The Maasai land I know
I know that the name Maasai Land makes you think of the Maasai Mara National Park, or the world famous Maasai people in traditional clothing. Their beautiful songs, and the men’s amazing ability to jump. I haven’t experienced any of it.
Hiking with friends
In the Maasai Land that I know, people wear plain clothes except for the older generation. In the younger generation, traditional clothes and jewelery are only used at special parties or ceremonies. Or if they have a job at a tourist attraction. The younger generation is studying or preparing to start a family, depending on their financial opportunities.
Having lived with friends’ families out in the Maasai Land, I live by their terms.
We interact with each other in a relaxed way. A way where there is no focus on showing cultural goodies. The culture is right in front of me in terms of behavior, practical knowledge and general knowledge. When I want to be involved, I just need to ask. Only grandma wants to spice up her everyday life with a few songs and a little dance when she meets me. Which always makes me happy.
Grandmother with grandchildren
One day when I and two friends crossed the Savannah, we meet two Maasai Morans. We stop the motorcycle and get off. I get strict orders to stay. It’s the warriors who must approach us. In reverse, things can go wrong. To our great joy, they choose to come to us. We talk and get some pictures together without knowing that this is the beginning of a friendship.
My second meeting with the Morans
The Maasai Land is full of surprises and great hospitality – if the traveler is susceptible to it. Not everyone wants to plunge into adventure. So the trip I want to take you on in this article is through a small local travel company. This way you can start by exploring the unknown Maasai Land with a safe hand from the locals.
Kenya through a window
View of Nakuru city with the lake and national park in the background
It’s early morning and I’m sitting in a Molo group matatu from Nakuru heading for Suswa. The moment I settle in, street vendors surround me. They are ready to sell everything from headphones, gold plated watches made in China to various food and beverages that will make the trip seem like a rolling picnic.
Molo group is my favorite company. Their minibuses get filled up quickly. Their drivers drive safely and they never overcharge the ticket. There is a fourth important thing. Their seat belts actually work and they don’t refuse you to use them.
Kenya’s famous minibuses called matatus
Near Naivasha we drive through my favorite place. Here, zebras graze close to the road, antelopes can be spotted in the distance, while the monkeys beg the passing for food. Just before we approach Naivasha, we drive through the beautiful acacia alley. I breathe in deeply. This is a balm for the soul.
My favorite place between Nakuru and Naivasha
When I arrive at Naivasha it’s time to change bus. After some word exchange, I finally get the right price and most Kenyans’ favorite seat – the front. With a clear view of the beautiful landscape.
We drive from a lush landscape directly into Narok’s dry appearance with little tornado-like dust devils floating gracefully in the air. Best when mastering to perfection, the pirouette dissolves into an informal cloud of dust. I can look at it for hours with a sense of joy.
I quickly write a message to Reuben. “I’m close to Suswa town now. Are you ready?” A message quickly pops in. Short and accurate. “Yes.”
With the goal in the horizon
Describing Suswa as a town might go a little too far. It’s more of a mature village that wants to develop, but doesn’t quite know how. At the same time, it seems that everyone would prefer to live along the main road. Therefore, it extends more than it spreads. I must admit that the sight does not exactly penetrate as an obvious tourist destination. But I know why I’m here.
One of Kenya’s impressive volcanoes in the background
On the horizon I can see my goal. The mountain – an active volcano – that no one really knows. Dark and indomitable, it extends far up the white clouds. On my regular trips between Nakuru and Narok, I have passed this place numerous times. Each time with a feeling that the place wants me something. Now I am here. Ready to listen.
I have totally forgotten my previous experience with motorbike rides in kenya. Therefore I’ve said yes to Reuben picking me up on his motorcycle and driving me to the the volcano. Reuben is a Maasai and guide in the area with dozens of great reviews on the internet.
