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Published: March 8th 2014
Travel to the Great Rift Valley
I seized an opportunity to go to Kenya in March 2011 to volunteer on a water project funded by Rotary Club International on behalf of Hydrogeologists Without Borders. The project location was the Marakwet region in the Rift Valley Province, a remote area about a 6-hour drive north of Eldoret, the nearest large city. The Marakwet people live on the western escarpment of the Great Rift Valley and the their rugged lifestyle involves trekking up and down the large escarpment (~1500 m) to go to school, collect firewood, water, etc. Many of the top Kenyan distance runners (who are rockstars in Kenya) come from the Marakwet region, and after my time there, I can understand why.
I flew into Nairobi and promptly lost my passport before I even got through customs. Fortunately a noble janitor picked it up and I was able to get it back and enter the country. I was picked up from the airport by by Pastor Edwin and 3 others after some confusion.
The next day we took a matatu
(minibus) to Eldoret on a pretty decent paved highway. I spent several days in Eldoret while we made
preparations and purchased the motorbike I would be using in Marakwet. Like most motorbikes in Kenya, the motorbike was Chinese (Shineray), less than 200cc, and had to be assembled out of a box (all factors that make the bikes more affordable). In Eldoret I met my guide/translator William, and Stanley, another Kenyan pastor who would bring me to Tot on the motorbike.
The road got rougher as we got closer to Tot. We drove for a time along a windy road at the top of the escarpment as we headed north to the access route into the valley. This was a highlight as I was able to enjoy the spectacular views and take pictures from the back of the bike. We stopped in a village to meet a mechanic who would accompany us to Tot to fix Edwin's bike. Then we made the long descent (~1000 m) into the Rift Valley. I could feel the temperature increasing as we decended, from about 25 C at the top to 40 C at the bottom; fortunately we reached the bottom before it got any hotter. Tot - Down to Business
So what was I doing there? I was given
Our daily transportation
William (translator) and me
a list of about 100 natural springs along a 20 km stretch of the escarpment that was compiled from local knowledge. My job was to visit each spring with some basic tools to collect information that would be used to select the best springs for protection and supplying drinking water to the villagers. I collected the information using a few basic tools was basic water quality, flow rate, GPS coordinates. I also talked to the locals to find out how many people lived nearby who could benefit from these springs.
My daily routine was as follows: Each morning after breakfast William and I would take the motorbike to a village near the base of the escarpment. Upon arrival at each village, we would meet with the chief or assistant chief who would then assign a local guide to show us to the springs. Then we would embark by foot up the escarpment, usually checking out 5 to 10 springs in a day depending on the area. We climbed over 1000 m in elevation on some days but usually closer to 500 m. The weather varied from hot and dry (40 C is hot in my world) to rainy and
humid. I had many interesting experiences and encounters, and since I couldn't pronounce or remember the Marakwet names for the springs, I made up my own names based on my experiences such as Angry Man
or Ladies Bathing
I got a lot of interesting reactions from people, as the occasional white people
are only seen driving passing through in vehicles. The locals found it odd and amusing to see a mizungo
behaving like them i.e. riding on a motorbike and hiking up the escarpment. I found it interesting how helpless they thought I was, even as a relatively fit guy, but being a foreigner no one thought I would be able to complete the daily treks up and down the escarpment and my guides kept cautioning me to watch my step and be careful and watch out for thorns. Some people asked if there are rocks in Canada. They found it very odd when I told them that I walk up mountains in Canada for fun. In thinking about it, I understood their perception of the fragile foreigner. Although I could handle the strenuous hikes, they see a guy who needs to wear hiking shoes (compared to
their sandals or bare feet), suncreen, hat and sunglasses, ate 3 meals a day, and drank copious amount of water to stay hydrated.
The children were the most fun and engaging. Some young ones who had never seen a white man were terrified and ran away crying at the sight of me. Most often, they stared in amazement or giggled. I usually broke the ice by taking a picture of them.
Mostl of my encounters with the locals were positive, but not always. I occasionally encountered men who had been into a local alcoholic beverage made from millet and I was an obvious target for attention. On one occasion, we had climbed a fence to look at a spring and an angry intoxicated man came running and shouting and threatening us with his stick because he thought we were going to steal his water. Other times they were pushy and asked for money. It was good to have William with me.
I travelled on my own back to Nairobi by matatu, stopping for a few days of relaxation and sightseeing at Lake Naivasha before flying back home. Overall a fantastic experience.
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