holidays

An awful lot of elephant poo

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Easter break meant holidays!

My oldest and dearest travelling buddy, Ruth, came out from the UK to join me and we set off to cram in as much camping and hiking as one week would allow.

First stop was Nairobi National Park to get the much coveted shot of a giraffe with the city skyline in the background (Tick! Please see above). We weren’t blessed with blue skies but we did see five lions and one black rhino! There really was something quite incredible about being in the middle of vast open bush looking for animals at the crack of dawn knowing your house is only 20minute drive away. The only slight moment of concern was a toilet break at a designated picnic ground. When I asked Sam, our taxi man, why the animals weren’t a danger here his reply was disconcertingly simple: “They know not to come here during the day”…

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IMG_3472Next up were the Abedares, a hilly range mountain range in central Kenya and home to Kenya’s third highest peak – Le Satima at 4,001m – which was our second coveted triumph.

Now, the Abedares is a proper national park. By ‘proper’ I mean there are wild animals strolling about including a tonne of elephants, blooming’ loads of buffalo, some lions and a sizeable handful of rhino. No place for a lone human on foot.

Luckily we had Ephraim, Clement, Elijah, Christian and Julius with us!

Ephraim (who I know is reading this!) was our excellent guide for Mount Kenya and on this occasion he gathered for us two armed rangers and two cooks to make sure Ruth and I barely had to lift a finger – just our feet – on this trip.

And so we trekked into the park, dropped off by the driver just past the gate, who waved cheerily and said “I don’t envy you” as he left us setting up camp in the dwindling light…

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To fight off the cold the rangers set to work building a fire but before long we were tucked up in our tent listening to the screeches of the tree hyraxes, the laughs of the hyenas and straining to work out if any of the other unnameable noises around us were the lions that Ephraim asked us to let him know about if we saw…! An unsettling way to say good night.

IMG_7971The next morning was summit day. With 24km ahead of us, Clement led us up towards the peak in his rather excellent camouflage gear. I’m not sure he is really ready in this shot for a lion pouncing out on us…however, his eagle eyes did spot the Mountain Viper that was sneaking it’s way across the path just in front of us. I didn’t think too much of this tiny little snake until I asked whether they were poisonous to which the reply was “oh yes, you would be dead in 15 minutes”. After that taking short cuts through the long grass to avoid deep puddles on the path was less appealing!

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The landscape was stunning but in some ways more like Scotland than Kenya. And when we got to the Summit, wrapped up in our winter gear, it was hard to believe that we had been sunburned and looking at lions just two days earlier. What was really amazing though was that we didn’t see another person for two days. Turns out that, while Mount Kenya has a steady stream of trekkers, the northern Abedares gets maybe one hiking group a month with everyone else making a beeline for the formal campsites further south. People are missing out! Although it was good for us that’s for sure.

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The next two days the sun came out, the hills decreased and the landscape seemed to change every mile from open moorland, to temperate rainforest, to rolling hills with trout-filled streams and finally to almost tropical tea and coffee filled farmland.

IMG_3471The only constant perhaps were the giant piles of elephant poo that paved our way. We kept our eyes peeled and spotted footprints and digging marks galore but failed to see one single elephant the whole time. On the final day I resorted to scattering the dry roasted peanuts I’d brought as energy for the mountain climb around the campsite in the hope they would lure some visitors. Alas, no luck, but it may be that Ruth picked them up and ate them because she is a scaredy cat.

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Calderas and caves

This weekend a few of us took advantage of a VSO workshop held outside of Nairobi and went on a hike to the Menengai Caldera – the world’s second largest caldera (sort of like a crater but caused by a volcano collapsing on itself rather than the top blowing off!).

IMG_3286It was quite a sight to be seen. But I have to admit it was the Mau-Mau caves nearby that held my attention more.

The caves get their name from the independence guerrillas who used them to hide from British troops during the Mau-Mau rebellion against colonial rule from 1951 – 1960. Fact of the day was finding out that “Mau-Mau” is an acronym which stands for “Mzungu Arudi Ulaya, Mwafirika Apate Uhuru” or, loosely, “Let the white man go back to Europe and the Africans regain Independence!”

These days the caves have an altogether different use, as a place of worship for Christians coming on retreat to pray and fast for days and weeks at at time. This was our first glimpse of the caves, hopefully you can just make out the temporary little shelters. The huge tree you can see is a fig tree. Fig trees have huge resonance for many of the ethnic groups in Kenya but in particular Kikuyo’s and often mark a meeting place.


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Our guide had told us we could actually go into the cave although I have to admit I was feeling a bit funny about this. It seemed slightly inappropriate to go into the space of people who had clearly come here to retreat in private. But of course my curiosity overrode my squeamishness. And I was all the more curious when we arrived at the entrance to the site…

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After descending a treacherous ladder made out of the roots of the fig tree and any old bit of wood that was lying around, or so it seemed, we came to the actual entrance of the cave.

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By this point I really felt weird. As we walked into the pitch blackness of the cave we could hear the angry shouting of a man somewhere in the depths. Slowly it became clear he was praying furiously. Taking care to avoid tripping over the buckets that collected the water dripping off the walls of the cave for drinking water,  we walked in deeper but never saw the man who the voice belonged to. However we did stumble across other people sitting praying in silence in the dark. I have no idea how many people were in there in total!

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Now, I’ve been to a fair number of religious sites both at home in the UK and overseas. But I’ve never been to a place like this. And I have to admit I didn’t feel comfortable. There was something about the hostility and harshness of the location that didn’t inspire the awe and wonder or peace and serenity that I have felt at other times despite not being religious. It felt isolating and lacking in humanity. The aggressive slogans written on the cliffs in white paint instructed you to fear the power of God and I found it alienating. There was not one part of me that could relate to the motives that would bring people here.

So it was with a strong sense of relief that we clambered back up the fig tree ladder and into the fresh air where the sun was shining.

I took a video, so despite the pitch black you might get a sense of the environment.