On the way to new experiences
From his first twist on the throttle, I get a clear sense that he appreciates speed. How on earth could I have imagined otherwise? For Heaven’s sake, I know he has his own motorcycle safari company. Suddenly there is something symbolic about my slightly too big helmet hitting me in the head. I myself enjoy a moderate pace. A pace where I can count all the leaves on the flowers that are passed. At the same time, the road is just a winding gravel path that can only do one thing at a mountain – to go up and down endlessly.
My favorite motorcycle pace – with the opportunity to stop
As the trip progresses, however, I must acknowledge two things. He knows the way in and out like his own pocket. At the same time, he is a skilled motorcyclist. So I surrender to the movements of the bike and relax. Reuben laughs as he casually says “well, now you trust me!”
We arrive at a small Maasai village. Here I am introduced to his high-pregnant wife, Hilda, and his two adorable daughters. In fact, all the children from the village greet us. I get assigned my sleeping place. A classic manyatta with beds for 6 people. Tonight it will be my place all alone.
My home for the next 24 hours
Afterwards I get tea. It tastes sweet with a slightly spicy aftertaste. Later I find out that it’s because the water is collected from the volcano through a special device of pipe systems. I also taste the water uncooked. It’s like a little mineral bomb popping around my mouth. And without any complications with the stomach afterwards. The water is classified as drinking water of poor quality. However, I could easily become addicted.
Nerves of steel
As I come out from Reubens manyatta, a young guy stands in full Maasai attire. I think it must be in my honor. The tourist. Because he is the only one in the village who is in traditional clothing. The young man is called Chadar and he’s my hiking guide up the volcano. As we leave, 3 of the village dogs choose to join us.
While the parents join us on the trip, we leave the puppies in the village
On the easy path to the ascent of the volcano, our talk goes smooth. We pass an area with a nice view. The site is used for camping when people come by car. Guests can bring their own tents or rent one at Reuben.
I think about what I’ve read on the web. Then I ask Chadar: “Isn’t it a bit risky to camp with lions in the area?” Chadar shakes his head: “The lions have immigrated,” he replies. “And the leopards?”, I ask, “did they immigrate with the lions?” “No, they are still here,” replies Chadar. “But if you mind your business, then they mind theirs.”
That’s such a typical Maasai answer. Chadar confirms this by telling me about the countless times he chased leopards away from his father’s cattle. Told in a neutral tone, like an event about brushing teeth. I get a flashback and smile. On a previous visit to the Maasai Land, I and some friends went to a forest on a motorcycle. We drove on a narrow path with fresh footprints from a large male elephant. It could be anywhere near us. But it was only me who was nervous. The others were just vigilant. The Maasai are brave.
My dream is to be able to go hiking on my own in the Savannah
The musical shepherd
We have arrived at the ascent. The path is now full of cutting pieces to be forced. Chadar walks at them with an ease which fascinates me to study his movements. He is obviously used to the terrain. I am not as graceful, but achieve the same goal. To get over and beyond.
The route goes from easy to difficult, but Chadar takes into account how people’s physical prowess is.
Our talk is limited now that I need to increase my concentration. At the same time, one of the dogs has appointed himself as my guardian. It shows its dedication to the task by stopping right in front of me to make sure I’m included. It’is really caring, although it also makes the hike a bit cumbersome. Still, I perceive that Chadar tells that most guests come on weekends. I note that – as I enjoy seeing nature without too much commotion.
As we get higher and higher the view goes from being impressive to lavish. The entire inner and outer crater of the volcano can be felt. The red and bare soil reveals where there are repeating thermal eruptions. It’s beautiful and lush. The double crater makes the place quite unlike other volcanoes that I have seen. Chadar says it takes 9 hours to walk the entire crater. But since we arrived in the middle of the day, we can only reach the first peak. Here we sit and chat before the descent. The dogs stand near the edge of the cliff to catch the cool breeze of the wind.
