Nothing can stop traffic like a pair of teenage lions. Members of the Hamilton Outdoor Club (HOC) experienced this first-hand during a winter break trip to Kenya. On the first day of their two-week trip, the van that the students were traveling in was held up by a lion-induced traffic jam.
“The lions knew they were being annoying,” Director of Outdoor Leadership Andrew Jillings said, “but you can’t really nudge a lion out of the road.”
In the end, the van drove around the lions on its way to a nearby chimpanzee sanctuary. That first day turned out to be something of a bellwether for the trip: an incredibly exciting journey in one of the world’s richest troves of nature and culture.
Although HOC has traditionally run biennial trips to Ecuador, a change in location was planned for this year. A friend of Assistant Director of Outdoor Leadership Sarah Jillings suggested that Hamilton might be interested in a trip to Kenya, and offered the services of his adventure travel company to help craft the perfect trip.
The five student participants didn’t need much motivation to sign up:
“I’ve always wanted to go to Africa,” Jane Barnard ’13 said. “When I got the email that the Outing Club was organizing a trip, I jumped at the chance.”
When they arrived, the students were immediately struck by the pervasive sense of environmental stewardship. The group’s game wardens and guides all exhibited a deep respect for the variety of natural life that Kenya is famous for, from road-dwelling lions to thousands of distinct species of birds. The group took hundreds of photos, many of which will be on display in the Glen House this semester. Check the HOC website for more information.
The results of Kenyan conservation were on full display during the group’s multi-day ascent of Mount Kenya, the second-highest point in Africa. According to Amelia Mattern ‘12, the group “hiked in pure beauty” for the entire time.
“It was one of the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever climbed,” Jillings added.
The trip up the mountain, however, was not without adversity. With a summit at just over 17,000 feet, altitude sickness became a problem. Although some members of the group had climbed high peaks on previous trips, it was the first time at altitude for other trip members. Despite the nausea, the group was remarkably hardy, and the guides even selected a more advanced route to challenge the climbers.
“It was an experience I’ve never had before,” Hannah Kloeckner ‘14 said. “I like being active and being outside, but this was intense.”
Any sort of nausea melted away when the group reached the mountain’s deserted summit at around 5 a.m. As the sun broke over the horizon, the Kenyan savannah lit up below them.
“When you get up there,” Kloeckner said, “it’s all worth it. I was speechless.”
Although summiting Mount Kenya was undeniably one of the highlights of the trip, the time the students spent with the Maasai people of the Maasai Mara National Reserve was just as exciting. Students praised the Maasai as an extraordinarily generous and easygoing people who immediately opened themselves up to their guests.
“Learning about their traditional culture first-hand and seeing how they have maintained their unique cultural identity while integrating Western practices was really inspiring,” Nicholas Constantino ‘12 said.
Mattern highlighted the unique Maasai fusion of tradition and progress with a brief anecdote: she was out on the savannah with two young Maasai men who were carrying their traditional accoutrements, including a large knife called a simi. At one point on their trek, however, both men whipped out their cell phones to take a picture. “I felt like I was in a Nokia commercial!” Mattern said.
The trip has inspired many of the students to return to Africa, whether as members of the Peace Corps or simply as sightseers. Several students have credited the trip with increasing their global awareness and awakening a desire for travel, but Mattern perhaps puts it most candidly.
“It sounds cheesy, but it was life-changing,” she said.