“Woke up high under African skies, just me and my Swiss army knife.”
Last Mango in Paris, Jimmy Buffett
Well, not quite, as I had a suitcase and two carry-ons and I didn’t even drink on the flight to Kenya. African skies, I’ll take, as Kenyan skies are spectacular. African skies are different and I thought a lot about how to convey that. The blue is richer and more than that, it is as if the white cumulous clouds don’t touch the blue nor do the gray clouds touch the white. Each part holds itself distinct from the other. If this carefully thought out, erudite description leaves you puzzled, just watch the clouds on the opening credits to the Simpsons.
Sunday, I entered Hell’s Gate to visit the Devil’s Bedroom—dejavu…
It started benignly enough with signing up for a biking and walking tour of Hell’s Gate National park. The reviews said as long as you are reasonably fit, you’d be fine. Ah, the devil is in the details….
About an hour and a half from Nairobi, the world opens up, the sun breaks out and your jaw hits the floor. The sudden view of the Great Rift Valley is spectacular. The name says it all in looking across to the volcanos ringing the valley still venting steam in distinct vertical plumes.
In another 30 minutes we are at the park picking the best of the beat up, fat- tire bikes and start our trek. There were three of us and a guide. Frank, from Amsterdam, Nadja from Berlin and me. Nadja is a professional photographer, so Frank and I were laughing about our little cameras compared to her digital SLR rig, but then ours weighed ounces and she carried pounds. As we started out, we agreed that this is the best way to see animals. On a bike getting up close and personal with warthogs, hyrax, zebra and giraffe and up close and not so personal with the Cape Ox is amazing. We pitied the bus people.
We biked 7 joyful kilometers of herds and birds, stopping often for photo ops. At that point we entered another part of the park to hike into the canyons. Hiking is a mild description of the journey as we picked our way up rock faces, crossed streams, and hauled ourselves up climbing ropes. Funny they didn’t mention climbing in the brochure…. The culmination was the devil’s bedroom canyon in which the rock formations and from there it was a short walk to the Devil’s Kitchen where hot springs were a welcome way to wash off some road dust.
There and back again, no Hobbits
Getting back down the rope climbs we’d come up was even less fun, as the foot holds were created for someone a foot taller than me. We hiked back out to where we’d left the bikes and polished off our water. It was afternoon now and all of us were moaning out the stupidity of leaving snacks in the car and that we hadn’t brought double the amount of water. But there was nothing to be done about it. 7 hellish kilometers of biking back awaited. We agreed to stop only for buffalo which we hadn’t seen and for awesome, animal crossing the road close ups. We stopped three times. Once for giraffe, once for buffalo and once when I fell off the bike avoiding a car.
Since the law of the Outdoorsy is “You got yourself in; you get yourself out” I got back on the bike and kept going, albeit at a slow pace. To add insult to injury the 7 K back is up hill and into the teeth of a fierce headwind. I make it, glugged water, ate a cookie and didn’t quite pass out. And here I thought I was “reasonably fit.”
Luckily next on the agenda was lunch, only a short drive away and at a beautiful place on Lake Naishavi, the largest fresh water lake in Kenya. Perfect to recuperate and with its own resident giraffe who was relaxing on the lawn. Standing only a few feet away, it was the closest I’ve come to a giraffe without a fence between. SO worth the pain.
At work today and feeling fine other than the bruise on my shin. Yesterday, out of breath and exhausted I was thinking I’m too old for this shit. Today, I’m ready to do it all over again and climb the rock face.
As you can see, when I said you could get close to the animals, I was not kidding. Giraffes have eyelashes to die for and baby Zebras have the “awww cute” factor six ways from Sunday. The landscape was the first view of the Great Rift Valley.
The trip back from Kenya was not as eventful as getting back from Jordan but I did spend an unscheduled extra five hours at JFK. First, it was the ground stop in Philly to let those nasty thunderstorms many of you were hiding from under your beds (Ok that was just the cats and dogs hiding) go by. Then of course, as storms do, they headed up the coast right to NYC. Finally got home at 11 pm.