It doesn’t seem like dogs suffer from acrophobia
Close to us, we hear cow bells. “It’s a milking cow or a bull,” replys Chadar. “How do you know?” I ask. “Because the bell is constantly ringing,” Chadar says, “it means it’s eating all the time.” “What else can you tell from a cow bell?” Chadar laughs. “I always bring all my father’s animals home. Because I can recognize every single cow bell on its sound. And I know that just that cow with that bell only socializes with the same 20-30 cows.” I smile broadly. “So you are a musical shepherd ?!” Chadar laughs as he nods affirmative.
The musical shepherd overlooking the inner and outer crater
Bats and monkeys
After a delicious lunch, Chadar changes clothes as traditional clothing is quite impractical on a motorcycle. Now we are ready to embark on new adventures. A visit to some of the 66 caves hiding inside the volcano.
Where Reuben loves speed, Chadar drives more calmly. Which means that I along the way am able to enjoy antelopes and a bird who’s related to the ostrich. There just isn’t anyone who remember what it’s called. I inhale the Maasai Land. There is a unique scent of the place’s plants and the all-embracing dust. I feel at home in that scent.
It’s not only in the national parks you meet Kenya’s rich wildlife.
We park the motorcycle at a cave called the “Parliament of the Apes”. At sunset, the monkeys emerge from long thick tree roots that most of all resemble rope. As we descend into the cave, we are struck by a rather unattractive smell from the monkeys’ excrement. Chadar jumps around between the rocks. I follow, at my somewhat calmer pace.
A look into the “Parliament of the Apes”
Most caves are interconnected. So we can move on from cave to cave. Suddenly, I see a several-meter-long mural. It shows a bull being slaughtered. Painted in red ocher, among other things, what immediately leads my thoughts to the Morans.
Chadar confirms my thoughts. “The Maasai warriors previously sought refuge in these caves,” he says. I look down at my right wrist. There I have a pearl bracelet of a Kenyan flag. Given to me by the Morans after an invitation to eat meat together in the woods. Most people fear the sometimes aggressive behavior of the warriors. I am happily accepted among them despite my gender, and gladly receive their calls as they walk around in the wild.
The mural of a bull before a supposed slaughter
Chadar keeps telling. “I would have been a Moran myself for 4 years now if I hadn’t continued to school. It’s the only thing that can break the tradition for us boys when we are circumcised and wander into the woods to learn how to survive.” I nod and feel my ambivalence as always. I like the traditions of the Maasai people. I admire the Morans for their incomprehensible bravery. But I also want the Maasai people to educate themselves. Chadar’s generation is the one that will build a firm connection between traditions and education. This means that Maasai warriors, as a concept and tradition, will slowly become extinct as families appreciate and afford education.
Nothing is fully experienced before it’s touched
Chadar wants to show me one last place. We climb some cliffs and enter a cave with unbelievably high ceilings. He lets his lamp sweep across the ceiling. 1000s of bats hang in clusters and emit high bright tones. Some flutter over our heads. I get to thinking, “oh now I get rabies.” But every time they get routed around my head.
As we climb out, I have to support my hands on a rock to keep balance. To my surprise, it feels very soft. A bit like touching icing. I wonder. For the other lava rocks have been smooth or rough, due to the structure of the solidified lava. Then I realize that I just stuck my fingers into a single bat excrement. I still have the feel of icing on my fingers and buzz a little by myself. It will never be the same experience to put icing on a cake again.
Debugging before bed time
As we return to the “Parliament of the Apes”, the apes are assembled at the cave’s opening at the top. They look curiously at us. We take the cave exit to the side, leaving them to find peace for the night.
The sun is setting over the Maasai Land as we drive towards the village. It’s a great sight. Although it also means that we must be vigilant. It’s now that the hunting animals are seriously stepping out into the open land.
