains with thorny acacia and bushes and volcanic hills with craters.
Unlike the green Meru, here the Sun heats well the space between trees and the cumuluses above clearly marked the thermals.
In the evening, we slept in a policemen camp. I was impressed again how Isaac acquired maximum information about the situation and among several options he was always choosing the safest. A mzungu like me didn’t care where he’ll sleep in this wilderness, but intuition suggested me to listen to Isaac and not to ask stupid questions. At all, me and Isaac were a beautiful team – he trusted me for the flying and I trusted him for the logistics and things were going more than well. And the more we experienced together, the easier we understood each other. Sometimes half a word or just a look was enough.
Later Isaac told me that my landing caused indirect traffic accident – a motorbike hit a woman from the running toward me crowd. When I landed, the mob was overexcited, thinking that Al Shabab kicked me from an airplane. But later they can remember about the accident and ask for a compensation…
The police camp is one of the many camps scattered among the poorly populated North territories used mainly for stockbreeding by local tribes – turkana, borana, pokot, maraquet, baringo, meru.
When government cuts a big chunk of land for a nature conservancy or when there is a drought, the tribes and clans lose graze land and enter the neighboring territories. A brawl turns into an armed action of cow rattling. While adults shoot each other, the participating boys wrap their arm to the tail of a caw and run like this with the whole herd for 1-2 days passing 1-200 km. In some greener areas, villagers started growing European cows which wouldn’t survive the run and the harsh life in lowlands.
Look at the face of a woman, who lost her two sons:
Sometimes, cow rattle and violence increases before political elections, probably encouraged by opposition forces.
On our way back toward the green Maua and Meru, we encountered a contra action against cow rattlers – throughout several kilemeters, we met tens of people running with machete in their hands and eyes ready for war.
According to the police, there is no direct danger for random passers-by, unless they are armed (and thus mistaken for rattlers or defenders) and unless they don’t enter the zone of shootings. The whites are even more avoided, as everyone knows that, there will be a stronger reaction by the officials, who rely on tourism.
So, we spread our tent in the fenceless police camp. Initially, I wanted to sleep outside, under the deep Equatorial star sky, but again I listened to Isaac. He told me about a man with a half face, because a hyena tried to snatch his head while sleeping. It bit him hard, but got scared from his reaction and run away with what’s left in the mouth.
In the night, we’ve heard the typical hyena laughter.
Sleeping in the tent is useful against crawling things at night. During all my trips in Ethiopia and Kenya, I’ve never seen a scorpion or a snake. They say, that a scorpion sting is not deadly and that milk reliefs the pain from the acidic venom.
The policemen looked experienced. They accepted us in their camp but first checked our car and luggage. How would they know who we are? They looked more like soldiers, than policemen. Every morning and evening they lifted and descended the Kenyan flag. They were well armed and trained by Israeli’s. Didn’t want to bring them beer next time. One year will be here, then somewhere else.
I woke up in the night from heat – from one side it was the natural body warming during sleep and from other side it was the roasted during the day African soil – like a hot lover!
At 4 in the night, strong S wind came and in the morning the sky was full with low clouds, which covered the hill tops.
Indian summer monsoons originate from east trade winds in ocean equatorial areas, then turn North and North East along Somalia coast, pass through Arabian sea as SW winds and then reach India and Himalayas. Part of them get sucked by African continent and come as humid South East winds for Kenya.
In winter, antimonsoons are North East winds along Somalia coast (this pronounced wind shift was the engine of Arabian invasions in East Africa), but with much less continental penetration, compared to summer SE winds.
Terrain obstacles like Mount Kenya or Abadea turn the wind, while Rift Valley channels it along and this can produce N and even W winds behind them.
Lake Victoria produces well pronounced afternoon breeze, which also effectively stops E wind invasions.
All these create interesting convergence lines, which have to be explored further.
