We might have stopped perhaps twice before we left the town proper, but I can’t tell you with certainty. I was largely oblivious between us leaving the house and us branching on to the bypass that flew across the Naivasha – Nairobi highway. The scenery was nothing to write home about. You had dry savannah land from before you left the Nakuru town centre, all the way into Naivasha….and… also out of it. The Mt. Long’onot National park (where we were going), was situated to the right on the outskirts of town coming from Nakuru; the highway outside to the left. You could skirt the town on your way to it. But anyway, as you head towards our destination, a quiet kind of green, a silent green shimmering against the silvery background of the Lake named for the town, sorta sneaks up on you.
Dotted with rusty red roofs, the landscape was fairly uneven, with dips and rises and the occasional black and white flashes of grazing cattle. The mid-morning light glanced off the surface of the lake causing a bit of a glare in the eyes. We were on a dusty road laid with red bumpy soil, and I was alert and staring.
The mountain loomed ahead. I thought it looked strange. There was no single upward shooting peak, rather the top was shaped like the edges of a potato chip. Rising and falling as you circled. The side facing us looked like a giant beast had run a clawed hand straight from the top to somewhere almost in the middle. From there it shelved out then sloped down. Small trees and shrubs coated all the surface in grey-green and greens. It didn’t look very intimidating (foreshadowing). The sun was high, bright and hot. I was itching to have a go.
About twenty meters away from the foot, there was a base camp where we parked, next to a structure the likes of which you see in all the game reserves and national parks. Wooden walls painted green, brown and grey, topped with a triangular aluminium roof, and notice boards littered the front yard, filled with cutouts and printings of all the natural attractions the Park had to offer. We went inside the wide open doors into a hall with a reception table at the far end. The walls were covered with advertisements, pictures of animals, and articles containing stories about the Park. Our escort, who I shall now dub Tony just because, paid the entrance fee and we were given three long, firm walking sticks, that were worn at the top. There would be no guide as the path was straight forward and easy to discern. After gasping and gesticulating at the outrageous foreigner’s rates for the various drinks and nibbles, we bought three water bottles and turned to face the mountain. Smiling like an idiot, gazing around, I was eager to get started.
As we walked forward, I admit to a little giddiness. The base of the mountain was a little crowded with people about to go up, and others, crazily enough coming down(how early would you have to be?). As I’d said, this area was not steep, just slightly inclined, almost as if it was on a beach getting a tan. I was taking point, walking ahead with all the wonder and excitement of a 12-year-old in a zoo. The path was open wide with small shrubs on either side. The chatter of the crowd proceeding forward enlivened the atmosphere, occasionally punctuated with bursts of laughter and shrieks, as we observed the state in which the returning parties descended.
A lot of them were tourists in khakis or cargo shorts the colour of ash and lattes. One particular man who looked like he’d been living in the area a while (you can tell by the tan), was coming down, clutched all over by squirming, furiously giggling children, looking like he’d been dipped in a huge pile of cement. His clothes were covered in grey dust; shirt, shorts and shoes. As were the children clinging to him. He had a huge grin on his face, his arms around the kids, walking in long heavy strides. The sight warmed my heart.
About half an hour up, we started to climb. I think I mentioned earlier that I’m not particularly chatty, so it wasn’t a lively walk. Tony was quiet, as was I; and even though Erica tried to get things going I don’t think I helped at all. I was always looking down, probably a few seconds ahead of them. I can’t be blamed! I am awkward with new people…Very well, all people. But especially so with new! And it is because I know I am awkward that it becomes hard to interact with them. I jump the gun quite frequently. Annyway…
The ascension wasn’t very tiresome at first, and you’d squeeze aside for the downward traffic. Even though I was waaay ahead now and walking by myself, I saw it as an adventure. The stick helped. I was starting to see where the white dust was coming from. Those claw marks in the mountainside were deep groves in the earth, typically denoting soil erosion. You weren’t trekking outside them, you were walking in them. Some of the times on their raised edges. And they were hard to maneuver because the plane was steeper and you had less and less friction. The soil particles were very fine and you could slip if you had nothing to hold on to. I was moving slowly, bent over almost double, breathing through my mouth, refusing to look up. Or down. I could tell the incline was getting sheerer by the minute, and there were shrubs all around the narrow path. My running shoes and the legs of my jeans were white with dust.
As the path became narrower and narrower, roots and small plants were sticking out everywhere. It was approximately midday, going by how the sun was frying up the top of my head. I didn’t want to look anywhere for fear of slipping and sliding down on my belly. My face was nearly on the ground. I was holding the walking stick in one hand and grasping roots, almost on all fours, with the other. I’d tucked my long top into my waistband and hiked my jeans up long ago. There were fewer people up here, and I got the distinct impression we were all moving single file now. So I couldn’t have placed Erica’s whereabouts to save my life. I wasn’t even sure said life would ever be the same when I came off this mountain.
I debated leaving the stick at one point; when I reached the pawed earth section near the top, because I was parallel to the ground, and using my hands to move more than the stick, but rethought that when it occurred to me they might ask for these back. Short of breath, thirsty and nearly choking because of all the dirt, I chanced a look up. There was what seemed to be a rest stop to my right on a high perch up ahead, and the muted sound of conversation floated down to me on the wings of the wind. I saw a thatched grass roof, with a green pole sticking out its middle, and a circular seating structure made of wood going around it. The background was blue sky, and a distant high point seeming to grow out the side of the mountain, stood dark and covered with short, dense brownish trees.
I gritted my teeth and made my now shaky limbs climb the last couple hundred yards leading up to the edge of that side of the crater.
to be continued.