The Aberdares have long been in the hearts of the Lowis men; Ninian’s father, Robert, invariably took guests to camp at over 9,000 feet and Ninian’s eyes light up with pleasure when he speaks of the times they have spent there. So, it was only fitting that the next generation of the Lowis family should choose the Aberdares to spend their half-term weekend fishing and rambling through the moorlands.
The drive from Nairobi meanders along the edge of the Rift Valley escarpment and climbs gently through farmland reminiscent of the highlands of Scotland – fat black and white dairy cows dot the landscape, brambles cover the wicker fences and the countryside is carved up into a colorful patchwork of maize, coffee, bananas and vegetables.
Pine forests mark the end of the farms and the start of the Aberdare Mountains. As the road winds steeply up the mountainside the landscape becomes grander; views stretch between valleys covered in woodland, giant trees and glades of flowers. Silvery bamboo forests creak and rustle curiously in the wind. Elephants unseen leave calling cards of broken stems and fresh droppings.
The road climbs through the bamboo forests and into the high moorlands that are dotted with rosettes of thistle, tussock grass, lobelia and giant heather bearded with moss and delicately landscaped gardens. Wild flowers at this time of year are abundant; red-hot pokers burn brightly above their stems, gladioli, daisies and everlastings inject splashes of red, pink, purple, yellow and orange into the dark green heath.
The scenery is extraordinary and enormous cauldron-like waterfalls tumble down steep gorges while the weather-worn Satima peak spikes ruggedly out of the cloud. The silvery streams are narrow, flanked by lichen-encrusted trees and dripping moss, swaying ferns and lawns cropped short by red duiker and bush buck.
It was raining when we arrived and the roads were slick as we slid gently through the mud towards the Fishing Lodge, a delightfully simple self-contained log chalet that sits among the tussock grass at just under 10,000 feet.
One morning we visited the Honi River, climbing higher up the mountain through Hagenia forests that are gnarled and moss-covered, with ponds glistening in open moors dotted with giant groundsel. Senecio plants 15-feet high leaned precariously over steep valleys with glistening streams and waterfalls snaking along the base.
I spotted a huge male leopard one night and Ninian and Jamey caught a tantalizing glimpse of what could have been a rare golden cat. Bushbuck, red duikers, waterbuck, forest buffalo, grey duikers, colobus and sykes monkeys all made it on to our list this weekend even though we were not really looking for game. The elephants never let us catch a glimpse, but we were always aware of their presence.
The Aberdares – a world like no other and our home for three glorious nights of laughter and log fires, fresh trout and lots and lots of mud!