Last year, I was puzzled by the sudden change of airmasses – one day it can be milky and the next day clear, without any fronts or signs of change. In Ethiopia, I’ve noticed that prevailing winter NE winds originate from a W flow through Sahara, which before India turns as NE flow and parallel to it joins another NE flow from the winter antimonsoons Indian Ocean circulation. So in a narrow band, there can be airmasses with different origin. If this border moves S, then cold and dry Sahara airmasses will prevail and if it moves N, then warm and humid Indian Ocean airmasses will prevail.
Additionally, the lack of coastal mountain barriers allows moist ocean air penetrations for few hundred kilometers inland. After the first mountain barriers, and especially in the west third of Kenya, the air is drier and low morning clouds are no observed as further east.
The low morning clouds didn’t defy me, because I knew that next day will bring next airmass transformation. The added sun heat, through earth surface, reduces humidity and drastically lifts the cloud base. In the morning, base can be 500 m above the terrain, 1000 m at launch and 1500 m in the afternoon.
From my Google Earth homework I marked a highland peninsula east of Meru, but it turned out to be too high, thus close to cloud base i.e. there was not enough altitude for transitions between thermals (later it also appeared that there is too much agriculture and too few landing fields in this zone).
Despite that highlands and lowlands got almost equal rain in December, highlands were contrastingly greener than dry thorny lowlands 5-15 km away. One reason is that even in dry season, there are much more clouds over the highlands, which significantly reduces sun heating and drying of terrain. Another reason is that scratching highlands morning clouds irrigate and refresh vegetation (there is no dew in lowlands and some plants even lose their leaves to reduce evaporation during the dry season).
Another feature of Meru highland peninsula and Mount Kenya is that SW winds make falling winds 5-10 km northward, which surpresses thermals and cumuluses there. But a little further north (10-15 km), a long and juicy convergence line forms almost every day, which should be possible to catch from the easternmost volcano hills or small mountains north of Isiolo-Wadja road.
After clouds rose, we visited few hills nearby. I spotted two higher one, but wind was with more southern component and blew across them, so I improvised with a third hill in the area. There was a lot of graze land on the way, but policemen told us that animals avoid it as they hurt their legs by the sharp stones in the high grass.
Birds were soaring above the hill, but in strong gusts they were contracting their wings, so I waited the wind to drop, relying on a boundary layer theory (initial daily addition of sun heat increases its width and flow speed, until thermals in its higher part are still not so strong and organized to bring down upper stronger winds).
I took off and was catapulted upward as with a slingshot. Higher up I saw that the hill is a half crater, which effectively catches the flow and concentrates it into a stream, similar to the cumulative shell for breaking through the tank armor. Due to the wing induction, the upward motion was not accompanied by backward blown out, but if I tried to soar it, I could lose the stream through a difficult for flying, landing and walking terrain. So I obeyed my fears, left the jet lift and directed the wing toward the road and the camp. Of course, I got in the other side of the equation and landed soon among sparse thorny threes.
Conclusion: - the more you’re worried about the logistics (landing and retrieve), the shorted your flights will be.
As we had to check 10 flying sites for 6 days in different parts of Kenya, we decided to continue to Isiolo to check a hill north of Archer Post. In order to avoid the 70 km bumpy dirt road to Isiolo, we took another dirt road, which after 20 km brought us to a tarmac road in the highland peninsula. Meanwhile I climbed another hill, but it was full of thorns and wind was strong and awry – a confirmation of the falling S winds north of the highland peninsula. I also noticed that higher hills have grassier take off options above trees and thorny bushes, compared to lower hills.
On the way we passed across the horde which was chasing with machetes the cow rattlers.
Again, up there, it was getting greener. When farms appeared, landing places disappeared. The region is famous with chat production, which is delivered by 30 trucks daily to Nairobi airport and then exported for Somalia. They say that fights there resume temporarily, until they distribute the supplies of this energizing drug (no tiriness, hunger or thirst) and then they start fighting again.
