Lake Naivasha and Hell’s Gate National Parks

Oh my god, look at all the animals and the sky and the rocks…….

This is part 3 of my Kenyan diary, here are part 1 and part 2
All those letters, don’t you have a video, so I don’t have to read them all? Sure we have:

Unfortunately for me, I am one those guys who has to learn everything the hard way – by making mistakes. I have to touch every single hot-plate myself; maybe this one is not so hot? So instead of showing you tonnes and tonnes of really cool wildlife photos, this article features only a very small selection I took with my backup camera. After transferring the files to my tablet, of course I ensured they had transferred successfully before deleting all images off the memory card. Well! Actually, the fucking thing copied the file names without any real content! Sorry, just had to get that off my chest; clearly it was a big disappointment to lose all of those beautiful photos of hippos, zebras and a gazillion of exotic birds… Like I said – the hard way.

At the bus station in Nairobi before thing as goit seriously spooky

At the bus station in Nairobi before thing as goit seriously spooky


After visiting the ihub in Nairobi the day before, located in the same building as Katrin Diakonie’s office, it was time to part ways for a while. While she had to go to Nakuru to work, George and I decided to spend a day at the idyllic lake Naivasha in camp situated directly on the lake. Originally we planned to take on the ubiquitous minibuses, called matatu,but the situation at the bus station became a bit fishy when someone in the crowd exchanged hand signals with a spotter on the roof. Suddenly there was a new driver and they were telling the other passengers to get out so that we could have the bus to ourselves. As a precaution, we resolved to opt for a change in mode of transport, interpreting the situation as a classic setup for a ‘Nairobbery’.

On our way we catch up with Katrin’s party at the Naivasha court house, where their driver has been briefly detained on a bogus speeding charge. Since Diakonie has a very strict anti-corruption-policy, a bribe was out of the question, so the situation escalated. It was all the more absurd because the car had a speed limiter built in.


We arrived at Fishermen’s camp mid afternoon and I was immediately taken with the place. High trees providing shade, a jetty with a couple of flat-bottomed boats, a nice colonial house where meals were served. Big birds  screeching in the shallows, a monkey scrambles up a tree… and then the electric fence and ample arming signs. Lake Naivasha and the camps surroundings are nightly feeding grounds for a lot of hippos. As cute as they may be, these cuddly beasts are among the most dangerous animals on the continent. In fact more people are killed by Hippos than by any other non-human mammal.

hippo-lake-naivasha-kenya-3323With some hours of daylight left we charter a boat to take a look at an island where they filmed big parts of the movie ‘Out of Africa’. They subsequently just left the animals they’d shipped over for filming and it is now a private sanctuary inside Lake Naivasha national park. I’m once again stunned just to be under that incredible wide sky again feeling as though I’m in a movie myself as a giant waterbird crosses our path with just a few metres to spare. We hear our first hippos before we see them, blowing air out of their nostrils with a loud puff. A group of maybe a dozen animals are grazing on the water-hyacinths and we get close enough to feel slightly frightened. After a couple of minutes we start to relax as they paddle away, leaving me feeling a little warm and fuzzy inside.

boat-lake-naivasha-sky-reflection-3283I become a little sceptical when I spot a motorbike at the landing; wasn’t this supposed to be an island? OK, a peninsula, never mind that.  Our scepticism increases as we realise there are fences all over the place and instead of the promised giraffes and buffalo, we spot only some ultra-tame zebras. Don’t get me wrong, I really like zebras and their foals were especially super cute, but this wasn’t the wildlife paradise I’d seen in the movie. So after a short walk we head back to the boat, quite angry about another Kenyan rip-off. Imagine our outrage then, when we learn that we have to pay an additional fee (after having already paid roughly 50€ for the boatride) for anchoring the boat where we did. On the ride back we express our anger to the driver; we’re seriously pissed by the farce and we let the guy know. “Ah, you’re talking about this island?” says our boatman. “They charge another 30€ admission”. We tell him to take us to the other island anyway and behold… there is no entrance fee, just a sign asking to tip the guides and a landscape made for a travel catalogue. A gentle hill runs its length, maybe 40 metres above the lake and I finally let go. I wish I could just sit there until the stars come up. In the distance antelopes, more zebras and buffalo are grazing with the setting sun with the sparkling water of the lake as a backdrop. Fast-moving clouds enhance the mixture of drama and serenity, and, almost like a dance, a lone Hyena trots over the plain while big carrion birds circle high up. Yep, another African cliché proven true, though somehow I always feel like there’s violence lurking just beneath the surface. In Nairobi the violence is chiefly exhibited by the under-employed young males, and here it is potentially harmful animals.

