Kenya year two: a shot in the arm

At Dandora Health Centre, where we filmed teachers getting their COVID-19 vaccine shots
© UNICEF Kenya/2021/Lameck Orina

In September 2021, after a delay of almost two years caused by COVID-19, I finally made it to the peak of Mount Longonot. This is a 2,780 metre dormant volcano one and a half hour’s drive north of Nairobi, in Kenya. I was hiking with my friends Matthias and Sheila, who I first met in Malawi five years before. It was an overcast day, which kept the temperatures mercifully mild as we followed the steep path up the mountainside. Our first goal was to reach the rim. From here, we could see across the crater, which – unusually for a volcano – was filled with a dense forest, cut off from the outside world by steep cliffs. Its was unclear what wildlife was living down there, although we did see the occasional giraffe on our way up. Great gashes down the mountainsides traced the routes where lava had previously flowed and we found pieces of brittle pumice stone scattered amongst the ash around the crater.

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Kenya year one: an unexpected journey

An early morning view of Mount Kenya from our cabin in the woods outside Nanyuki
© Andrew Brown/2021/Kenya

At 7am the view of Mount Kenya from our holiday cottage was spectacular. The clouds which hide the mountain for most of the day were just starting to form, banking up behind the peak and beginning to roll over the shoulder of the hill. The peak seemed higher in the sky than it had any right to be, with white snow lining the crevasses and reflecting the first rays of morning sunshine (I didn’t expect to see snow just a few kilometres from the equator). Far below, the rolling hills were silhouetted in shades of blue, their tree lined ridges marking them out like a theatre backdrop. A flock of small birds wheeled through the sky, heading towards a nearby lake. A deer grazing in the meadow lifted its head to look at me, briefly disturbed by the clicking of my camera lens, then returned to its own business.

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Born to run: chasing the great wildebeest migration

A herd of wildebeest contemplating making the river crossing to the Serengeti
© Andrew Brown/2021/Kenya

In August each year, 2.2 million wildebeest, along with hundreds of thousands of zebra and antelope, migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya, in search of greener pastures. Along the way, they cross the Sand River and then the wide, crocodile infested Mara River. As the rains change, they do the same journey in reverse. These crossings are one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on Earth, as desperate animals fight for survival. After each crossing, there are a few less wildebeest.

This was something my whole family wanted to see while we were living in Kenya. But finding 2.2 million wildebeest in the Maasai Mara was harder than I thought. At 1,500 square kilometres, the Mara is vast, and the Serengeti is even larger. Finding the wildebeest at the exact moment that they decide to cross a river is almost impossible. But not quite.

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Wild thing: visiting the Maasai Mara during a pandemic (pt2)

Moses looks out for wildlife through his binoculars, while Joyce and the kids have a snack
© Andrew Brown/2020/Kenya

The COVID-19 pandemic that swept the world in 2020 seemed to upend everything. Busy city streets became deserted, aeroplanes disappeared from the skies and face masks became ubiquitous. Having spent the first year of the pandemic in Nairobi and Hong Kong, we saw reminders everywhere we looked. But one place at least seemed unaffected: the Maasai Mara. Here, antelopes, giraffes and wildebeests kept grazing the savannah, exactly as before. Lions and cheetahs kept on hunting them, oblivious to our human disease. Even the semi-nomadic Maasai people continued life much as before, herding their cattle across the open plains.

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Cheetah kill: visiting the Maasai Mara during a pandemic (pt1)

An elephant calf turns to look at its mother, in the Maasai Mara
© Andrew Brown/2020/Kenya

It was a clear November morning on the Maasai Mara. The afternoon storm clouds had not yet arrived, but the grass and trees were lush and green from the previous day’s rain. Wild animals roamed freely along the banks of the Mara River and through the savanna – herds of impala, giraffe and zebra, plus large numbers of wildebeest remaining from the recent ‘great migration’. This being Enonkishu Conservancy rather than the true national park, there were also occasional mud brick villages, schools and churches. Maasai herders, some wearing distinctive red shuka robes, watched herds of cattle or drove down the dirt roads on motorbikes. Continue reading “Cheetah kill: visiting the Maasai Mara during a pandemic (pt1)”

Higher ground: climbing the mountains of Malawi

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Matthias and other hiking friends ascending the rocky slopes of Big Mouth Mountain
© Andrew Brown/2018/Malawi

On a crisp, clear and unusually cloudless day during the rainy season, I made the peak of Dedza mountain with my friend Matthias and local guide James. The mountain rises to almost 2,200 metres above sea level. It towers over the nearby town of Dedza, which at 1,600 metres is already the highest town in Malawi. After a tough ascent to two radio towers at the near end of the mountain, we made our way along an indistinct path through scrubland and rocks, climbing a gently sloping plateau to the peak at the far end. Here, we were rewarded with a clear 360-degree view across central Malawi. Continue reading “Higher ground: climbing the mountains of Malawi”

Green day: visiting South Luangwa in the rainy season

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A herd of elephants move in a line across a green landscape in South Luangwa, in January
© Andy Brown/Zambia/2018

After a year in Malawi, I’ve settled into three favourite places to go for my occasional bachelor weekends: west to the backpacker beach town of Cape Maclear on the shores of Lake Malawi, south to the cool mountain town of Dedza, where you can hike up to the peak for stunning 360 degree views, or east to the wildlife-rich national park of South Luangwa in Zambia. Continue reading “Green day: visiting South Luangwa in the rainy season”

Malawi: one year living in the warm heart of Africa

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Children watch the UNICEF team at work in a fishing village on Lake Chilwa © Andrew Brown/2017/Malawi

At 5am in the morning, the surface of Lake Malawi is still and blue. The air is cool with a light breeze replacing the storm that raged the night before. On the far side of the lake, to the south, the mountains of Mozambique slip in and out of a cloud bank. To the north, the water stretches past small islands all the way to the horizon – a sharp line dividing dark water from pale blue sky.

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Zambia: exploring South Luangwa national park

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Elephants cross the Luangwa river bed, seen with the benefit of a 200mm zoom lens
© Andrew Brown/2017/Zambia

As the sun set behind the trees of the bank of the Luangwa River in Zambia, a line of elephants began crossing the mostly parched riverbed, their distinctive trunked shapes visible in the far distance beneath blue outlined hills. In the foreground, twisted branches cast twisted reflections in the remaining water – barely a trickle compared to its rainy season extent. A hippo lifted his head out of the water and bellowed at the setting sun. I stood on a high bank above this scene, with an old-fashioned Land Rover parked behind me and a cold local Zambian beer in my hand. It was a classic African scene and an adventure I’d dreamed of since reading tales of the continent as a teenager. Continue reading “Zambia: exploring South Luangwa national park”

Siamese Dream: my adventures in Asia-Pacific

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Novice monks chatting in a temple courtyard in Vientiane, capital of Laos © Andy Brown/2012/Laos

Before we moved to Africa, I worked for UNICEF’s East Asia and Pacific office, based in Bangkok. This gave me the opportunity to travel around a large and diverse region, stretching from Mongolia in the north, down through China and South-East Asia, and out to Fiji and the Pacific Islands. This was also before I had children, so I had more time to travel and write. My blog from this time was called Siamese Dream and can be found here: andymjbrown.blogspot.com

My final post was a look back at my top ten adventures in the region, which were as follows:

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