There are nice tarmac roads in the mountain and local Trump was winning the electorate with infrastructural projects. Local opposition criticizes about corruption and money waste, but it seems they don’t have chance against the merged business with power. Our search for take offs coincides with a pre-election round, because we encountered several big gatherings. On two of them, 2 idiots decided to become famous and caught themselves to the landing gear of taking off politician helicopters. National TV’s named one of them “James Bond of Meru”:
Isiolo will be a new transport hub with an airport and train line from the newlybuilt port of Lamu, which should outperform Mombasa, delivering goods to Uganda, Ruanda, Burundi and even Congo, which already has its own ports at the Atlantic (more and more goods come from/to China and there won’t be need ships to sail around half Africa). The main road to Moyale and Ethiopia passes through Isiolo too.
We spend the night in Isiolo, filled with fuel and water and went to some small mountains north of Archer Post. There were some training military bases on the way. English are also active in the area.
The mountain, which I planned to check was visible from far away it its beautiful rounded rocks, colored by bird shit and lichen. On its east side, there was a smaller hill with antenna on top. On the way up we passed by a 14-15 years old girl in traditional samburu dress and a child on her back. She was scared by the camera, constantly ready to slip into the bushes like a shy deer roe. We gave her water and fruits.
Next to the antenna, we found big enough for take off rock ground amid trees and bushes, but I decided not to take off immediately, because I’ll gather more info, if I walk around, then making a top to bottom flight.
We went to the marked in Google Earth place, but it was overgrown with bushes and needed a lot of clearing. Luckily, on the way we encountered a big rock stage and despite facing NE when prevailing wind was ESE and it was slightly in the lee of some rocks to the right, I decided to try it. The slight terrain funnel bellow was catching the flow and half of the place had nice constant gusts, but in the other half the flow was turbulent and rotorly. Wind was picking up and this was also a reason to choose bigger take off with slightly cross wind, than smaller take off with straight wind. Bigger place means more space for maneuvering and I can drift sideways if wind started blowing me backward. The smooth at first glance rock stage turned out to be fill with cracks and flakes, which like magnit were catching the glider lines and their sharp edges could cut them easily.
Next time we have to bring a bag with cement and 2 bags of quartz sand to smoothen them, or glue for tail like Teracol/Teraflex T2/C2, because it’s more elastic and has fibers. Before stuffing up the cracks and flakes, they have to be cleaned well and soaked with water for better contact and soldering (at last some use for flying from my building activities last years).
I waited few cycles and found out that their periods have long lulls of 3-4 m/s and gusts of over 10 m/s. I let the next gust and after a minute I raised the wing which I mushroomed in advance in order to avoid line cuts.
The wind gradient catapulted me 50-100 meters vertically without blowing me backward (due to the glider inductive ability). I went further ahead and entered another climb which I turned, but then left because I was still low to follow its drift over the crest. I was penetrating slowly against the wind, trying to be close to the only decent landing – the road to Ethiopia. Therest of the flats were full of sparse thorny trees which would catch my glider.
Suddenly, without any warning, the wing collapsed totally and overshoot with power forward, so I had to stop it with even more power until horseshoe stall to prevent it drop below the horizon. I almost wisperred “yahoo” and gave up flying close to the beautiful rocks of the bigger mountain.
Further on, the conditions were classic, despite the low cloudbase (2300 m) and cloud sucks. Apparently, like in Kerio, the strong wind was deforming thermals into the slope and made them even more turbulent. Away from the terrain, thermals were normalizing.
Unfortunately, my goal was back to Archer Post, while wind was going in another direction, so I left the climbs and after few some mid-day yoyo I landed on the road. One day, I’ll go downwind toward the wilderness, Turkana lake and beyond…
On the way back, East of Isiolo, the fat cloud street was forming again.
We decided to eat some kilometers toward Nakuru, where I wanted to fly the Menengai crater. It was full of lush green farms around Mount Kenya. Then, between it and Abadea mountain, the terrain gets drier, probably because of subsiding airmasses and more sunshine between two mountains. There was a nice flying site before Subukia for SW winds, which blow mostly in the rainy period, before CuNims form above Abadea. A French paragliding pilot was living at the bottom, but his accommodation was expensive for us (60 euro), so we slept at Rabi’s place for 4 dollars.
