17.04.2008 - 20.04.2008 20 °C
We asked the matatu driver how much it would cost to Eldoret. We laughed out loud when he responed 400 each. That was what we had expected to pay for 2. Three-fifty he asked, a little unsure. When we refused again he asked us how much we wanted to pay. 400 for two. He was taken a back. He started to go through the spiel about fuel prices, maintenance etc. Not interested we started to unload our bags. Eventually he conceded to 250. Still not accepting another driver came over and repeated the spiel about rising prices (inflation is around 12% in Kenya). Eventually we agreed and took our place in the van. I asked the guy in fron how much it should cost, he replied 300. I was amazed that two mzungus had actually managed to get a discount on a matatu. He started collecting money on the way and we paid him the full 300.
When we reached the intersection with route 104, the main highway that runs across Western Kenya, we were transfered to another matatu which drove us all the way to Eldoret. On our way there we saw our first reminder of the post election violence. A sprawling refugee camp on the side of the road. It contained thousands of tents, each bearing the symbol of the Red Cross. The occupants had been living in these makeshift (albeit well-organised) camps for months already. Most of their homes had been burnt to the ground and many of their family members had been murdered by their own neighbours.
We were contemplating staying the night in Eldoret until we reached its suburbs. It was unappealing from the get-go. Because it was the centre of the post-election violence or for other reasons it had a depressing feel the moment we passed the welcome sign. Not wanting to judge a book by its cover I was still willing to give it ago until we reached the matatu stand. Within 2 minutes of unloading someone had already attempted to steal our bags and pick my pockets. We could still achieve what we wanted to in town and get away without spending a night. All we had come for was the cheese factory that rated a mention in the Lonely Planet. Before we even reached the gates the smell was overpowering. I even considered giving it a miss, but we had detoured just to come here. Inside there was a small retail distribution window with a menu stuck beside it. We had only eaten cheese once or twice since coming to Africa so we ordered Brie and Cheddar. He laughed when we asked for the Brie, we somewhat ambitiously substituted it with Camembert, he laughed again. Eventually we found a couple of cheeses they did have, both tasted like cheddar. We produced some money to pay but instead we were given a piece of paper which had our order and the prices written out in full. We took this to another window where a lady wrote two A4 page receipts, each with a carbon copy. We paid her then took these reeipts back to the original window and received the goods. The process was ludicrous but at least we had our cheese. In the order we had also included some ice cream. Sitting on our bags we ate it in the middle of the driveway. It was so good they I went back to order more, casting aside my guilt about the three over-sized receipts that would be written out for a 75 cent item.
Having studied the layout of the taxi stand on arrival we managed to avoid most of the touts and thieves on our way to the correct vehicle. Bound for Nakuru it filled up quickly.
Nakuru was a strong contrast to Eldoret, in our eyes anyway. More developed, more friendly but most noticeably; more at ease. There were several safe looking drinking venues around and loads of restaurants that promised to serve dishes other than chicken and chips dripping with oil. We found a hotel with a rooftop that overlooked Lake Nakuru National Park. The park is known for having a solid rhino population but is even more renowned for the hundreds of thousands of flamingos that live in the lake. I remembered seeing a documentary when I was a kid and we had come to Nakuru in the hope that this was the place. The view the top of the hotel may have been misleading but I couldn't see that many flamingos, coupled with the park fees we chose not to visit.
Nakuru was on the way to our next stop, Naivasha but we didn't want to pass through without doing anything. We hired a taxi to take us to the top of a crater just out of town. From the crater rim we could see down to the very bottom of the caldera. The floor was covered in shrubs, the only vegetation which could grow in the rocky, sulpher infused ground. It was the epitome of the great Rift Valley. There was a viewing platform that offered no real advantage but we climbed it just because it was there. The taxi driver told us he was afraid of it because of the height, I climbed down after only a few seconds at the top because it shook like a maraca in the hands of a Spaniard.
