My first adventure in Kenya was the definition of pure awesome; a safari at the national park that inspired the Lion King, on a bicycle. In the morning I set out with a group of other PCVs, riding up the top of a very big hill to the park gate. Needless to say, slow and steady definitely wins that race.
The reward for starting with such a big hill was cruising down the hill to where we would end up footing it. The scenery was absolutely stunning with grassy plains flowing to the base of high sloping cliffs all around you.
Prior to this, I had never been on a safari before, and doing it on a bicycle with the animals right next to me was something you’d have to see to believe. Herds of water buffalo, impala, antelope and warthogs flanked me on both sides, and I could see zebra and giraffe grazing a slight way in the distance. The first stop was at the Fischer’s Tower, the inspiration behind Pride Rock. For a small fee I went rock climbing for my first time ever. I admit it made me a little nervous, but it was so much fun! I had the theme song from the Lion King in my head the entire time. Geek moment.
After we conquered Pride Rock, we continued on the beaten path to the Gorge. We dropped off our bicycles and took a few moments to enjoy some snacks and watch monkeys play on the rocks and trees. They are mischievous little critters, but more on that later. We climbed down and up the rocky mountain slope and it reminded me of hiking back home in the forests. As you leave the forest you step into the Gorge that is more desert in appearance and almost like stepping into a new park.
The Gorge is a beautifully carved landscape of smooth colored stone. There are many veins of hot water that make the walls steam and trust me when I say be careful to touch the water because it is very hot. Our guide took us into the canyon that inspired many films and the Gorge and hyena scenes in the Lion King film, although there was a huge boulder blocking further expedition so the hike was short.
The climb out of the Gorge was a doozy, however. We walked up a vertical narrow “staircase” that was identified by a lone strand of rope. My thighs burned by the time I reached the top and I am in good shape, but the view was breathtaking. The volcanic peaks of neighboring mountains could be seen and the winding path of the river in the Gorge was easy to map out as well as the thick of trees we wandered through.
We hiked our way back to the campsite we started from, and took out our packed lunches of chicken, boiled eggs, fruit, bread, chips and juice (thank goodness for the hotel we were at for packing us lunches, bicycling and hiking really work up your appetite). As we sat to enjoy our lunches we were joined by friends. Small, fury monkey friends.
A few of the monkeys had new babies clinging onto them and they were so adorable, but things got funny as the monkeys tried to sneakily grab our lunches. One monkey successfully took another person’s banana (still in the plastic wrapper) and we watched in hysteria as it carefully peeled off the plastic wrap, then the peel and eat it. Such a methodical monkey.
The ride back up the hill was not as bad as you would think, it was a more gradual incline than the hill we tackled in the morning. Right before we reached the main gate, myself and one other volunteer were stopped by a giant family of baboons. Now. Monkeys are cute, but baboons are scary. We could see the park rangers watching us as we stopped our bikes and stood in stunned silence, trying not to make sudden movements. I swear there were over 50 at least, and I admit the babies were cute. But for the minutes we waited as they crossed the rode in front of us and behind us, I was scared at least one would get the impression we were a threat and attack. Thankfully, we made it past without more than our wits shaken. Wild animals in close proximity are cool, but still wild. Baboons with sharp teeth and a tendency to be aggressive definitely an animal you don’t want to piss off.
Some people swear that to get the experience from Hell’s Gate you need to be there at least 2 days, but after a full day in the park, I felt I got every experience (and more) that I set out to get. I got to safari on a bicycle, rock climb Pride Rock, hike in a Gorge, and see some stunning wildlife up-close and personal.