Hell’s Gate National Park

To say that the drive up to Naivasha from Nairobi is breathtaking would be an understatement so profound I can’t even conjure up an equally understated comparison.

Biko and I met near the Kenyan National Archives at 9 and made our way to the stage.  After two months in the Kenyan capital, I still have no idea how to figure out where the bus to somewhere is.  There are many matatu stands, but different stands are in different places and the matatus there go to different destinations, but there doesn’t seem to be any order to any of this, at least not that I can discern.  Biko and I walked past the matatu stand I usually use to go to Lavington, turned a couple of corners, and pushed our way through the crowds of people already bustling around downtown Nairobi.  There were women in colorful dresses; stylishly dressed young people; Masai men in Western dress, their stretched out ear lobes hinting at a more traditional past; Somali women in black chadors.  As we crossed the street I nearly stepped on a man swinging himself across the road by his arms.  His bare legs were wasted and contorted into a knot in front of his body.  The effects of polio, I guessed.  He leaned his body forward and up on his hands, then swung his torso and legs forward and repeated the process at an alarming speed.   I wondered how he kept from being trampled under the rush of the city.

We turned down a major road that I’ve been told time and again was one of the most dangerous streets in town.  But it was 9 a.m. on Friday, so I figured it couldn’t be that bad, comparatively speaking, anyway.  When I first arrived, people stared at me a lot.  But not so much anymore.  Maybe I’d gotten used to it and become oblivious, or maybe Kenya had just gotten used to me.  However, they stared at me on this street.  It’s unnerving when you’re on a street where shootings happen and gangsters hang out and everyone just starts staring at you again.  But we turned down an alley and came out on the other side where a bus sat parked behind a poster-size sign with “Naivasha” handwritten on it in black marker.  We waited while the roof of the bus was first unloaded then loaded with the new passengers’ cargo.  Wherever there is public transportation in Kenya, there are men and women selling snacks out of the lids of cardboard boxes, so we got bananas, gum, biscuits, and water for the journey.

About two hours northwest of Nairobi by bus, Naivasha is a town of about 170,000 people (according to Wikipedia anyway, which is always not 100% reliable). We had been there the previous weekend for a day trip to the lake, but this weekend we were going to Hell’s Gate National Park.  Naivasha and the park lie in the Great Rift Valley and the savannah is home to zebra, giraffes, wildebeest, gazelle, and warthogs, among other wildlife.  But what I was most excited about was that Hell’s Gate is one of the only national parks in Kenya where visitors don’t have to be in a vehicle.

We spent the night in Naivasha.  Early Saturday morning, we ate a big breakfast at the hotel and then took a matatu to the park’s turn-in where we hired bicycles.  Prices are not always exactly fixed in Kenya, except when they are, and we paid less than 20 USD to rent two bikes for the day.

Since the Gentleman Biko was stuck carrying the backpack with our food, water, clothes, and camera gear, he gave our bananas and his khat to the young man we hired the bikes from.  We pedaled about 2 kilometers down an unpaved road to the main gate.  By the time we arrived, Biko was sweating profusely from the weight of the backpack, so we stuffed our extra clothes, toothbrushes, deodorant, and combs in a plastic bag and left it in the care of the park employees.  Then we set off on the 8 kilometer trek toward the gorge.

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