We were dropped at the taxi stand in town. We caught the next matatu heading for Nakuru but paid to go only as far as Lake Elementeita. We had packed the cheese and some crackers near the top of the bag to make it easy for a quick lunch stopover. Also known to host several hundred flamingos but without the entry fee it seemed worthy of at least a one hour break. We called the driver to stop near the lake shore but as is often common he assumed we didn't know what we were talking about. We asked him to stop a couple of times but they just continued on. Resigned to miss out I sunk back into bus mode just before the driver pulled over. He gestured towards the sign reading Lake Elementeita Lodge. With minimal words we told him that we had wanted to stop back there. Not 2km from the lake at the drive way to some overpriced lodge. He drove on to Naivasha and we never paid the difference in fares.
Naivasha town was as described in the book. An agricultural backwater. We paid some scammers too much for our tickets out to the Lakeside. The campsite we chose was called Fisherman's. It was set up brilliantly, there were acres of soft grass to camp on and a massive restaurant/communal area for relaxing. An electric fence designed to stop hippos stretched along the front of the perimeter. Like everywhere else we had been in Kenya it was void of tourists. Fortunately for most of the people in the area the main source of incoming is the flower growing industry that hogs the available waterfront, not tourism.
Happy to have grass under our feet and the tent set up for more than a couple of nights we kicked back in the restaurant with our cheese and biscuits. We added some homemade pickles and a bottle of wine which we bought from the establishment to complete the extravagance. Including a couple of beers and our dinners the bill turned out a whopper.
The guy that had checked us in asked if we were interested in doing some rock climbing in Hells' Gate National Park. Neither of us had climbed since Thailand and the thought appealed greatly. The price was reasonable so we put down a deposit. My knee had been causing me problem over the past couple of days so we elected to climb in two days time.
We were told that the climbing and our riding tour of the park was possible in one day so that left us with a day of nothing, not that we were concerned in such a beautiful area. The monkeys that clambered through the trees around the grounds couldn't keep us amused all day and our pockets couldn't maintain eating at the campground all the time either. The nearest town wasn't far away so we made tracks for that. To our surprise there was an internet cafe. It was too early for lunch so I blogged for about an hour. A couple of doors down was a local eatery. No surprises they served only ugali, chips and chicken. At least it was cheap.
We had just started walking home when the heavens opened up. We took refuge in the internet cafe. Seeing that we weren't doing anything, the attendant asked if I would teach a student how to use the computer. Why not, I sat down for an hour and taught him the most basic computer skills possible. When his lesson was over the youth in charge of the internet cafe asked if would like to go back to his house. With no reason to say no we took a matatu to his house 10 minutes later. He paid for our fares but i insisted on paying him back. His name was Francis, he lived with his family in the KenGen compound. A group of houses provided for employees by the sole generator of Kenya's electricity. A couple of times we had been into people's houses before. As often as not they were awkward occasions. Poor English and/or a hint towards sponsorship usually made things uncomfortable. This visit was not the same. His father was a chemical engineer at the nearby geothermal plant and his mother was trained in computers. They were both very well spoken. It was particularly refreshing to speak to an East African woman who was so well rounded and not in the physical sense as most of them are. We were served some food and spared the usual repetitive banter. After eating we were shown around the outside of the house. The family grew all of there own vegetables and even some fruit. There was not a patch of wasted ground. The pride of their yard was the apple tree. In Kenya apples are the most expensive fruit and are almost impossible to grow. After our tour we were forced to say good bye when the light started to fade and the clouds which had cleared earlier rolled in again. Of course we still didn't get away for nearly half an hour as we hadn't allowed for the mandatory swapping of email addresses and taking of photos with every different permutation of visitors and family members.
That night Francis called at dinner to check that we had made it home ok and again at 11 to say he was going to bed. The early warning signs of another African stalker.
Our guide came to meet us right on time in the morning. A welcome sign of professionalism considering we were going to be in their hands on the rock face. We collected our bikes from the front gate and rode off towards the park. It was no more than 7km to the gates. When we got there we were met with some unexpected park fees for our guide and the bikes but they weren't too bad. We had to hang around for near an hour because our other guide had forgotten to bring one of the ropes and it turned out that he was bikeless.
