Monday, 13 January 2014

Hell's Gate : Gorgeous Gorge Getaway!

We had made no concrete plans to go any where this December. My parents had been unwell for the last few months and there was a chance that I would have to go to India along with the kids if the pathological reports, in my Mom's case, were not too good or if my Dad's deep vein thrombosis did not respond as expected, to medication. By God's grace, all's well that ends well, we did not have to go to India and we landed up spending the vacation in Nairobi with tons of books for company! Not that we minded in the least!
But there was a national park, very different from the rest of them, a little more than an hour's drive from Nairobi, that we had been wanting to visit for some time. My husband had the brilliant idea that this would be a good way to celebrate my birthday and decided to make it into an overnight trip. Old friends of ours from Dar days were keen to join in but they had to drop out as they were expecting visitors from India. An American family who has recently moved here from the States joined us, my husband asked for and got the day off, and we were on our way to Hell's Gate National Park, in Naivasha, in the Great Rift Valley.
We made good time despite the fact that our friend's car had a flat tyre even before we had left Nairobi and a couple of hours later we were at the entrance to Hell's Gate. This national park is the only one in Kenya where one can actually walk in the park or cycle in it, as might be one's fancy! As we drove to the Ranger's Tower inside the park, we saw plenty of zebras, wart hogs, gazelles and people huffing and puffing on their bikes! We opted to walk from the Ranger's Tower and visit the gorge, as bicycling such a great distance around the park with four kids in tow did not seem to be a very viable option. And this decision turned out to be a fantastic one, as we were in for a visual and, for the fit among us,a physical treat!
I had first seen pictures and then  read, at my mother's knee, about a gorge in our book about Rivers! I had studied about gorges right up to twelfth grade. But, not even in my wildest dreams had I thought that a day would come when I would actually be walking, nay, scrambling, up and down a gorge, family and friends in tow and that too in Africa! When in Africa, expect the unexpected!
The first thought that came to mind as we followed the Ranger into the gorge was that the word 'gorgeous' surely comes from the word 'gorge'! It was breathtakingly beautiful! Sheer rock walls rising almost sky high on both sides, cool water flowing down the centre, hot, sulphuric water falls tumbling around in little nooks and corners and ice cold water falls roaring in other crevices. A flat bed rock, the guide told us, was dubbed the 'Devil's Bedroom' which resulted in my son promptly christening two of the water falls as the Devil's Hot and Cold Showers, for remember, we were in Hell's Gate!
Extremely steep sides, resulted in us taking the utmost care, during our hike. In some places where huge stones blocked our path, we had to climb up the sides of the gorge and then climb down again. A slip of the foot could have sent us tumbling below... This one is certainly not for the faint hearted! Mount Longonot lies in close vicinity, can be seen from this park and had last erupted in 1900! We can still see the volcanic ash and the children were thrilled with the huge chunks of shiny, black obsidian that lie around the entire gorge, thanks to the same volcano! A tall, natural tower from the same surrounding rock, rose from the gorge and was known as the Central Tower. This was very near a cave, high up, where baboons, intelligent creatures that they are, reside! This was also the site, the ranger informed us, where parts of the Hollywood movie Tomb Raiders Part two was shot.
 At regular intervals, there were emergency exits out of the gorge. The guide told us that flash floods are very common here, specially during the long rains and the water level rises so suddenly that people in the gorge are often caught unawares. In fact, a few students had died here some time ago. That was a sobering note, and we were glad we had chosen to visit in summer when the river was a mere gurgling stream! A long hike up the side of the gorge brought us to a scenic view point where a lady had strategically set up a stall, selling us cold soft drinks! Hot, tired, throats parched after the hour and a half long hike, the children begged to be allowed a Coke (no explanation needed!) and a Tangawizi, a famous ginger drink in these parts! I had to give in but contented myself with a bottle of water! I had burnt a tidy amount of calories and there was no way I wanted to take them in again through a sugary, acidic drink!
Lake Naivasha Sopa Resort, where we had planned to stay, is practically across the road from Hell's Gate and we reached just in time for some delicious lunch, needless to say, in our case, Indian and vegetarian! Beautiful cottages line the large grounds of this resort which covers a hundred and fifty acres and whose borders touch the shore of Lake Naivasha. Zebras amble around, water bucks placidly chew their cud, a friendly giraffe comes up to the dining area, royally ignoring the hordes of children who chase it, shooting pictures from their parents' mobile phones! A baboon steals a tea bag from the tea/coffee/cocoa station set up near the pool, sucks it and disgusted by the taste, spits out the entire concoction! His fellow baboons delicately lap water from the shimmering blue pool, after polishing off a few stolen croissants. Why should they bother to go to the lake when the pool is closer at hand?! My son hires a bicycle and rides it for hours amongst these myriad animals. The golden rays of the setting sun light up the grounds as we walk around the resort. What an idyllic way to spend a birthday!
A surprise awaits me after dinner. My husband has organized a birthday cake for me and, right on cue, the dining room lights are switched off and the entire team of servers comes banging pots and pans, carrying the egg less chocolate cake, a flaming torch held high to light their way, singing songs in true African tradition! At the end, the lights come back on, the entire room, with its hundred plus occupants, bursts into applause as I cut the cake! Our kind friends have got me a beautiful gift and a card I will always treasure...
 As night falls, the hippos leave the lake and come out and a bunch of them graze right behind our cottage! We are enthralled as we have always seen them in the lake during the day and did not expect them to come out and wander around like domesticated cows, with just a glass door between them and us! This, is, indeed, the icing on the cake for me! After eight years in Africa this is our first sighting of 'out of the water' hippos as they leave the water only after sun set!
The next day we head for ' Crescent Island' which, during the summer months, is accessible by road. We take an hour long boat ride from here on Lake Naivasha and come withing touching distance of the hippos again, who are, of course, back in the water now. We spot a pelican who takes to graceful flight when our boat goes too close, we identify different kinds of birds all of whom are nesting on clumps of thorny bushes in the middle of the lake! This is a bird watchers and bird photographers paradise...We are ready to head back home to Nairobi.
Recently I watched the movie 'A Royal Romance' in which Wiliam and Kate play the ' Never Ever Game' with their friends. Here are my questions:
Have you never ever had hippos grazing in your backyard?
Have you never ever had baboons quenching their thirst in your pool?
Have you never ever had a giraffe join you at tea time?
Has your son never ever bicycled between two water buck and wound his bike in and out between six zebras?
Has your daughter never ever tumbled half way off while scrambling down a gorge?
Have you never ever taken a boat ride with hippos within touching distance sharing the lake with you?
Have you never ever cut your birthday cake to the chant of Swahili songs with a hundred other uninvited guests looking on?
If you have answered yes to any of the above questions, you have surely lived in or visited Africa at some point in your life!
                                           Chiselled edges of the gorge.
                                             The rocky Central Tower...
                                              The baboon cave!
                                               Goodbye Gorge!
                                                The Pelican takes flight..
                                              The sun sets on my birthday!
                                              Hippo out of the Lake!
                                               Hippos in the Lake!
                                             'Our' picturesque cottage.

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