Monday, December 28

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Hell’s Gate adventures

There are two reasons for any traveler to make stop in Kenya. The first is the Coast, the warmer climes and slower paces of Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu. The second are the parks of the interior, the migrations across Maasai Mara, the flamingos of Lake Nakuru and so on and so forth.

Demetra and I have been sadly negligent in our pursuit of these more common destinations. For better in reasons in the case of the former. It takes fourteen hours, minimum, to drive to Mombasa, the point from which all other ports on interest on the Coast may be reached. Unless you're willing to pay for a flight. Which we aren't. In the case of the latter, we made effort to remedy it with a trip to Hell's Gate National Park and the neighboring Lake Naivasha following our adventures at Carnivore earlier this month. It would be remiss of me not to offer a proverbially tip of the hat to Amanda, a teammate from my days as a high-school cross-country runner, for suggesting this park for a visit.

Lake Naivasha? Kind of a disappointment. Granted, we stayed at the YMCA, a good distance down the road from the resorts which presumably have beaches and charter boats and a more developed coast line. Rather than the muddy, reedy shore we discovered after wandering across a sheep pasture, down some backroads and over a hippopotamus trench. Apparently, if you are interested in protecting yourself against hippopotamuses, all that is necessary is a trench about two feet wide and four feet deep with another two feet of embankment on the far side. Of course, this whole defense is predicated on the belief that hippopotamuses are too stupid to walk down the gravel road that the trench was unable to cut through. I'm still not quite sure whether the YMCA lady was screwing with us when she informed us about that particular landmark.

Hell's Gate? Better. Not quite containing that same bounty of fauna as Lake Nakuru, but that's kind of the point. If it had, then they probably wouldn't have let us go through on rented bikes. It was wonderful to just go through at our own pace, stop when some family of warthogs caught our eye and not worry about testing the patience of the driver who has undoubtedly seen these same sights for years on end and grown weary. To sit and watch a small herd of giraffes cross the road ahead and feel the ground shake when they start. To have all the time you could desire to try and take interesting pictures of cliff walls that rose straight out from the gentle hills that otherwise make up Hell's Gate. To actually be on a bike again after months off. That is some good stuff. We may not have made it to the geysers, the main attraction of the park so far as I know, but it was pretty good for what we did have. Perhaps the best part? The park is half the distance to Nairobi, ideal for small, future get-aways.

Of the greatest interest to me, though? The town just outside the park. The whole thing had to be owned by Sher Karuturi, local rose exporter. The social hall? Sher Karuturi Social Hall. The club? Sher Karuturi Club. The security protecting aforementioned greenhouse and club? Sher Karuturi Security? The football team? Sher Karuturi. The football stadium? Sher Karuturi Stadium. If you lived in that town, you either worked for Sher Karuturi or fed the people who did. Or rented bikes to the tourists.

Not that it seemed like a bad set-up for the locals. From how standardized the housing looked, I'd be willing to guess that Sher Karuturi built it for their employees. Looked a sight better than what I see daily in Githima. They had to have at least a few rooms in each home, and each had a TV antennae. And they did have the official social hall and club. I imagine visiting Sher Karuturi now would be something like slipping back to see Hershey, Pennsylvania, back around the turn of the century. Fascinating, really.

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