Dirtroad in Hells Gate NAtional Park with impressive rock formations.

Dirtroad in Hells Gate NAtional Park with impressive rock formations.

The next morning we are awoken by the sound of countless birds. Unfortunately I am too tired to appreciate it and instead wish that they would just shut up; I haven’t had a proper night’s sleep since the beginning of our journey. While George takes off to reunite with Katrin, I rent a bike to spend the day at Hell’s Gate national park which is a couple of kilometres down the road. Once again I’m mind blown by the landscape; the red earth and an unbelievably blue open sky. It’s the middle of the day and already really hot so all of the sensible mammals are hiding somewhere in the shade, but the scenery is quite enough to satisfy my need for nature. At the roadside wild boars with their piglets dig for whatever boars dig for and immediately I have to think of Disney’s ‘Lion King’. Whistling Hakuna Matata to myself, I begin to wonder if there are any large predators in the park. There aren’t. I cycle on and then, maybe a kilometre from the other end of the ranger station, I hear a sound that every cyclist dreads – pffffffff. Damn. No spares, no tools, 30°C in the shade, but without any shade to be had. With the ever present dust clogging my nose and mouth, my water bottle nearly empty, I carry on by foot. Luckily, after a kilometre or so, I stumble upon the ranger’s station at the other end of the park. I roll myself a ciggie and contemplate what to do. As with anywhere else, the few people around are very fascinated by this, so I roll everybody a good German handmade cigarette assuring them all repeatedly that it is not weed. After that, the rangers offer to take my bike back to the main entrance with a car while a Massai-guide shows me the gorge and explains some of the local history. ‘Hell’s gate’ is actually the entrance to the gorge, with a distinct rock needle named “the lady” being the seat of some divine power or other. The hellish part is due to the fact that the whole area is volcanic and even though the last eruption was thousands of years earlier, it remains present in the collective memory of the massai. Needless to say my sure-footed friend has not parted with this knowledge for free!

bike monkey

bike monkey

At the bottom of the gorge a small trickle of water winds itself this way and that, to other landmarks like ‘The Devils Shower’ or ‘Satan’s Sitting Room’. Whatever; I seem to be more fascinated by the colourful layers that form the walls of the gorge, and my sure-footed guide has to stop frequently for me so that I can take another picture. In some spots salt- crystals dust the surface and I imagine I can see the traces of rough animal tongues. Narrow caves high up offer protection to the small species of monkeys that live in the park. To get back to the entrance I hitch a ride with a white expat-Kenyan who left for the UK some 15 years earlier and was back now to show his girlfriend around. They drive a very old and very cool Defender and even though it’s a short ride, I learn a lot about the country.  Of course I’m still nervous about the bike and not really convinced that it will be there when I arrive, but to my surprise not only is it there but there is a mechanic already patching my tire.

Ravine in Hell's Gate National Park

Ravine in Hell’s Gate National Park

Back at the camp I have a shower, grab my bags and arrange for a motorbike taxi to take me to the next centre. These centres are small roadside settlements seemingly in the middle of nowhere generally sporting some shops, usually an ATM or two, a bar,  guesthouse, plus a small market for the local farmers and businessmen to hawk their wares. The night before we met the owner of the local guesthouse who happened to be born where I’m headed next. He told us that there would be a bus with a point-to-point connection to Homa Bay. We arranged for me to stay in his guesthouse and he committed to taking me to the bus stop at 6 o’clock in the morning to ensure my safe arrival and that I’d not board the wrong vehicle. In the end my journey took 11 hours instead of the promised 4, and I had to change cars twice. When we finally get close to my destination (according to google maps), I ask another passenger how long it is til Homa Bay. “This Bus is not going to Homa Bay, but you can change to another bus 50 kilometres down the road, which will take you.” Arrrrgh! I grab my bags, exit the bus only to enter pure mayhem. Buses, Matatus, Boda-Bodas and more people than you can imagine. I make my desire to leave this place known by standing dumbfounded for a moment murmuring to myself “Homa Bay, I just want to get to Homa Bay”. About 30 seconds later I board (jump into) the trunk of a station wagon, very much to the amusement of my fellow passengers. But there is just more room in the back and I absolutely WON’T part with my gear bag. One of the others is wearing an embroidered shirt with the logo of a hotel I already researched on the net. The hotel is nice, if not a bit loud and I don’t exactly trust the suicide shower to not electrocute me,  but the pricing is very reasonable at 18 €.

Suicide shower

Suicide shower

More Photos:

Next up: Lake Victoria, Homa Bay and a bike mechanic.!

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