To Hell ('s Gate) and back
Trip Start Jan 15, 2009
34Trip End Feb 15, 2009
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We stopped on the escarpment with a nice clear view of the Great Rift Valley.
Farther along the lake shore we came to the new Sopa Lodge and a bit later the new Simba Lodge. They're very new and luxurious but I still prefer the old Country Club because of its history.
We stopped to buy some water before going to the park, and then arrived at the Elsa Gate. It's called after Elsa the lioness, in honor of the book/movie Born Free. Joy Adamson lived in nearby Elsamere on Lake Naivasha. So this area is connected with the story of Elsa. I paid $25 for me to get in, $3 for the driver to get in ($3 for Kenyans, $25 for foreigners...), and $4.50 for the vehicle.
We drove in and saw some game right away. There were zebras, Thompson gazelles, and lots of hartebeest. Two dikdiks darted across the road in front of us. They are tiny delicate gazelles about the size of small dog. There were also many warthogs around including several families with tiny piglets only a few days or weeks old, judging by their size.
The tracks were very, very dusty. The fine dust came in through open windows and up through the floor by the wheel wells of the vehicle. The views of mountains and valleys of this park are very beautiful. The volcanic nature of the area can be seen by the kinds of rock formations seen in cliffs and hills. Finally we came to the main gate where there was a ranger station. This is where I would arrange a guide for my hike. I hadn't had any exercise to speak of since I left on this trip, so I thought a good long walk would do some good.
I paid the fee to have the guide take me on a 3-hour hike to the volcanic vents that make the park famous. My guide's name was Jackson. That wasn't his real name when we was born, but he was given that nickname because someone thought he looked like Michael Jackson. The name stuck, and when he was old enough to get his official ID card, the authorities simply put down "Jackson" so that is his real name now.
I took my cameras, and a bottle of water and off we went. We hiked down to the base of the valley to where a small creek ran. We followed the rocky creek bed as it wound down its course. We had to jump across gaps and down some fairly steep drops. There was some easy climbing required as we went. We came to a fork in the valley. Jackson led me off on the left fork for a short distance. He told that a scene from Tomb Raider 2 was filmed here. "Notice the tree" he told me, "you can see that clearly in the movie." Not being a Laura Croft/Angelina Jolie fan, I hadn't seen that movie, but I'll tuck that little bit of useless knowledge away for future reference.
We backtracked and continued down the other fork. We chatted about all sorts of things as we walked: Obama's election and homosexual marriage were his two first questions. Of course he was very excited about Obama's election. On the other hand he couldn't believe that America would accept that a man could marry a man, and he asked if that was really true. I told him it was probably going to happen though not everyone agreed. I couldn't resist mentioning that President Obama supported it. He was shocked. "But I thought he was a Christian" he said. I explained that there were American Christians who don't accept everything that is found in the Bible. I mentioned that Mr. Obama's party and church were also in favor of allowing abortion. "Killing the baby?" he asked. He was stunned again, and suddenly seemed conflicted. Those aren't the kinds of things that are reported in the African press.
We talked about the direction the world was going. He was concerned that standards are going down, even among the Massai. When he was young, he said, young people listened to and obeyed their parents, now they are starting not to do so. And the young are easy prey for violent unscrupulous people. That complicated the recent violence in Kenya, he said. Bored, dissatisfied young men, given weapons and motivation don't understand or think about the harm they do. "I am a father now" he continued "I don't think about many things, I think about my children and their school." People are people.
At one point he point up the steep hillside to several wooded valleys that went off at the perpendicular.
We started talking about the animals that lived in the park. He mentioned buffalo. I asked what he would do if we came around a bend and found a buffalo there (an entirely plausible eventuality.) "If there are many together, it is easy to frighten them. I should swing my shirt at them and they would run. But if it was one alone, that is dangerous." So what would he do? "You must be careful of the horns, always watch the horns," that seemed pretty obvious. He continued "you could try to climb a tree, high enough to go above the horns, or you could find a hole." He motioned to a shallow impression in the dirt. You could like down flat here, and he could not get you with his horns, but you must be brave and stay still, then you can take a branch and stick it up in his nose, then he will run away. They do not like when you poke a stick in the nose." I briefly tried to imagine doing that, but it didn't seem very likely.
What about a leopard, I asked him. "If the leopard attacks you, you must wait until it gets very close and hit it very hard on the head with the club, between the eyes." That would kill it, I suggested. "No it will not kill, but it will give you time. If you want to kill, you kill, if not, you have time to go away."
After 90 minutes we started smelling sulfur, we had arrived at the vents. Steam came visibly from the ground in several vents; in other places hot air spewed out invisibly.
There was an audible roaring sound from some vents. In places I could feel heat emanating directly from the earth. We saw puddles of boiling mud, and in other places boiling water. The ground showed patches of red, green and yellow rock from the effect of minerals and the heat. I found it fascinating.
Then it was time to start back. We had come down most of the way thus far, now we had to climb back up, and the hike became pretty demanding. It was very hot and dry; the names Hell's Gate started making even more sense. At the top of the plateau we met two Massai in traditional dress. One of them was thirsty and hinted at a drink from my water bottle. Under the circumstances I didn't feel I could oblige, so I pretended I didn't understand. Better to be slow than stingy.
We finished the hike 15 minutes early which was fine with me. I had had a thorough workout. We got back in the 4WD and drove through the park to another gate. We dropped Jackson at Elsamere with it's lovely view of Lake Naivasha, and then drove to the Country Club.
On the way, it started raining. After a while it began raining very heavily. That was very welcome in this thirsty country.
There was a 100 Shilling fee to pay at the entrance for a temporary membership to the Lake Naivasha Country Club. The club buildings inside and out look like they might have come through time straight from the 1930s. The main building has hardly been remodeled or updated any time recently, so it's showing its age in some ways. But I love the feel of it.
This was actually Nairobi's first international airport in the 1930s. The big, slow, Boeing flying boats would come from Europe, stopping several times for refueling. There were no runways available on that route in those early years, so they would land on lakes. They landed on Lake Naivasha and taxied to the shore. After staying here or freshening up, travelers would take motor cards or busses for the last leg of the trip to Nairobi. That would have been a fascinating trip to make.
Lunch was very nice: soup and salad, choice of meat, curry, and fruit and pastries for desert. I moved out onto the terrace for a cup of excellent Kenyan coffee, and looked out over the gardens to the lake barely visible through the giant trees near the shore. The rains started again lightly. It was wonderfully restful. I walked out to the water on the little dike built to keep passersby dry. There are signs repeatedly warning to watch out for animals and not to walk out to the water after dark. There are crocs and hippos in the water and one never knows when they'll show up. There is a deep sharp trench built a hundred meters back from the shore, to dissuade animals from wandering into the gardens. While I was out watching some fishermen up to their necks in the lake dragging seine nets through the water, the rain became very heavy. I walked quickly back to the lodge, dodging from tree to tree to get as little wet as possible.
Rejoining the vehicle, we started the drive back to Nairobi. It took two hours to reach the airport. Now I'm waiting for the flight to Johannesburg.