A Summers Day Outing in Kenya

Mt. Kenya.

The highest peak in Kenya and the second highest in Africa. At 17,057 feet, it is one of the few features in Africa with snow.

Having experienced withdrawal symptoms from living a year in Kenya, a friend named Greg and I decided this was a mountain we had to hike. Or at least to get within reasonable distance to take a convincing picture of us somewhat near the peak.

Greg and I left Nairobi one cloudy but hot summer morning for a four-hour drive to Mt. Kenya. Pierre, my sturdy dark blue Honda CRV-4, had a full tank of gas, was relatively clean, and hummed along a finely paved road. This was a welcome change, since most excursions into the country in Kenya involve dirt, potholes, and assortments of animals, both farm and zoo. Greg had brought his GPS just in case. I wondered about its accuracy when across the screen there was a road and the words "Lunatic ahead". I looked but couldn't identity who exactly was the lunatic, though we did pass a "Philadelphia Construction Company" shortly thereafter.

(This was only slightly less ambiguous than our previous trip's map that instructed we turn left at the "derelict building." Needless to say in Kenya, that is not very descriptive.)

Thick gray clouds rolled in behind us as we approached the base of the mountain. It was dusk, and the roads were now a thick, clay and mud mixture. Greg and I dubiously eyed the way ahead.

"This is a 4-wheel vehicle, right?" Greg asked me.

"Ah, two."

"Not good."

Pierre was a city car, not a country car. Thus after two kilometers of the nine kilometer trip up the mountainís slope, we found ourselves rolling sideways toward a ditch. Clearly this was a place we didnít want to be. Greg turned the car back around and we returned to the main, paved toad.

Fortunately, the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS), who was responsible for our lodge at the mountain, agreed to pick us up. We parked at a flower farm near the road, negotiated with the security guards to leave Pierre in their protection, and waited an hour and a half before the KWS appeared.

It was dark when we finally reached the lodge. As Greg and I entered, we were greeted by gas lamps and a roaring fireplace. The KWS guard apologetically explained there was no electricity and hadn't been for two months. Everything we would use (including the shower) was generated by old fashioned wood and gas. So we cooked by gas and slept by fire.

The next day, Greg and I set off for a hike down the mountain, heading down toward our stranded Pierre. The path down was less muddy than the way up, and we enjoyed the views of farmland along the route. Local Kenyans were attending church or herding goats or sitting around chatting as we walked by. Of course, every head turned to see who these wazungu strangers were in their neighborhood. Kids as young as four-years ran up to us with their hands outstretched looking for sweets or money.

By noon it had started raining again. Greg and I were prepared with our coats and boots. The only thing we had forgotten, again, was the mud. It formed a tight seal on the bottom of the boots, adding additional weight. When we finally stumbled down to the main road, we furiously scraped the mud off with our walking sticks.

Now we were in the same bind as the previous day. But today, we were lucky. A man on a boda-boda, Kenyaís motorcycle-taxis, stopped when he saw us.

"It's going to rain," he said, pointing at the clouds. He grinned. We were clearly not locals. "Come, I have to drive you now before it rains."

We gratefully jumped on the back of the motorcycle, complete with radio, and zipped up the mountain. And just as we pulled up to the lodge, the clouds released their torrents again. The driver was pleased with himself. We were pleased with the driver. We tipped him well.

The next and last day at Mt. Kenya was uneventful, full of sunshine and hiking. In the afternoon, we were able to finally rescue Pierre and return to the drier roads of Nairobi. But for all of the mishaps, Greg and I had enjoyed a memorable and enjoyable summer's outing in Kenya. And maybe we'll do it again.

J Azari

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