Travel Evangelist in Africa: Kenya
“Travelers come to Africa for the animals,
they fall in love with the landscape,
but they come back for the people.”
Anna Trzebinski, designer and lodge owner, Kenya
Story and photos by Michaela Guzy
Keeping true to the theme of my blog, everyday in Kenya, I have had the pleasure of meeting someone remarkable and it’s been nothing short of inspiring. On April 13th, Michael Dyer, touched down in his private aircraft to pick me up and personally escort me to Borana Ranch & Safari Lodge. Michael comes from a long line of entrepreneurs and philanthropists. Overachieving seems to run in his family too—from his amazing wife, Nicky, his brothers and his cousin Ian Craig.
Michael and Nicky, opened Borana Ranch & Safari Lodge on the family owned land in 1990, which happened to be the first eco-lodge in the area. The grounds of Borana are breathtakingly beautiful and animals are everywhere—precisely what you would like to see on safari. A giraffe literally stared in through my window while I was having a coffee and I could see the cape buffalo at the lake below.
I was impressed in speaking with the hotel manager, Flick Woodhouse, to hear that Borana actually offered a plethora of experiences beyond game drives. Sad as it is to say, I was getting a bit tired of bouncing around in a safari vehicle. In addition to safari, bush dinners and visits to the local village, Borana has horse back riding, mountain biking (not for the faint hearted), the Ngare Ndgare Forest where you can go trout fishing or see the endangered rhino.
While the adventure offerings at Borana are vast, I was beginning to crave some human connection. And boy did I come to the right place! For over 20 years, Michael has dedicated himself to helping teach and implement the importance of preservation, conservation, working with and supporting the community. So much to my delight, Michael and Nicky also offer guests the opportunity to visit the tannery, where they employ and then teach local disabled or blind people the craft.
And given their dedication to the local people, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that they also started a mobile medical clinic eight years ago. They employ two nurses and a driver to visit the local villages across the Laikipia region, Monday-Friday. These hardworking women treat over 20,000 patients per year—from vaccinations, HIV/AIDS education and notably planned parenthood.
While these projects were impressive, I was both honored and floored when Michael and Nicky kidnapped me for a day. On the very bumpy, curvy drive, we passed through multiple villages and by people who had literally nothing.
Imagine my surprise when our final destination turned out to be a soccer field (as we say in the US, or football everywhere else in the world).
At the match, I learned that Michael was one of the founders of the Laikipia Wildlife Forum which is a member driven organization that brings together land owners and resource users (from large-scale ranchers to small scale farmers) to tackle the challenges in the Laikipia ecosystem.
And the LWF as it turns out, is one of the key sponsors of the “Laikipia And Beyond Unity Cup Football Tournament,” held on a biennial basis. LUC was created to utilize the power of sport to bring together the diverse communities within Laikipia in a constructive spirit of peace and harmony, to build environmental awareness and deliver free health care to the communities of Laikipia.
Two years ago, the LUC brought together 32 teams in remote rural locations throughout the district during 5 separate three day weekends, thousands of people participated in environmental education sessions and activities, ranging from tree planting, town ‘clean up’s’ to water conservation activities and over 12,000 people received free medical treatment, primarily women and children.
At the game, the players, the volunteers and the children all stepped back from their daily hardship to enjoy being together. Post game, Michael took me back to visit the medical clinic. The lines were endless for the free aid, but it was so wonderful to see the local people taking advantage of the services provided by the volunteer doctors. I have immense respect for the brave patients who literally had their teeth pulled in front of hundreds of people without any painkillers. There was never screaming, only smiles, “asante sana” (thank you) and handshakes.
No matter where we walked, players, kids, patients, doctors and the organizer of SAFE, a show put on to communicate the importance of unity pre-election (picture of SAFE truck below), greeted Michael with smiles and hugs. Even the cooks preparing dinner for the players happened to be cutting up some sheep that Michael had (of course) donated for the weekend.
While I may not have seen all the wildlife and adventure Borana has to offer, meeting Michael and his family, learning about the work that they do to give back, was one of the most inspiring experiences for me to date. Please take some time to learn more about the Laikipia Wildlife Forum and the powerful impact the “Unity Cup” has on bringing people together through sport and for such a powerful purpose.
Borana isn’t such a bad place to vacation either. If you have a chance to pick Michael and Nicky’s brain during your visit, I highly recommend doing so. Their energy and dedication is truly awe-inspiring. It’s no surprise that they bring smiles to the faces of everyone, including me, around them. I hope you have the chance to meet them and experience the great work that they do.
More about Laikipia Wildlife Forum, the Zeitz Foundation, the “Unity Cup” and other major sponsors:
Borana Lodge, Laikipia, North Central Kenya: Rustic luxury lodges. Built in 1993, the first eco-lodge in the Laikipia region and the first time I’ve had a door and windows since I left Nairobi! Outdoor seating area over looking the watering hole. Pool, village and school visits, spa treatments in room, horse back riding, hikes, mountain biking and game drives. Also, Pride Rock which inspired Lion King is a short drive from the lodge. There is a pride of 18 lions on the ranch. Ngare Ndare Forest for hikes and rhino spotting. Great place for families. Spotty Wi-Fi in room. Safari Link or Air Kenya to the Lewa airstrip.