Next day we went to Nakuru and the touristic view point at the edge of Menengay crater. Wind was strong but bearable, so I decided to give a go. At the bottom, there were 1-2 landing fields and difficult to pass bushes and terrains. Further ahead were the geothermal electro stations, but their roads and parkings were unreachable against the wind.
I lifted the glider and again I was catapulted upwards and my fast reaction prevented riser twist and wing collapse. I started soaring in front of the crater rim, but climbs were uneven, so I continued to the edge of the slope, right of take off. I passed few more thermals on the way, but I was not sure if these were thermals or cumulative streams from the crater shapes. I also didn’t want to follow a thermal, which to finish in the middle of a million people city. Still, in future it should be flown again because later I saw that over Nakuru forms and starts a long cloud street along Rift Valley.
Landing was easy, but this fast development in Kenya, big fields will soon be full of buildings and landings should be at the bottom of the crater. The duty mob gathered again and few cheeky guys tried my helmet and harness without asking for permission. Most important is that there is no aggression, but a sort of uncontrolled curiosity.
After the Nakuru flight, we hit the road to try some hills near Eburu and on the way we skipped the place where they sell and cook loads of meat, because dust devils were lifting unhealthy amounts of dust. From GilGil we took a dirt road through the bottom of Rift Valley and steered toward a hill, which meanwhile was in my Google Earth list. After zig zag through farms, we reached the hill which was an elevation from the mountain west of Eburu. It was probably the sequential volcanic formation, because there was a small crater, where the local farmer planted corn. He told us, that several years ago, another mzungu flew regularly back to Naivasha lake. On the way to take off, locals showed us proudly their water source, which was inherited from the white farmers from the past. They sealed a rock crack with concrete and let two long metal pipes to take steam out and condense on its way. Thus the condensed water was filling barrels and giving 20-30 liters per day. Their brownish teeth remind me of another case in Bulgaria about the effects of drinking too much mineral water.
The hill and the takeoff were rounded and slightly covered of tall grass. I spread the wing, inflated it and after a long run I took off - apparently in a sinking cycle. There wasn’t much ridge lift, but I managed to stay halfway the slope, using different bubbles. Few times I thought I gonna land in the fields bellow, but the whole terrain was a long slope, which destabilized air and regularly released thermals.
So, I climbed over the hill and went to see the neighboring slopes and potential take offs. Once, I got into a long – 5 m/s and wondered whether wind shifted and made me fly the downwind side of the mountain.
I sunk 50 m above the fields at the bottom of the slope searching for less head wind and sink in order to gain more height above the terrain forward, which will give me more accelerated and formed bubbles. Thus, I found a zone with mashed lift, which eventually turned into a well-defined and strong chimney, up to the cloudbase. I forgot to mention, that 3-4 km in front of the hill, dust devils were forming regularly and after my climb two of the passed through the take off.
At 4000 m, the pictured restored its colors. Eburu mountain was bellow me and I could use it for connection to the higher mountains to S and W. Behind the mountain, there was a hollow, where dust devils were swinging like chilly cobras. Further S, I recognized the mountain, which we tried last year on our way to Narok. A convergence created juicy clouds over Naivasha lake. A long cloud street was stretching over Rift Valley, up to Nakuru.
I decided to search for other potential take offs for E and S winds near Eburu, but from above they all looked small and flat. Still, it was beautiful with randomly spreaded volcanic hills and craters – one looked like a crown, another was like chopper cut.
I didn’t want to complicate the transport for Isaac, so I continued toward Nakuru-Nairobi road and landed next to few huge circular and colorful farms. A week later, one of the French pilots landed inside one of them, which turned out to be possessed by the president’s family. When the guard escorted him outside and ask him to write his details in the visitors book, in the part about car registration number he wrote the brand and the name of his wing.
