Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The volcano

The volcano because it is the first one I ever hiked. The extinct (or dormant, depending on the sources) volcano and the national park around it lie just 90km (or 60 km, again relying on what the Internet can provide as information) north of Nairobi.

An early start to get the most out of daylight proved quite necessary when we got lost multiple times. (In retrospect, we probably just flew by the first sign in typical Kenyan driving style). What should have been a 1 hour drive, soon started turning into over 2 hours. Off-road, dust, a phone call (whenever our driver could get signal with the limited network coverage), back on the tarmac. And again, a dusty road, no signs or directions, more phone calls. The frustrating part of course was that the mountain was right there! So close, yet so far away. We could see it looming over us, but we could not find our way to the main park gate.

By the time we made it, we had seen grazing zebras on the side of the road, random giraffes in the savannah, cactus trees (unless you are close you can’t really tell it was a cactus) and lamb hats on sticks (those came first, but I somehow missed them on the way there). We also managed to trespass someone’s private property. After convincingly arguing that we were not on private property and would just go back the way we came (we had two lawyers-to-be in the car), the guards stopped asking for cash and let us through. Fair enough, we were on someone’s private property as the signed beyond the gate informed us, but it was the first time anyone asked me for money to get back on the public road (they also asked for a ridiculously small bribe, I almost laughed)… tia

As we crossed the main gate into the Longonot National Park, the following view of the volcano beheld us.


Nothing too difficult we said and on we went. A rather steep incline took us by surprise. Caution at every step: not to slip and not to be eaten by buffaloes. Not sure how those African buffaloes react to hikers, might be very benign, but I didn’t wait to find out.


The more we climbed, the better view we got. Until we reached the breathtaking summit! I’ve never been afraid of the highest heights, I’ve done my fair share of hiking (this is probably an extreme exaggeration, but it’s my story, so take it at fair value). The view from the top of the world, I am used to. But the magnificent crater that opened up in front of us when we climbed that last hill left us speechless.


“Wow” and "”Oh my god” were most of the explanations. And honestly, if god had anything to do with this, she definitely did a good job. (Correctly spelling god without a capital G in my own non-denominational blog.)

A short snack break after we were on our way to go around the rim! A 7.2 km walk that took us from the first crater point, to the crater entry point and all the way to the summit at 2780m. And yes, you are reading right. One could enter the crater, if one is not afraid of heights and if one is a skilled climber. And one could go down to the rich forest and vegetation of the crater, if one takes his/her own risk with the fauna in there and if one is accompanied by a ranger.


At the summit of 2780m, I couldn’t help but think how this is a rather easy hike for Kenyan standards! A short ride from Nairobi, people come here to train for higher mountains. Yet, this is almost as high as things get back home in Bulgaria. Musala is just over 2900m and Vihren a little under (I’ve lost multiple bets on the precise height of both, so I ain’t gonna go into those details. If your wish is to learn more, so be it and ask Google).

Unfortunately, sooner rather than later, we made the full circle to the starting point and it was time to go back. During our descent we saw many obscure Kenyan individuals of various ages hiking in what must be the most inappropriate attire ever. Not only that, but the shoes! OMG the shoes! Sandals and platforms abounded! People were even barefoot! Mmmm there was one guy in a suit as well! As a group, we decided that many of these kids (the majority of hikers looked like teenagers) must be coming after church, which is why they were so dressed up. What other explanation could there be? Anyone?

Yet another weird Kenyan experience ensued: the kids were taking pictures with us. “Can we take a picture? Is that alright?” And I’m like… Don’t you see I’m covered in dirt and sweating as a pig. Apparently, that was not an issue, as I posed for at least 4 shots. Ending up on random people’s cameras is probably not a good idea, but oh well… who am I to judge their habits? This one, though, we could not justify. Whichever part of Kenya they come from, they must have seen white people. After all, we are everywhere. So what was with the pictures, I have no idea…

Finally, we reached the flat dusty road once again!


This is what success looks like! (And a Tusker in hand about 5 mins afterwards)

The adventure could have ended here, but we also managed to get a flat tire on the way back. We had only pulled over for about 10 seconds when 4 random men, who were just sitting on the side of the road, came to look at how our driver changes a tire. One helped, but the rest were just standing in their little group watching silently.


Afterwards, it was straight to Nairobi!

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