14 Dec 2013

Hiking & Biking In The Great Rift Valley

Kenya: Lake Naivasha, Hells Gate National Park, Maasai Mara

Heading south we made our third equator crossing in Africa, although this was the only one with any sign…so we had to stop!  Significant, in the sense that we had already crossed the Arctic Circle with Tonka earlier this year, this was otherwise an anti-climax.

One large circumference led to another as we headed to the famous streetfood stalls of Nyama Choma, where our waist lines had to accommodate a whole barbequed leg of goat and delicious mash of green beans and potatoes.  This was a slightly surreal experience, sitting in the sweltering heat while the perspiring chef proudly carved the meat to the accompaniment of “Feliz Navidad”.  Christmas was, apparently, near!

Further on, we were intrigued to visit one of the archaeological sites excavated by Leakey in the 1920s in the Great Rift Valley.  Through natural subsidence at Kariandusi, an extraordinary concentration of stone tools were exposed in sedimentary layers along with some of the greatest paleontological discoveries of the century.

Conscious that our brief time in Kenya was already running out, we made a beeline to Lake Naivasha and the famous Hells Gate National Park.  This latter attraction is one of the few national parks in Kenya where cars can be left outside and their occupants have the opportunity to re-enter the food chain on either foot or bicycle.  So, giving Tonka a well-deserved rest, we hired two mountain bikes and headed off in search of game.  Their glory days well and truly behind them, these squeaky steeds nonetheless carried us past herds of buffalo, warthogs, secretary birds and springbok.  This was a liberating experience, which also provided us with much needed exercise. Perhaps the highlight was a short hike down into the gorge, where a small stream now trickled.  Any day now this will become a raging torrent as the first rains begin to drain into here, and we had heard stories of unfortunate tourists being swept away by flash floods.  With the vertical canyon walls hemming in on either side of us, this was not a place to linger too long.  Dramatically carved by the water, these walls were also remarkable for their spouts of steaming hot water.  Apparently this location was used for the Tomb Raider II film. 

Back at the campsite, we were kindly invited by a large Indian family, comprising all generations, to join their Independence Day afternoon tea.  Enjoying a short break from their busy lives in Nairobi, they plied us with Masala tea, biscuits and cakes while quizzing us about England.  Any calories we had lost while cycling were quickly replaced.  They were fascinated by our roof tent which they thought looked like some sort of UFO.  And we were fascinated to learn that, despite looking and sounding every bit like Indian nationals (they spoke Hindi between themselves), they were actually third generation Kenyans.  They were obviously proud of their roots.

Continuing southwest towards the border crossing with Tanzania, we travelled a rough road along the isolated fringes of the Maasai Mara National Park.  Having already decided to snub this park and instead spend our time in the remote Western Corridor of the Serengeti just over the border, we nonetheless benefited from the spectacular views.  These were made all the more atmospheric by great blankets of rain clouds that filtered the light into blue-grey hues.  As we pressed on the bumpy road deteriorated in places into a quagmire of black cotton soil, as slippery as ice – it was only by hanging on to the bull bar that John was able to slip and slide from one front wheel to the other to engage the 4 wheel drive. 

Dusk was falling as we slithered onto a side road, arriving at the exclusive *Mara River Camp*.  By putting on our politest English accents, we were allowed to put up our tent for $60 and use the showers in a service house.  Not cheap for camping, but preferable to the $500 for one of their own safari tents.  Dinner of more barbequed goat and an early start the next morning towards Tanzania concluded a brief but wonderful foray into western Kenya.


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