A Walk Through Hell’s Gate National Park
I was the first to check in to the dormitory that accommodates eight people. I wondered if I was going to be by myself. I imagined it would be lonely but then again, the idea of sleeping in a dormitory with total strangers seemed a little bit scary. My friends and I have slept in dorms before, it’s always just us. One time, three of us were placed in a dorm of twelve and Kylie was like – twelve what? How much more does it cost for us to be by ourselves? So we upgraded. I decided not to over think the situation and go take a shower.
The showers are outdoors and hot – YAY! I don’t know if it’s just me or is the water in Kenya colder than the water in Uganda? I take cold showers all the time back home but I can’t even bring myself to wash my hands with cold water while in Nairobi!
Since Camp Carnelley’s is an Eco friendly camp, the showers are heated with firewood and guests are advised to shower sparingly – to save water and firewood. One takes a shower while trees dance above their head, monkeys swinging from branch to branch, birds chirping… You know; like how it was before we left our villages and moved into the city. It’s easy to take a leisurely shower in such an environment and soon, the environmentalist in me decided that that would be enough so I turned off the water, wrapped myself in a towel – still wet and walked to the dorm only to find new guests.
I murmured hello, apologized for my dress code and rushed to fish out a fresh outfit from my backpack and went back to the bathroom to towel myself dry and change. I made a mental note to carry a change of clothes to the bathroom for future showers. It would have been quite a spectacle if I had changed before them though, I thought to myself. Quite an ice breaker too…
When I returned to the dormitory, I properly said hello. They were Germans; two guys and a young lady. One of the guys had been on an internship in Nairobi for three months. When it ended, his two friends flew in so they could explore East Africa together before he left. They asked where I was from. Uganda – I told them. This made me more interesting as Uganda was their next stop. They asked me about it; the people, food… “Is it very different from Kenya?” Rebekah asked. “Not so much – Uganda is smaller, less chaotic; I think but with so much to do. It’s called the Pearl of Africa.”
“Do you have photos?”
Their interest in Uganda was so flattering; if I were their skin tone I would be pink from blushing.
“Uhm my phone died.” I say regrettably. But I remembered I had a camera, so I got it out of my bag. They smile and move closer as I switch it on and start scrolling through photos of my workmates, Kampala City Council Authority – KCCA’s Street Sunday Market, Wandegeya’s street food aka TV chicken and when we got to the ones taken in Jinja, I knew that if they had had any doubts about their decision to visit my country, it dissolved.
“We are going water rafting,” Klaus announced. I assured them they would have a wonderful time. Soon we were talking like good old friends. They asked for my plans for the day and I told them that I planned to visit Hell’s Gate National Park. It so happened that, that was their plan too. Erik suggested we rent bikes so we could ride together since I had told them I was traveling alone. My heart sunk because I can’t ride a bicycle!
“What do you mean you can’t ride a bike?” They ask. I just can’t. But I tell them to go right ahead, we would meet at some point. I wasn’t even sure I could afford it anyways. From the photos on-line Hell’s Gate National Park looked like an expensive tourist attraction; the wildlife, the canyon – the history about the place made it seemed like a rich activity. Apparently, Tomb Raider 2 was shot at Hell’s Gate. Angelina Jolie – Mrs, Brad Pitt had been to Hell’s Gate. I figured by visiting the place I would somewhat get connected to Brad Pitt – the love of my life.
Most importantly though, the film – The Lion King was heavily modeled after the park. A few members of the production team had to fly to Kenya to watch the animals, the Savannah to gain an influence on the picture. Hence my ‘dying to’ visit the Hell’s Gate National Park.
I had to find Mr. Otieno so he could help me go through my options of activities vis-a-vis my budget.
He wasn’t too sure how much it would cost me but he knew the guide alone costs Kshs. 2,000. I was like, Whaaaaat? I saw my dream start to fade. This even before my brain could do the mathematics of multiplying that fee by 34 to convert it to Ugandan shillings. So I asked about the lake where I could find the flamingos. He said this wasn’t their season. I wanted to cry.
“Do I really need a guide?” I asked Mr. Otieno. He said I didn’t need one if all I wanted was to go through the National Park but I would definitely need one for Hell’s Gate. I took my chances and left with Kshs. 1,000. I took a matatu back to the dirt road off the main road about 4km for Kshs. 20. I was going to walk the 2km to Elsa’s gate, one of the gates to the national park when an elderly boda boda (motorbike) rider, Mr. Maina asked if he could drop me off. He asked for Kshs. 100, I told him I had Kshs. 50. He said OK, only because I reminded him of his daughter. I got onto the bike and asked about his daughter, he told me she’ll be completing Form four this year. His only child. He worked as a gardener at a roses farm by day and rode the bike on his off days and after work to supplement his salary. I asked him which tribe he was, “The president’s tribe – Kikuyu!” He told me.
He said it with so much pride, it had me wondering if MY president’s tribesmen too took as much pride as the Kikuyu did in sharing a tribe with the Commander in Chief.
I told him about my tribe, the Ganda tribe; from Buganda Kingdom.
“Are you the people that kneel before their men?”
“Yes. We do.”
“It’s a good thing to show respect.”
We reached Elsa’s gate, paid him and thanked him. He wrote his number on a piece of paper in case I needed a ride back.
At the ticket office, I was happy to discover that I would be charged the East African citizen fee – a mere Kshs. 350. Apparently, due to the East African integration and in the bid to promote domestic tourism, East Africans are charged local fees. The ticketing officer asked if I would be renting a bike, I said no. He asked why. I said I wanted to trek. He asked if I could walk a total of 16km – to and fro. I didn’t want to brag that I had a couple of half marathons under my belt, I was in Kenya after all. But I also knew for a fact that running IS easier than walking. I wasn’t going to run obviously but like with everything on this trip so far, I figured, why not find out how hard it is?
Although there was a school bus and safari vans; the visitors that seemed to enjoy Hell’s Gate National Park the most are those that were riding through it. I promised myself that I would learn to ride a bicycle by the end of this year. A bike let’s you pace yourself, stopping whenever to take photographs or just gaze at the animals without feeling like you’re slowing someone down or rushing them. Plus, you would be burning more calories 🙂
The walk was quite eventful; envying the riders, marveling at the wildlife and the topography. Five kilometres into the trek, I started to feel hungry and tiny stones in my shoes. I also started entertaining thoughts of getting chased by warthogs…
It was at this juncture that a group friends – two guys and a girl driving through the park stopped and asked me if I needed a ride. I told them I was good. It was noon, but according to my body it was 3pm. The sun was relentless. I could feel beads of sweat crawling down my back. I thought about the warthogs again.
“Are you going to Hell’s Gate?” One of the guys asked.
“Yes. But I am OK walking…”
“Don’t be silly, you look like you’re about to faint!” Said the girl, “Nyinyi, get her something to drink.”
The other guy poured a blue liquid into a plastic cup.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Just get her water!”