A few weeks ago we left Nairobi with our neighbors and drove out to Masai land. Eight people piled in a Land Cruiser. The first part of the journey was smooth and lush. We climbed higher and higher through neatly trimmed tea fields. The color surrounding us was magnificent. The plants, trees and tea created an ocean of green.
When we hit the top of the mountain and began our descent, a world of brown dirt and sand lay out in the valley. The contrast between the two worlds is striking. When the day is clear, you can see for miles into the Rift Valley. The Rift Valley is a geological wonder. If you have time, go look it up on the internet. I can hardly do justice to describe it, but from what I have read it is a rip in the continent of Africa that extends from Ethiopia to Mozambique. Geologist can best describe the terminology of plates that are separating and different fault lines that exist in Africa. The depression just north of Nairobi is one of the deepest in the East African Rift Valley. The land is dry and dusty for miles and miles. Two mountains stand tall in the distance, and I now know that those tall brown bumps are actually volcanoes. Those giants are where our journey will take us.
About thirty minutes later, we are deep into the parched valley and turn off a nice, smooth, paved road onto a thin strip of a dirt road. The ride slowly becomes bumpy and exciting. To our right we spot zebra and gazelle. Before we turned off the main road, we saw many people herding their sheep and goats. The road was busy with taxis and safari vehicles loaded with people heading to safari in the Mara. This road was abandoned and sparsely spotted with the occasional gazelle standing under brush for shade. The short brush and stunted acacia trees allowed us to see far ahead. When we finally hit a patch of acacia trees that were taller, our friend told us that we were in a place where giraffe usually stay. We passed through the area slowly but no giraffe.
Shortly after the trees, we stopped at a Kenya Assembly of God Church. Kids poured out of the building to see who was in the vehicle. In this area, not many cars or trucks pass by. All the ladies in our truck quickly grabbed our wraps and fashioned them into skirts over our shorts. We all spent some time shaking hands and greeting the pastor and his congregation. After a few minutes, we piled back into the car and began the bumpy crawl up the steep mountain. At one point, we all needed to use the bathroom. The road didn’t have a place to pull over so we just stopped the car, girls got out on one side, boys got out on the other and we walked a short distance behind a rock and did our thing. When roughing it, I have two pieces of advice: don’t find a bush that has 2 inch thorns sticking out of it and if you have a choice between rock and sand, choose sand (it doesn’t splash). The picture is the road we have traveled so far!
Our destination was the top of Mount Suswa. Our neighbor knew a place with caves, a picnic area and a view of the crater. We spent a lot of time going about 15 mph but finally reached the spot. The area was sandy and had a few trees. With the car parked in a shady spot, we all walked over to a round circle of trees with large rocks. Once I walked up close, I could see the steep drop beneath and the cave openings. On a very hot and dry day, the coolness of the caves felt refreshing like air conditioning in the desert. We climbed down the rocks and explored the opening of the caves.
After exploring the caves, we ate some lunch and watched a herd of goats pass by. The time out of the car and away from the tossing and turning like a rocking boat on a rough sea was really nice. When we were all done eating, we journeyed over to the crater. The view from so high up provided us with some unexpected sights: dust devils. Little tornados reached down from the sky to the earth below and swirled the sand high into the sky. Inside the crater, the vegetation was green and truly like an oasis. On the way back to the main road, we passed mud huts with sticks and branches visible in places along the walls. Kids stood close to the house, half dressed and dirty. They waved to us as we passed by. Some with one hand high in the air and others with two hands waving back and forth like windshield wipers making sure we knew they were happy to see us.
We stopped by the KAG church on the way out. Most attendees had gone, and the church was vacant. Just behind the church was a watering hole for the community’s animals, and it also served as a laundry mat. A small wire fence encircled the church, and we all walked over to the fence that separated us from the massive amount of animals taking a drink. The sound was mesmerizing. As the sheep, goats and cow created a chorus in their own language, I wanted to capture it on video and use the audio as an option for a white noise machine. Baby sheep “bahhed” out for their mothers. The sound was not unified and each animal called out at different pitches and timing, but the music was amazing. Many of us stood there just taking in this moment of time as shepherds leaned against their sticks and rested knowing their animals would quench their thirst.
I was panicked for them though as a thought passed through my mind. “How will they each know their animals when it is time for them to leave?” All the different herds of animals mixed together and made their way to the square tank that caught the water. Somehow, when it was time to move on, each shepherd began to move in between the animals and prod along his animals. In what seemed like a matter of seconds, the place was vacant only leaving one woman bent over washing her laundry in a purple plastic tub. She dunked the clothes in the soapy pan and then rubbed the shirt together to clean it. She then tossed it on a woven mat all twisted and wet. Three little girls stood alongside of her. When they realized we were watching them, they each turned away shyly.
Our time was up and we needed to head back home. When we passed back through the tall patch of acacia trees, we searched again for giraffe. Someone shouted out that they saw a giraffe. As the car stopped and the cloud of dust engulfed the car, I waited to see my favorite animal. The dust settled and there beside the road was a long neck and triangular head looking at us. I got out of the car and began to walk in his direction, and for many steps I was able to get closer and closer. The whole trip was a blast, but spending a few minutes watching the giraffe and his family behind him was my favorite.