When I last visited Ol Pejeta 12 months ago, its plains were green and its rivers were swollen. The woodlands were dank and dripping, and the tracks were sodden and treacherous. Now, the conservancy is dry. The plains are parched, and the marshes are waterless and cracked.
But not everything has changed. Up on a ridge in the heart of Scotts Plain, there is still a spotted hyena den with multiple generations of cubs. My fiancée and I knew exactly where to find it: next to a small boma on the ridge, in line with the airstrip by Ol Pejeta House. It’s also a popular spot for male kori bustards, which we often found prancing around with inflated necks searching for mates.
On this occasion, there were two young hyena cubs dozing by one of the many holes to their den. Every now and again, they perked up their big ears and twisted them in our direction. It was otherwise quite a dramatic scene. A confusion of helmeted guineafowl scurried all around us, kicking up golden dust in the setting sun’s rays. And in the distance, plumes of thick grey smoke rose from scorched grasslands in the Aberdares. With the heat and high winds of the prolonged dry season, wildfires have spread quickly.
As dusk settled cosily on the surrounding wilderness, like the warm shukas on our shoulders, we left the hyenas to slumber in peace. We had booked a double room for the night at The Stables – Ol Pejeta’s primary budget accommodation option. As its name suggests, a section of the property used to house a previous landowner’s horses. Now, after extensive refurbishment, it hosts long-term researchers, volunteers and self-drive groups or individuals like ourselves.
Because The Stables is situated by the main conservancy office, and Ol Pejeta House, it isn’t difficult to find. From the Rongai Gate, it’s about 10km through the eastern ‘Sweetwaters’ section of the conservancy, and across the ‘Elephant Bridge’ over the Ewaso Nyiro River.
It offers a range of single, double and twin rooms, the majority of which are spread out across the lawn in simple grey rondavels. Our room was fairly basic, but in line with what we expected at USD 45 (Kshs 4,600) per person per night on full board. It was en suite, with two large beds beneath mosquito nets, storage space for clothes, a desk and kikoy curtains. Our showers were hot and power was supplied by a generator between 7am – 3pm, and 6pm – 12.30am.
There is a real hostel feel to The Stables. Meals are served communally at set times, so guests have the opportunity to chat to Ol Pejeta staff and researchers about their work on the conservancy. The food was good too – chef Wesley cooked us a fried breakfast, and a delicious tilapia tempura with Singapore rice for dinner. There is also a ‘Big 5 Bar’ on site, selling beers, ciders, soft drinks, snacks and various other supplies.
We set off early after breakfast to make the most of our final day on the conservancy, heading north along the Ewaso. We followed a rocky track that skirted the river, with more twists and turns than a Stephen King novel. Our view was screened by thick evergreen euclea shrubs, so we crossed the river and made our way to Hippo Hide, where you can step out of your car and go on a short guided walk.
After covering only a few hundred yards, we stumbled across a small herd of elephants browsing contentedly on the opposite bank. We watched in silence as they flapped their ears and crunched on thorny branches. It was a fitting end to another memorable trip to Ol Pejeta.