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Maasai herders, Lions and GPS trackers

Falling in love with Kenya (again)

Last week, I returned to Kenya for the first time in 20 years. My last visit was at the end of a six month GAP year expedition travelling from London to Nairobi. How things have changed in the meantime; for me, and for Kenya.

I am certainly a little more worldly wise. Kenya has grown up too. The most obvious change is mobile phones. Kenya is leading the world in mobile payments. An estimated 90% of all financial transactions in Kenya are made using the mobile ‘m-pesa’ system. You simply type in the code of the person you want to pay, enter the amount, enter your pin and click send. Done. You can pay anyone, anywhere, for anything, wherever you have mobile signal.

Then there is the development – it’s hard not to notice it. Brand new buildings in the financial heart of Nairobi, plush shopping malls, smart cars, exclusively dressed business men. To drive anywhere in Nairobi, you need nerves of steel and courage in abundance. Smart cars travel side by side on the roads with smoke belching shabby wrecks of buses, often decked in colourful adverts or odes to Sir Alex Ferguson. I couldn’t help thinking about the massive VW emissions scandal back home and how, compared to some of these buses, even ‘doctored’ emissions are far, far, less polluting.

Escape a few miles outside of the city centre and the mirror-glass buildings are replaced with another side of Kenya. The shops now consist of shipping crates or half-finished pre-fab concrete. Unfinished pavements make way to muddy parking lots complete with water filled potholes.  The smartly dressed businessmen have thinned out but not gone completely; the streets are now filled with kids pushing carts, women selling vegetables and men discussing how to fix a broken down truck. Life bustles around you with dirt, dust, mayhem, goats, construction stores, watermelons and more. It’s hard to believe there is a system holding everything together, let alone a system that works; yet there is and, for the most part, it does.

I was in the country meeting our operations team and researching new itineraries for our schools. And boy did I find some. It is hard to think of a destination that I’ve been quite so excited about. 


I had forgotten just how diverse the Kenyan landscape was for starters. In just a few days, we travelled from hills covered in lush tropical forest and rich red earth, past thundering waterfalls, down the dramatic escarpment of the rift valley to the acacia and wildlife filled plains of Maasai country. Our goal was a place quite easily described as the ‘middle of nowhere’, west of Lake Magadi.

It is hard to communicate the extra-ordinary educational potential of this region for school groups. Geography is everywhere.  Biologists will be left in awe of the diversity and complexity of the human/animal co-existence. Expedition leaders will hear the calling of the journey on foot from the Maasai Mara to Shompolo Wilderness over the Loita Hills.

But whatever your reasons for coming here, what makes this area very special is the Maasai.


There is nothing touristy about this region. This is a very traditional Maasai area and a classic Maasai / Lion cross-over zone - just like you see in the documentaries - and yet, they live very much side by side and, for the most part, in harmony. During the day the Maasai graze their cattle where lions have killed wildebeest the night before.  And whether you’re studying geography or biology or you are here for a school expedition, you will be amazed at this proud tribe and how their still largely traditional lives are in such balance with the land.

Whenever and wherever we put together an educational adventure, we aim to seek out unique experiences. Experiences that really set our adventures apart. Experiences that take students outside of their comfort zone and teach them some hard truths and enlightening facts about the world. And southern Kenya is literally brimming with them - from traditional Maasai meetings, Boma visits and cattle herding experiences, to beadwork or bee-keeping courses with the colourful local tribal women.

Our base in this region is a scientific research centre.  For 10 years the team here have been researching ecology and lion behaviour, developing long term strategies to understand and help combat human/animal conflict.  It’s this longevity of their relationship with the local population which is key; opening doors that otherwise would remain firmly closed.

School biology groups can get a real hands-on insight into the work of the scientists in a pristine wilderness area with very few tourists. Students can track radio-collared lions and learn how researchers are tracking all their movements via radio/GPS and google maps - and how this data can be broken down into different areas corresponding with the seasons. Learning is conducted through games and workshops to understand animal tracking techniques. Students can devise experiments and undertake data collection to prove / disprove scientific hypotheses, or walk with a habituated baboon troop as they forage for breakfast. There is excellent game viewing too, with plenty of plains-animals and predators which, with luck, can be seen on both day and night time game drives.

Groups get interactive Q&As on predator issues, Maasai grazing / cultural issues, seasonal rains and migration, ecology, governmental policies, education, the work of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, poaching, future development, global warming, funding sources for the science and conservation and much more. Then there are the meetings with local medicine men, traditional birthing attendants and local chiefs.  Every aspect of human/animal interaction is open for study in the most stunning of settings. If you’re a biology teacher, you really should bring your students here. It is utterly amazing.


To the west, and three days walk over the Loita Hills lies the Maasai Mara. Point to point trekking with Maasai guides and nights out under the glorious stars of the Rift Valley would undoubtedly be a highlight of any school expedition. Sadly, my time was coming to an end, so that experience will have to wait for another time.

In addition to the business ‘research’ there was, luckily, time for fun too – with stand-up paddle boarding giving an alternative viewpoint to the classic safari and white water rafting further north offering a thrilling dose of adrenalin. 

As my time in Magadi came to an end, I had an overwhelming sense of privilege to have spent time in such an area and to meet so many welcoming Maasai. The long drive back to Nairobi gave me time to think and as we entered the outskirts of the capital and ‘civilisation’, I had an uneasy sense that humanity has it all wrong. The pristine wilderness I had just left, had now been replaced by half finished buildings, smoke belching buses and the daily ‘scrum for survival’ of millions of people.

Maybe we can learn more from the Maasai than they can from us?

Contact us for school expeditions to Kenya, ascents of Mt Kenya, white-water rafting, volunteer expeditions, biology and geography trips for schools.