During the flight I passed over some protected territories with wild animals. In Kenya, you need a special acuteness of knowing where you can fly and where you can land. Imagine landing near a road but not being able to access it, because there is a strong electrical fence invisible from above. A good landmark are the tracks of cars and people around gates and holes.
In the evening, we slept at Kijabe take off and the night confirmed the prediction about a night increase of NE wind in the region, probably temporarily held by the thermals during the day. In the morning, the wind shifted from typical (catabatic) N, but daily heating made the slope work and it shifted to SW.
I took off at 11:30 and instantly entered a thermal, which took me to 4200 m. Isaac and I have agreed to check some hills east of Narok, so I decided to try in this direction. I thought it was impossible to cross Rift Valley, but I’ve heard about some Iranian pilots who tried to Longonot crater and got some lift there. Longonot is a massive volcano crater in the middle of the vally. Part of it is a protected territory with wild animals. It was getting further away from retrieve roads, but I decided to gamble and after a long glide I reached the footsteps of the volcano. Meanwhile, I found out that I didn’t choose the best line, because further N there was a cloud street connection with Kijabe and the newly born clouds over the volcano. I puzzled whether to go back to the civilizsation, because soon I won’t be able to exit the protected territory and sinks were getting stronger. Still some clouds started forming ahead of me and soon I got a good thermal which gifted me long 6 m/s climb to the cloudbase.
I was still far from the road to Narok, where several 1 km high dust devils were dancing for me. A better direction are the hills with geothermal powerplants leading toward the mountain west of Naivasha, but there were no signs of roads and I would be far from Isaac, who followed me on the way to Narok.
I took a middle way between the hills and the dust devils, directly toward Narok. Clouds started forming ahead of me and I confidently followed the development of the conditions. Further ahead, where the terrain was rising and started overcasting, I was careful not to chase dying sun holes and enter the trap of shadows. I tried to keep the E upwind side of clouds
20 km before Narok, the terrain rises but then descends again. I couldn’t believe that after the recent plenty of thermals, in the middle of the day, at the Equator, I had to turn 0,5-0,8 m/s climbs over dry dark fields in order to stay up. Probably the edge and the beginning of the terrace were suffering from a breezy type of stabilization (similar to the one at the edges of Ethiopian plateaus). The descending terrain behind was probably stabilizing the airmass additionally.
I was even looking for dust devils and one on the edge of the shadow showed me the next climb to the cloudbase. Then I entered a long lasting turbulence from the mixing of two airmasses and in no time I got into the trap of shadows. East wind got stronger I lost the chance to stay at the upwind side of clouds and the big border of sun and shadows.
There was a vast cloud street, SE toward Masai MaraНа ЮИ, but it turned out to be too big to sustain itself and started to retransform. Dust devils were still bubbling on the full shadow and conditions started to stabilize. Pity, because toward Masai Mara ad Serengeti it was looking great!
I was surprised by the quick transformation of conditions. Climbs were oily but weak – bellow 1 m/s. I still climbed and thought I managed to escape the rain behind, when I entered something like an icy sleet.
At the end of the game I landed on the way to Masai Mara, 10 km after Narok. Isaac came with the car, even before I touched the ground.
During our explorations with Isaac I didn’t manage to write down all what’s happening – so intensely was everything.
Then, French pilots came and again we made nice flights around Longonot crater.
We flew over Naivasha lake
And had some more nice flights from Eburu to Narok:
We were riding convergences:
With the Bulgarian group later, we chased endless cumulus fields:
And found new take offs:
We saw Kilimandjaro:
And the eternal wild nature:
We have a motto:
And we’re not afraid:
We lived interesting encounters like in this school:
Or being guest of a massai family:
We woke up in paradise:
And went to sleep in paradise (of lions):
Thank you Isaac:
And all who participated one way or another!
SkyNomad.club Kenya organizes paragliding tandem flights, XC and wildlife Safari tours