Our climbing destination was a pillar called fischers tower. It is 45 metres tall and looks like a giant cubist sculpture. Every face of the columns is made up of flat edges that mould togethor to form a surface that resembles the fuselage of a stealth bomber.
The first climb we did took us only half way up the tower. It was pretty easy which was good for a warm up. On the Australian scale it would have been around a 14. Next the other guide man who we had realised was the real climbing instructor lead a route up to the top. After he had summited I climbed up behind him and collected his cams. In parts the climb mutated into a small chimney and for the rest it was open faced. At the top I was given a safety line so I could drop the rope back down to Di. While she prepared herself I took advantage of my position to take in the 360 degree panorama. The park was broken into two levels. The canyon which we were in and the surrounding high lands. The canyon varied in depth between 70 and 300 metres. The vertical walls were a beautiful dark red and dominated 90 percent f the horizon. The floor of the canyon was coloured brown by the dust and dead grass. I thought I could make out a few antelope in the distance but I couldn'e be sure. When Di began to climb my focus shifted to her. I knew she was competent enough to climb the route as long as she didn't let herself worry about the tricky overhang that jutted out around half way up. Amiably she pushed past it and reahced the top with gasping lungs. Our guide asked if we wanted to climb the more difficult route which looked more like a slab climb that anything else. I hooked into the rope and was lowered down the new route. Unlike the previous climbs this one was void of any cracks or jugs. Luckily my shoes were a good fit because this one was all about the feet. I followed the folds of a chimney all the way to the top. It would probably only rate a 19 in Australia but I was acutely aware of my dwindling strength when I came out puffing at the top. Dianne elected to miss the third climb despite my encouraging her to give it a go. I was asked if I wanted to climb the 70m, two pitch face nearby. I was tempted but it was going to cost extra, it would also have meant being caught in the afternoon rains and the grade looked a little too easy to be worthwhile so I decided against it.
We were both lowered to the bottom before our guide abseiled his way down. As we ate our packed lunch at the base of the tower we were met by a courageous rock hyrax. Clearly habitutated to people the cute little critter slowly drew up the courage to take the food that was offered to him straight from our guide's hands. When we had finished up we said farewell to the rock clibing guide and were left with just our middle man. We took to the slightly sandy roads on our bikes. The park is known to contain cheetas, leopards and hyenas but according to our guide they are rarely seen. Instead we encountered antelopes, warthogs and giraffes on our way to Hell's Gate gorge.
Once we had reached the mouth of the gorge we took a short break. A rare African entrepreneur had set up a drinks stand, who, via Dianne made a fair profit on a bottle of coke. The sky near the horizon was darkening so we didn't dwell to long. We walked the final few metres to the canyon and dropped down inside. It was only few metres wide but the walls rose up to 20m at points. The floor dropped one or two metres quite reguarly making it impassable to the older group of tourists who had to follow the path. An old pipe which used to carry fresh water to a nearby Maaii camp had rusted in the sulphuric water was left exposed and served to destroy the ambience somewhat. Along the way there were many streams of wtaer which trickled dow the canyon walls. Some were cool water and others were too hot to leave your hand in. The hot ones were easy to identify as they created the right environment to support algae, which in hot water's presence clung to the walls and floor.
The canyon continued on for a long way, right down to some thermal hot springs at the bottom. Very appealing in a Canadian hot spring they weren't so appealing in the middle of an African dry spell. We climbed out one of the few exit points of the canyon after spending about 20 minutes inside. We looked back down from the top but were encouraged on by the first drops of rain. for us the first drops were the also the last until late in the afternoon. We returned home following the same route we had arrived on.
It would have been easy to push for Nairobi the same day but that was far from our minds. One more day in this serentiy before pushing on towards the city with one of the worst reputations in all of Africa seemed sensible.