In Search Of Lost Time At Elmenteita ~ Back To The Old Africa album


Flamingos at dawn on Lake Elmenteita, Kenya

What better way to spend wet and windy days than trawling through old photos: scenes of times past when we lived in Kenya. So all thanks to Tina at Lens-Artists who this week sends us off on a treasure hunt through the photo files. Images may include sunsets, sunrises, birds, mountains, expressive portraits and a host of other things – in combination or otherwise. For the full list, follow the link at the end of the post and be inspired by Tina’s own treasure-hunted photos.

Meanwhile, I’ve chosen photos taken at different times but in a single place where we often stayed – a tented camp on the shores of Lake Elmenteita – a 2-hour drive up the Great Rift Valley from Nairobi. The camp had gone now, but the 46,000 acre wildlife sanctuary that surrounds the lake may still be visited. It is now the Soysambu Conservancy, the land still owned by Lord Delamere, whose grandfather, in the early 1900s, was one of first British colonial settlers in Kenya.


The Eburru massif is still volcanically active. The light here changes every second.


The pioneering Delamere ranch at Elmenteita was never successful, the soil too thin on volcanic bedrock and lacking in vital minerals, a fact well known to local Maasai herders who had long avoided grazing their cattle around the lake. Their name for the place could have offered further clues. In Ki-Maa Elmenteita means ‘place of dust’, their oral accounts telling of times when the lake blew away completely, leaving only a dust-plain.

These days the water levels rise and fall, but in any event the lake is both shallow and intensely alkaline, being one of a string of soda lakes along the floor of Kenya’s Great Rift. The waters are rich in crustacea and insect larvae which support large flocks of Greater Flamingos, and also blue-green algae that keep even larger numbers of Lesser Flamingos well fed. On rocky islands beneath the rugged cones and scarps of the Eburru massif pelicans breed.  While around the lake, in marsh and acacia scrub, some 450 bird species have been spotted. The sanctuary is also rich in all manner of plains game: gazelle, eland, impala, waterbuck, zebra, giraffe, warthog, dik-dik, buffalo. And then there are monkeys, aardvarks, spring hares, zorillas, porcupines and rock pythons.


My memories of course are forever fixed in the 1990s, and as an antidote to the kind of nostalgia-wallowing that inevitably overlooks the modernising needs of Kenyans, I should just mention that the volcanic steam vents of the southerly Eburru hills are now being exploited on an industrial scale to generate geothermal power as part of Kenya’s greener, cheaper energy initiative.

Now for my ‘treasure’ trawl:


Who scattered  those rose petals on the lake?

I’m including this photo because it shows that East Africa can have very dull weather, often for weeks in July, August and September when it can also be quite cool. The bush is very dry during this period – the main rainy seasons being the short rains in late October – November and the long rains late March – June: if they happen, that is; some years they miss altogether. This last year there have been life-threatening deluges across East Africa. The other striking feature here is the exploded volcanic cone across the lake, traditionally known as the Sleeping Warrior, but also dubbed Delamere’s Nose on account of the original pioneering lordship’s hooter that so impressed the locals.

People portraits:


Paul Kabochi, camp ethnobotanist and medical herbalist. There was not much he did not know about the wilderness, the ways of its wildlife and the healing properties of plants and trees. His  animal tracking expertise was often called on by the BBC in the making of wildlife documentaries. The times I spent with him, walking through the early morning bush, or out on night drives, are fused in my heart.

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Paul Kabochi and Jo Bickerton on an ethnobotany walk.

I think it was at this point that Paul invited my sister to stick her finger in the top of a harvester ants’ nest. Jo, newly arrived in Africa, but quick as a flash, balked and suggested he might stick his own finger in the nest. This is not the best of photos, but I love the body language: total engagement in more senses than one.

An unexpected portrait:


This tiny Kirk’s dik-dik is not much bigger than a hare. They are rarely spotted during the day, so I was lucky to see this one; even more that he stayed to have his photo taken.  Unlike most larger antelope, dik-diks live in monogamous pairs, staying closely together, the male marking their territory with dung middens and secretions from the  conspicuous glands at the front of each eye. Each couple generally avoids  their immediate dik-dik neighbours, though when boundary disputes do occur they can lead to fierce combat between the males.



Lens-Artists: Treasure Hunt


56 thoughts on “In Search Of Lost Time At Elmenteita ~ Back To The Old Africa album

      1. Isak Dinesen definitely fed the desire, but it started in my reading about the life of photojournalist Dan Eldon who grew up in Kenya and was later killed in Somalia. His photographs and journals of life in the Ngong Hills captured my heart and imagination.

  1. Well Tish, whatever photographs you find (and these are glorious), the real treasures here are your memories of a magical time. Thank you for the lovely stroll down memory lane, it was very special.

  2. I hope the birds and other animals have survived. Especially the flamingoes who have a bigger plastic population that a feathered one. Remember all the sunshine? Sometimes, I remember the sun in Israel and even while sun and I don’t get along as well as we could, it was warm and dry and I miss warm and dry.

    1. I think all is surviving pretty well. Lots of glowing accounts from recent visitors on TripAdviser. And now you have me thinking of mega-flocks of competing plastic flamingos. V. surreal.

  3. Wonderful Tish. Especially enjoyed your picture of the flock of wading flamingos. So serene and quite hypnotic. The way they have congregated even suggests a kind of rhythm, and you can imagine the patterns repeating indefinitely if you moved left and right outside the frame, but always with tiny variations in the arrangements. Love the close-up of the dik-dik too! (But then, what’s not to love about a dik-dik?)

    1. ‘What’s not to love about a dik-dik?’ Could not agree more, James. Though this also has the makings of a title for some very batty memoir. I also love the way you turned my photos into a movie – and of course it was just as you describe – the rhythmic shifting. Also very noisy – lots of honking. And close-up, atmosphere to make the eyes water!

  4. Stunning landscapes, Tish! I am particularly taken by the flamingoes forming a ribbon of pink across the water. And the final landscape of the blue mountains. You take such dreamy and atmospheric photos!

  5. Not much left to say after reading the other comments, Tish. It must give you quite a mixture of joy and sadness to relive these times. I very much appreciate you sharing them.


    1. ‘A mixture of joy and sadness’, yes, you’ve put your finger on it, Janet. G. and I were talking about this only a couple of days ago asking ourselves, what if we’d stayed, and how it would’ve been. We ended up concluding that we were simply lucky to have had the experience at all. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

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