I’ve made numerous trips into the Rift Valley during my many months in Kenya but almost all of them are with VICDA, an NGO I’ve worked with since 2006. In October of 2009 my friend, Tami, and I worked in a day trip to Hell’s Gate National Park. Below are some of my notes and images.
After spending the night at Naivasha Silver Hotel, Tami and I set out before sunrise to catch a matatu to Hell’s Gate. The matatu, which we shared with 19 other passengers (not an exaggeration) dropped us off along the road. It was about a 3 km walk to the gate where, as it turned out, we were the first visitors of the day. We entered as the sun rose and began to walk amongst the animals. That’s what is so unique about Hell’s Gate – it’s the only park in which visitors car freely walk (or ride a bike, the more popular mode of transport) at their own risk.
Things came to a temporary halt when I spotted a herd of buffalo. Tami, who hails from Buffalo, was ecstatic but I was a bit wary – I’ve heard horror stories about this powerful and unforgiving animal and was in a car that was charged by one in Nakuru a couple of years before. We proceeded with caution past the herd and were excited to spot the illusive albino buffalo! To my knowledge, this is the only albino buffalo in all of Kenya and we were able to see it in our first 15 minutes in the park!
At the suggestion of the drowsy worker who opened the park for us, Tami and I set out for the Gorge. Hell’s Gate is named for the narrow break in the cliffs found at the gorge and, since we were “Kili-training” in preparation for our trek up Kilimanjaro in the following weeks, we opted to hike the 8 or so kilometers from the gate. Once we made it to the gorge we hired a Maasai named Hampton (visitors are not allowed in the Gorge without a guide) and began our tour.
Tami and I got laughing several times while following Hampton through the gorge. He would point at a rock face and simply declare, “we go up” or at a deep drop and say, “we go down.” Up and down we did go, somehow scrambling along behind the very able-bodied Maasai.
Hell’s Gate gorge, like all of the Rift Valley, was created by a series of volcanos and earthquakes millions of years ago. Most recently, nearby Mount Longonot erupted in the early 1900’s and ash can still be found all over Hell’s Gate. As Hampton demonstrated, there are natural hot springs on the premises, too. “Put your hand in this water. It burns, no?” Yes, Hampton it did burn.
The end of our hike took us up, up, up to an overlook. Hampton pointed out the various towers, Mount Longonot and other features of the park. As we walked back to the gorge gate he proposed marriage. “You would be a good Maasai wife,” he told me. I was flattered, but no.