Hell's Gate


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Africa » Kenya » Rift Valley Province » Lake Naivasha
July 12th 2010
Published: August 7th 2010
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I earned myself a pretty epic sunburn being outside all day at the kids' soccer tournement. It was cloudy and I didn't think I would be out as long as I was so I didn't wear sun screen. Oops. So I had a few days to kill avoiding the sun before I could carry on doing interesting stuff. My plan was to go to Hell's Gate during the week. I had heard a bit about it from some other travelers at the hostel and the basic impression I got was that you chase whild animals around on a bicycle all day. Sign me up.

After getting burnt though, the earliest I would have been able to leave was likely to be Thursday. I knew Will wanted to go, but he only gets weekends off from teaching. So I figured what's an extra couple days and killed some time in Nairobi before leaving on Friday.

During the week at the hostel I met a girl from Vancouver, Djuna. She was in the same boat as me, killing some time taking a break after finishing an overland trip around Africa. She was just waiting a few days before her sister and sister's husband met her in Nairobi. Neither of us had been to the Giraffe Centre yet so we decided to go check it out.

We got instructions on how to get there via matatu by another Canadian at the hostel that had just been there. Seemed simple enough, take 111 to the supermarket then 24 the rest of the way. When we approached the bus stop there was the usual crowd of matatus with guys hanging out of them shouting what the route was and trying to cram in as many people as possible. We were asked by one of them where we were headed and I told him, "Nakumatt Karen" and he nodded and ushered us in. A word to the wise: always look at the front of a matatu to see what number it actually is. Those guys will tell you anything to get you inside. We didn't do this.

The Nakumatt was supposed to be about 20 minutes down the road. At around 20 minutes it turned from a paved road into a dirt road through some rural area. Around that time we figured we were on the wrong one, and would just see where
at the cavesat the cavesat the caves

...probably should have turned back at this point.
we ended up. The guy did say he was going to Nakumatt Karen after all.

About 10 minutes after that, the matatu pulled into a makeshift bus station in the middle of a market that consisted of a bunch of metal shacks crawling with people. We were lost. So I asked the driver why he told us we were going to the Nakumatt when he clearly had no intention of doing so. He said it was just down the road, and pointed. We shrugged and started walking, shaking off locals offering to guide us for a small fee along the way.

Not more than 100 metres down the road we found a line up of matatus loading people in heading our way. Remembering what Tom, a teacher at St. Christine's, told me about how the Kenyan perception of time and distance is massively skewed, we opted to pay the 20 shillings to get a ride down the road. This time we made sure to ask a passenger if we were indeed going to the advertised location. We were glad we got on, because the Nakumatt that was apparently "just down the road," turned out to be about 10 minutes by car.

Lucky for us, the transfer was easy and the next matatu took us... Well, most of the way. We only had to walk a couple kilometres after the guy told us to get out and pointed down the road towards the Giraffe Centre.

The Giraffe Centre was pretty much what you would expect out of a place with such a name. There were giraffes. And a platform where you could go up and feed and pet them. It was pretty cool. Mike, the Canadian that gave us the directions, told us before we left that you can ask to kiss the giraffes. Now, that's an opportunity that doesn't come around everyday. So even though it sounded disgusting, we asked the guy if we could do it. He gave us some food to hold in our lips and said just hold still. Djuna made me go first, so I loaded up the food. Fortunately for me, the giraffe barely even touched my lips and I didn't get completely slimed. Djuna wasn't so lucky.

The first time she tried it, I messed up the timing with the camera, so she went for another go. The second time around her face basically got lost inside of this giraffe's lips. I don't even want to know where it's tongue was.

The journey back was a lot simpler than the way there. A local offered us a ride to the matatu stop from the centre, and we managed to get on the right ones to get back to the hostel.

By the time Friday rolled around I was fired up to get out of the city. Will scored some vague directions from his friend Prasanna on how to get to Hell's Gate on matatus. They aren't the most comfortable vehicles to get around in - fourteen passengers and no air conditioning. But the cheaper the better so two hours of discomfort seemed like a better option than taking a charter bus. It started to get dark as the bus flew down the last road to the lake, where we were assuming the place we were going to stay was. Luckily the driver had his high beams on so I managed to spot the sign that said "Carnelley's" on the side of the road.

We got up the next day and hired some bikes that were entirely
view from the hillview from the hillview from the hill

just before realizing we were surrounded by snakes
too small for the journey. It was like riding a BMX with gears. To make matters worse, when we got there we found out that what Kenyans call a dirt path, I would call two inches of sand. Ten minutes into the ride I was pretty much bagged from struggling through said "dirt". Some of the parts were ridable though, and we spotted a bunch of zebras, giraffes, gazelle, and antilope along the way.

We ducked off the main path on a side route to check out some caves. We got to the caves just fine, and it looked like the path continued on forwards passed the marked spot, so we assumed it met up with the main trail somewhere ahead. The further we walked, the more overgrown the trail became. We were in a valley, and could see the hills tapering down, so we figured we had to be near the end. Why else would there be tire tracks out that far?

At one point we almost scared off a couple of warthogs accidentally. Glad they ran away instead of at us.

Eventually we were just full on bushwacking through kneehigh grass and our hopes of
not as expectednot as expectednot as expected

in this direction, we were hoping to see the main trail again. so such luck.
not having to go back were deminishing. The hill at the side of the valley was small enough that we could run up and take a look and see if we could see the main road again. No dice. Just more bushes and hills as far as we could see. We were pretty tired and decided to take a break atop the hill for a bit. Will had a cigarette while I put on some more sunscreen.

I was snapping a few photos of the view from up there when we heard three distinct rattling sounds. I've seen enough of Austin Steven's adventures to know it wasn't crickets. They sounded just like rattlesnakes, which makes sense being in knee high grass. Will looked at me, "What's that?"

"Snakes, I think."

"Time to go back?"

"Yep."

We high tailed it back through the grass and down the path without ever actually seeing a snake. But we were later told that the rattling sound was more likely hissing from Puff Adders, the snakes responsible for the most deaths in Africa. Lucky us I guess.

Once we hit the main road the problems continued. We got about
thorn treethorn treethorn tree

these things are everywhere in Kenya
6km away from the main gate when my bike broke. It wouldn't pick a gear when I tried shifting, and eventually the rear derailer just blew to pieces. As if the sand wasn't enough of a problem, I was now pedaling with the chain of my bike daintily draped across the sprockets, slipping and jumping all over.

Along the way back Will decided it would be a good idea to chase a heard of zebras and giraffes on foot. It was. My camera was tucked away in my backpack at that point but he got a first person video of it.

When we got back to the main junction, I headed back to the main gate to get some water since my bike was wrecked. Will went down to the gorge, which is the main attraction of Hell's Gate. Sucked that I missed it, but I was pretty bagged anyways.

Back at the hostel we had dinner and some drinks at the bar and met some locals that bought us a few drinks since we spent down to our last shilling. We ended up being the last people there with the owner of the hostel, who was rowdy drunk singing at the top of his lungs. Strange dude but an interesting way to end the weekend.

The matatu back sucked, obviously.

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