Once there was a
high and lonely place in East Africa where it was always October, a year-round
harvest of crackling mornings and brilliant noons. Soft breezes of evening
brought the smell of ice and bamboo from the slope of the mountain the Kikuyu
called Kirinyaga to the lake which was located amid dense pines and giant fig
trees. A few miles to the north the equator bisected the gut of the continent.
Unlike the mountain, the name of which meant House of God, neither the lake nor
its name, Sasumua, was of any significance.
At dusk clouds of
ephemeroptera drifted over the quiet water like puffs of dun-colored smoke and
the stillness was broken by the slurp and splash of feeding trout. With such an
abundance of insect life and the natural cover of weed beds and log falls,
brown and rainbow trout existed there in great numbers. None were lunkers. But
they were respectable.
The trout is not
native to Africa; they did not arrive on the continent until 1892, when the
first brown trout eggs were transported from Britain and hatched in South
Africa's Cape Province. In 1905 they came to Kenya.
It was Major
Ewart (Cape to Cairo) Grogan who worked the miracle. Grogan was a folk hero of
some note in East Africa, his renown based largely on an epic 7,000-mile trek
he had made from Cape Town to Cairo. It was the era of settlement in Kenya,
marked by the arrival from England of hundreds of adventurers in search of free
land far from the queues and clutter of Oxford Street. Among them were men like
Grogan, former Guards officers-turned-gentlemen farmers.
builders suffered two stigmas. One was a touch of madness; the other, a case of
homesickness. For a squire of any sort of taste, trout were as much a part of
the England he had left behind as tea and sympathy. Civilized survival depended
on the presence of both. Thus, Grogan knew where duty lay.
It was a problem
of logistics best solved by a soldier, a combined operation of sea and land
forces. The eggs first arrived in Mombasa by steamer. Amid great fanfare they
traveled inland via the recently completed rail link to Nairobi. The final
stage of the journey was made atop the heads of sweating porters who safaried
into the Aberdares and seeded the eggs and fingerlings in likely streams.
Four years later,
in 1909, a survey showed that the experiment was a success. The eggs had
hatched, the fingerlings survived and multiplied. As word leaked out, a fad of
trout fishing swept the colony. Farmers deserted their lands and families to
don knickers and tweeds and batter through the thickets to the pools. Pipe
smoke mingled with the odors of the forest; curses and cries of joy joined the
shrieks of the Colobus monkey.
No one strayed
far on these expeditions without the protection of a heavy express rifle.
Besides rhino and elephant the Aberdares were infested with Cape buffalo, a
larger and far testier breed than its plains brothers. In the close quarters of
the forest they reacted to surprise with the power and speed of a trip-hammer.
To be ambushed by such a creature was a terrifying experience—and often
delivered the trout, the tea and sympathy would later be provided by the Brown
Trout Inn (what else?), a bivouac of thatch-roofed cottages built on a hill
above the Sasumua, an hour's hike from the most productive streams. It was a
settler's inn, far from the beaten path. So isolated was the Brown Trout and
such were its surroundings that a gingerbread house would not have seemed out
There were neatly
barbered lawns and hedges, flagstone walks and "The Buttery" teahouse.
Snooker and darts were in the bar. So were caricatures by Spy that portrayed
lean and comical Englishmen at sport. Here a Kitchener might sip a shandy after
exertions afield. And Cecil Rhodes could tell outrageous tales before a roaring
fire. So there was this about the Brown Trout: it was a time capsule. And a
lonely settler could enjoy a game of let's pretend—"let's pretend we are in