A walk in the wild, by the wild.
It started like a normal Friday evening, unapologetically cold. The streets outside Acacia Mall where we were seated, waiting for Isma, our driver, were buzzing. Hoots of agitated drivers’ filled the atmosphere. Threats were hurled from one end of the grid-locked traffic jam to, really, no end. Subaru engines revved, loudly. Frustration creased the foreheads of the drivers, and us, the people seated in the should-be quiet restaurants in the same area. Chaos. We just needed to get a break from it. From Kampala.
Isma arrived later and rescued us. The 22-hour ride was going to be a great adventure. We would later shout our voices hoarse and play games as the bus stereo blared Sauti Sol jams on repeat. We would dance and throw swigs of vodka at the backs of our throats. A feat that would throw us off our sanity hinges, and thrust our willing souls into a permanent party mode. So much so that the 22 hours felt like a 5-hour journey.
We got into Kenya at 1am EAT. Here, we exchanged our Uganda shilling for Kenya shilling with the mobile forex brokers at the boarder point, refilled our bottles and grabbed more bites. The mobile networks notified us ( with the ‘You are changing from MTN Ug to Safaricom’ messages) and hey, roaming became the order. The long trip through Kenya ended at Hells’ Gate National Park. To begin with, there are so many theories as to the origin of the name, but I chose one that the park owes its name to: the geothermal activities within its boundaries make the area feel hot, like – you guessed it – Hell. I guess you now know what to put on or carry while at the park! Some canvas shoes or walking boots, a cap, light/free clothes, sunglasses, and some water for drinking plus a nose mask: the routes are dusty.
Hell’s Gate National Park lies South of Lake Naivasha. It is mainly made of the Savannah ecosystem, and harbors an extensive selection of wildlife. The park covers 68 sp.km of the Rift Valley Province. It is about 90km from Nairobi via Naivasha town along the lake road. There were lots of monkeys at the reception. It was a spectacle watching them scramble for our leftovers as we, on the other hand, posed for photos with them. We accessed the park through Elsa Gate: one must have cash for park entry fees (Ksh or USD). The park did not have a smart-card option on our visit. The park does not have vehicles for a game drive but gives bicycles (optional) for tourists to ride through. One is also allowed to drive with their own cars through the park or walk. Those who took the leisure drive in the bus often stopped, got out and watched the animals as they took pictures. Most of us biked, the greatest experience.
All of us finally met at the gorge entrance for some instructions. We penetrated the gorges, a feat for only the brave. It was a mini-horror of sorts. Walking through tunnel-esque features and past cliffs. At some point we had to take off shoes, as some rocks were a little slippery. We walked through the water channel up till the ‘Satan’s seat.’ The place had rocks on which hot water was flowing (too hot for a bath). This was geothermal water from the endless stream spewing points. After that, we hiked back to the other side of the gorge – to the Masai Cultural center.
Hiking was a tad hard for our unfit colleagues, but they later made it to the top. The old ropes got us worried about falling. Well, better die at an adventure than of a heartbreak is my slogan so there was less for me to worry about.
Hell’s Gate National Park hosts 3 geothermal sites, all producing geothermal power using the hot springs and geysers. There are two inactive volcanoes within the park, according to Munduni, our guide. Which explained the hot water at the park spa. We also had a chance to swim in a pool with geothermal water. Well, swimming in such a pool sounds interesting but it is not a thing I would advise one to do. One can also spend a night here: they have great meals but only cash payments are allowed. Other activities at the park include bird watching, rock climbing and camping alongside the ones we indulged in.
Editor’s Note: Mirembe Kisakye and Joy Lydia Apolot contributed to the article.