At the manyatta at night
I am so tired after a long day’s experiences. So, since dinner isn’t ready yet, I go to my manyatta. Last time I was in Maasai land I shared manyatta with 6-7 other people. I shared bed with a woman who gave me the bracelet I wear on my left wrist. Now I have a huge manyatta to myself. It feels wrong. But calmness tempts me to lie on the bed.
Each piece of Maasai jewelry I own has a special story
“Cathrine. Are you sleeping? There’s food!” yells Hilda through the thin walls. “We’ve been waiting for you!” Confused, I sit up. Damn. I fell asleep.
I walk through the night to Reuben’s hut. Followed closely by the dogs who seem to want to protect me from all evil right to the end of the world.
When I have finished eating, I am provided with a tub and a can of cold water. It’s my evening bath – which I have in my hut. It doesn’t feel unnatural anymore. Just as little as taking a call in nature.
How varied a meal is in a village depends on how far they live from the nearest market. At Reuben the variation is great. However, the morans only eat meat and drink milk for whatever.
After the bath I sit in front of the hut. Looking up at a dark night sky filled with stars. I feel in magnificent harmony with life and nature. Suddenly the sheep rise abruptly in the enclosure so that their bells sound like an orchestra without a conductor. At the same time, dogs starts barking.
I jump into my hut like a frightened animal and slam the lock with great force. I don’t need any close combat with leopards. However, the dogs quickly fall back to rest. Which must mean that it wasen’t a wild animal that caught their attention. Under the thick blanket in my bed my heart slowly falls to rest. I still hear the bells of the sheep. But now they seem more like a pleasurable meditation sound that will soon make me fall asleep.
A simple bed by looks, but the best sleep ever.
The completed circle
I wake up by the sun shining through the small air holes in the manyatta. I quietly come to myself as my eyes follow the dust grains journey through the rays of light. I take a quick and extremely cold bath and then put on my clothes.
“Let’s see what’s for breakfast,” I think as I fumble to unlock the door. When I finally get the door open, the sun shines at me from a blue sky and the dogs silently waving at me with their tails.
The village is already awake
Hilda has made chapati and the sweetly spiced tea of water from the volcano. I digest it all with pleasure and with no desire to leave the village. The kids are waiting for me. They are interested in my camera. They take a myriad of pictures and videos. I’ll let them do it. A few of them, I imagine, could have a future as a professional photographer.
One of the children’s pictures in the family’s manyatta. How much you want to get involved in village life is up to you
It’s time to say goodbye. Reuben is behind the wheel of the motorcycle. But today there is not as much speed. As the shepherds we meet along the way must be informed of today’s tasks and expectations. To my delight, he has many cows, which means many stops.
For semi-nomads, guarding animals is the same as guarding a bank account
Reuben makes one last stop at the town probably only hotel – from a European understanding. “Now we go into the restaurant and have a chat together,” he says. I add an “okay” as I consider what is about to happen. But then I remember why I’m here. Suswa’s mountain that has called for me for so long.
In the matatu of to Nakuru, I casually look down at my right wrist. To my great annoyance, I see that my bracelet from the Maasai warriors is gone. But then I lean back with a satisfied smile.
I got it in the Maasai Land. It has given me strength and faith during my adventures. Now it has returned home. Just like I’m going home soon. But we have the Maasai Land in common, and will, with no doubt, be reunited with new adventures.
Satisfied with Kenya’s small signs to me, I open the window in the matatu and inhale the scent of the Maasai Land one last time
Shepherd on the savanna
I highly recommend taking a trip to Reuben’s village in Suswa. This tour will probably be the closest tourists come to living a comfortable and untouristic life in a Maasai village with beautiful and different nature experiences.
The price for my stay of 24 hours was $ 70 including everything. If you would like to hear more, you can contact Reuben at telephone number: +254 719 254971. Use Whatsapp if you are abroad.
Read more exciting articles by Cathrine Thovtrup
In the camel’s footsteps
Singing sand in Morocco – (comming soon)
Through Kenya as a solo woman (comming soon)