Lake Naivasha and Hell’s Gate National Park

Posted on October 10, 2011

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After two weeks without leaving the city, and in fact barely leaving the house/office, it was certainly time to get out of Nairobi and see some of Kenya. After shamelessly using the internet to enlist a complete stranger as a companion, I found myself on a bus bound for Naivasha late on Saturday morning. The journey there was fairly comfortable, but much less so once we caught a matatu from town out to the lake. This mode of transport is almost impossible to adequately describe, but is essentially a van that pumps music and transports as many passengers as it can squeeze into its tiny confines. Having been sat on and elbowed more times that I can count, and almost choking on the putrid combination of petrol and body odour, we finally arrived at Fisherman’s Camp.

Though described by Lonely Planet as ‘akin to Glastonbury’, Fisherman’s was actually a fairly sedate sort of place with monkeys and stalks strolling about the few pitched tents. After asking for a two-person tent, we were eventually assigned one that could only be described as suitable for two people if said people were less than four feet tall and, preferably, completely flat. Such ridiculousness is, however, par for the course in this part of Africa, and so we shrugged our shoulders and accepted that the night would probably not be a comfortable one. The look of horror on my (female) companion’s face suggested she wasn’t too chuffed at spending so many hours so close to me.

After a quick lunch (and Tusker beer) we were off on a boat to Crescent Island, which hosts a national park of sorts. Lake Naivasha was bigger than I had anticipated it being, and our captain, Emmanuel, seemed to take great pleasure in soaking us to the skin by over-speeding and making wholly unnecessary sharp turns. After a fairly bizarre route, we finally came across a family of wallowing hippos, none of whom made the slightest effort to do anything entertaining. Emmanuel would have tricks up his sleeve to animate less dangerous wildlife later. Upon arrival at Crescent Island we were met by a vast plain with giraffes, zebra, wildebeest and gazelles (both Thomsons and Grants – knowledge!) grazing and doing their best to avoid the few tourists desperately snapping pictures. It was an impressive scene, but not one that required extensive viewing, yet a park ranger arrived demanding $25 from each of us in order to see it. In typical Kenyan fashion, we negotiated a deal where we paid local price (rather than mzungu tax) and the ranger pocketed some extra beer money. Two weeks and even I have succumbed to Kenyan corruption.

Bernard, the by now jovial ranger, took us on a bare-bones ‘tour’ of the park which primarily involved pointing out holes in the ground and piles of dung. In fairness, most of the animals in evidence were fairly self-explanatory, and we departed Crescent Island pretty sure that we had seen everything that was to be seen and counting our blessings that we had not been forced to pay such an extortionate price for the privilege. After passing yet more hippos (apparently the lake is home to 600 or so) on the way back, our guide directed the boat to the side of the lake, where hundreds, perhaps thousands of pelicans were camping out. This was an impressive enough sight, but Emmanuel took it upon himself to “make them fly” by driving the boat straight at them at quite a speed. Excellent, though slightly cruel, photos taken, we motored on back to camp, stopping only for him to feed an eagle with fish for a less successful Kodak moment.

With ‘Glasto’ not quite as lively as we had anticipated, there was little to do that night but eat excellent Lake Naivasha Crayfish and have one too many Tusker beers. Entertainment was provided by a Kenyan waiter who just could not handle the concept that a male and female could spend time together and not be married, the occasional (unphotogenic) wandering hippo and a policeman who let me wear his hat after he had discovered us trying to find out if the electric fence -all that was between us and the hippos – was working. Amazing what kinds of things one finds entertaining after enough cheap (and I must say surprisingly decent) beer has been consumed.

So it was with sore heads and heavy legs that we rose the next morning to get to Hell’s Gate National Park. A quick matatu journey meant we found a small village where there were, obscenely, three ATMs, and with cash supplies replenished we walked the 2km to the park gate. No deal could be done here, so tourist rates had to be paid and bikes hired for the 8km journey to the ranger’s post where we could get a tour. This cycling was far from pleasant with the combination of hangover, midday sun, terrible road and chronic lack of fitness, but we finally made it, throwing down our bikes and vowing to get a taxi back. We gained a guide, and set off into the park.

Hell’s Gate is billed as being the park where you can walk amongst the animals, yet the walk we wound up doing involved very little wildlife at all. Instead, we were scrambling and climbing through narrow and waterlogged gorges, in my case completely unaided by a poor choice in footwear. Nevertheless the scenery was fantastic, taking in caves, hot springs and finally a brilliant view over the park. We even temporarily turned ourselves into Masai warriors by donning red war paint. We returned to the ranger post tired but glad we had succeeded in completing the walk, for there were points when our route seemed unpassable. Our guide, John, was a life-saver in this respect. A hugely expensive taxi took us to the junction where we waited for a matatu back to town. A fish dinner was hastily consumed before the journey back to Nairobi, and home was reached wearily but happily after a top weekend.

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Posted in: Experience, Travel