Robert was very quiet at first but once I got talking to him, found him very intelligent and interesting. He did a lot of work in conservation, in particular at Lake Naivasha monitoring the water in the Lake. The 50 Flower and Vegetables companies around the Lake naturally use the water from the Lake but also discharge pesticides and chemicals into it, probably not deliberately but this has serious consequences for the flora and fauna. Apparently, a few years ago, the shoreline of the Lake receded 200 meters as farming was taking a lot of the water that flowed into the Lake. This had serious implications in particular for the hippos as they had to wade through thick mud to get to the vegetation on the shores on which they fed and there are stories of hippos dieing in the mud, stuck. The water levels have since improved but they are not back to their heights in the 70’s/80’s.
One of Robert’s jobs is to lecture to tourist guides and also school children about not dropping litter in places of outstanding beauty. When you go through the villages, there is litter everywhere. On Mount Longonot there was a man employed to pick up any litter and burn it in little pits, one half way up and the other at the top and consequently there was no litter on the mountain.
On entering the Hells Gate Park, at about 730am, it was like a scene from the Lion King! This beautiful valley was flanked by tall rocky cliffs, full of zebra, giraffes, warthogs, Thomson Gazelles, to name the main animals that I saw. There were birds of prey circling above us and my guide said that they fly all the way to the Masai Mara and Nakuru National Parks because there are lions there and more chance of finishing up on the lions’ kill.
The geographical features were amazing including two towers (“plugs” – the whole area is simmering with geo-thermal energy) Fishers Tower and the Central Tower. Apparently there are rock hyraxes on the Towers but I didn’t see any. I did see people practising rock climbing on Fishers Tower and Joseph had told me the day before that he taught rock climbing in Hell’s Gate.
The beauty of the place was marred by an awful noise coming from the geo-thermal plant in the valley. Apparently, it produces a lot of electricity for the national grid and there is plenty of more opportunity to exploit this natural and environmentally friendly source of power in the area. However, the downside is the terrible noise of the turbines grinding.
There were photos of people riding horses in the park and the best way to exp0lore it is either on horse or by bike. I went all the way to the gorge where we left our bikes and explored the amazing tunnels created by water from a bygone age. In times long ago, the Rift Valley was a vast Lake and the waters from the Lake had created this amazing geographical feature. The first one still had a trickle and for a while I didn’t understand that we would walk and climb down the gorge and follow the stream. There were some very difficult bits of rock to climb down which I just about managed to do but it would be impossible for someone with dodgy knees or small children or any kind of disability to attempt it. I have had one session of rock climbing at Craggy Island in Guildford and that helped me imensely as it was a question of finding a crevice to lodge your foot while you climbed down or up whilst also finding somewhere to hold on (the difference was there were no ropes!) Apparently,a bit of “Lara Croft Tomb Raider” was filmed there so I am looking forward to seeing it again on the film. You are not allowed to visit the gorge without a guide and this is a good idea because you could miss out on some of it if you tried to do yourself and also you could easily get lost and be wondering about for days!
Some of the waters feeding the gorge were hot, sulphur streams and in some places the ground was very hot to touch. Other colder streams joined the hot, sulphur streams.
Robert told me that the area is called “Hells Gate” because the local people are very suspicious of the gorge because they consider it a ‘freak of nature’ and think that it was created by a devil who will devour you if you go down there. Consequently, the locals will not go there.
I got back to the hotel at about 2.00pm having cycled about 30km and done an arduous rock climb – I decided to rest by the pool and abandon any plans of making the most of the bike hire and going off in the afternoon to visit Elsamere, the conservation centre nearby dedicated to the life of Joy Adamson, famous for her work liberating lions back into the wild as seen in the film “Born Free”, another one I must try and find.
I felt very exhilirated at the end of this day. The bike ride was a challenge, the scenery dramatic and the weather in the 70’s – perfect for any kind of activity!
Full details of the placement in Kenya will be going on http://www.volunteervacations.co.uk in the next couple of weeks (October 2010)