Wednesday, September 3, 2008

We have now been in Kenya for just over three months-- hard to believe! After spending so much time exploring the Mara River Basin and developing our research program here, we decided we needed to get out and explore some other parts of the country before our time here is up. So we looked through our guide book and decided to head to Naivasha for the weekend, a little town about 2 hours from here. We chose this town because it is situated near Lake Naivasha and is surrounded by several national parks. However, we didn't have any idea of what all Naivasha had in store for us!

We arrived on Saturday morning and checked into our quaint room at the lovely La Belle Inn. This is an old colonial inn that has been there since the 1920's, and it's history was palpable. Everyone who worked there was very nice, there was always a crowd on the veranda, and the food was excellent! Looking for an afternoon activity, we were guided towards Hells Gate National Park, one of the only national parks in Kenya that you are allowed to walk or bike through! Here is Chris at the beginning of the trail.

At first, it seemed a bit foolish to walk on trails named things like "The Buffalo Circuit," but it was full of spectactular scenery. Plus, there's just something awe inspiring about hiking through a park in Africa, walking past a carcass, wondering where the lions are. It really gave you a sense of what it might have felt like to be an early explorer on this vast continent. Fortunately, our travels went smoother than those of Gustav Fischer, for whom the rock spire below is named. He was a German explorer who reached here in 1882 only to have his party slaughtered by local Maasai!

As we reached the western side of the park, we finally caught a glimpse of what gave the park its name-- plumes of steam rising from the earth. Unfortunately, these hot springs were too hot for bathing, but they were being harnessed for geothermal power. The Ol Karia Geothermal Station takes up much of this section of the park, crisscrossing it with pipes and power lines and dotting it with wells and power stations, which makes it a bit less scenic. But we did get an interesting tour from one of the guards.
After 14 km of hiking, we were pretty beat by the time we reached our destination at the far side of the park. While we were sitting and waiting for the bus to take us back to town, a British fellow who worked at the plant drove by and asked if we wanted a ride. And that was how we met Steve, an enthusiastic fellow who had come to Naivasha 25 years ago for a two year engineering project and never left. He was excited to meet some new Americans, so he invited us for the evening to a dance competition at the local country club.

We didn't know what to expect as we pulled up that night to this little bar out in the woods, but it turns out we were very lucky to get a personal invitation to this place. The Naivasha Sports Club has been around since the 1920's or so, when it hosted many wild parties by the Happy Valley crew (the wealthy British who lived in the area). Now there was a new set of folks enjoying the setting, but it was still a members only establishment. Along with the dance competition (which our feet were too sore to participate in), they also served a fabulous meal with duck and ham and deviled eggs and cole slaw, not to mention a fair amount of wine. Much singing and dancing ensued...

That night we also had the good fortune of meeting a lovely couple who had lived all over the world, including some time in Nashville and Atlanta, two of our old stomping grounds. After spending all evening talking with one another, they invited us to stay at their house the following night. We had already planned to hike Mt. Longonot, one of the striking volcanic peaks in the Rift Valley, the next morning, so they offered to pick us up in town the following afternoon.

It was not easy to get out of bed after such a late night at the NSC, but we were lured by promises of a beautiful view from the top. If I had known how hard the hike up would be, I might have just stayed in bed!
But it was spectacular to get to the top of the mountain and look over the rim into a lush, green crater.
Behind us, out spread the Rift Valley, its vast flat plains splashed with sunlight through the impending stormclouds.

And off to the side, sparkled Lake Naivasha, its waters turned murky and shallow by increasing use and pollution of the resource, but still a beautiful oasis for a remarkable diversity of birds amidst the otherwise barren landscape.

That afternoon, we could barely walk when our friends came to pick us up, but we were excited about this next adventure. We felt so fortunate to have met such gracious and interesting folks. John was a third generation Kenyan who still ran a small farm in the area, and his family had a remarkable history in the region. He showed us old photos of the early settlers collected by his mother, autographed books by family friend Peter Beard, and collections of newspaper articles from 1906. He and his wife Henri also have a beautiful home right on Lake Naivasha.
The scenery from their front porch was amazing, and they told us they sometimes see giraffe or hippos coming up in the lawn at dusk. Although we didn't see either of those, we did enjoy watching a Goliath Heron, which stand 5 feet tall, as he watched the sunset over the lake.

Our new friends fed us an amazing dinner, put us up in a cute little guest cottage and hosted us at breakfast before returning us to Naivasha Town, with promises they would visit us soon in Narok. I don't know if they will be as impressed by our 2 room cottage as we were by their lovely estate, but hopefully the hospitality will make up for it!
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