Bright and early, which is now normal, Lindsay and I roused ourselves from sleep. It was not so difficult as it is cold and uncomfortable here. Today we were off to Hells Gate National Park for our self guided bicycle safari and we were excited about it. We got dressed, packed the day bag, and stopped in at the kitchen to pick up our pack lunch. We were running a tad late so some staff had actually arrived so getting the food was easy and as the sun started to get going we started biking out of the camp.
We needed to go 5 kilometres to the park entrance if I remember correctly, 3 along the highway and then 2 down the gravel road. We were caught in the morning “rush” hours traffic – people walking and cycling to their various places of employment or at the very least engagement. The plan was to pick up some street food for breakfast from one of the shops we knew were along the way – problem was nothing was open yet. After passing by almost all the shops I finally managed to spot a woman/girl selling something out of a large plastic bucket. They turned out to be the “Mombasa” things I had discovered on a previous bus trip, and I knew they were kind of like doughnuts. Not the most nutritious breakfast ever but it had a few calories and we would need it for the day. I only bought 4, but in hindsight a dozen would have been more appropriate for energy.
We biked on and about 15-20 minutes later we made it to the park gate. We paid our entrance fee, and the fee to bring a bike in (that was dumb), and then we were pedaling away on our safari. At the start the road is a few kilometres long heading towards a rock climbing pillar. Along the right side is a large cliff wall that follows you along and is quite beautiful. The landscape was typical sparse savannah, some grass here, some rocks there, a few trees and bushes over there, but mostly open rocky space, and a gravel road. Not 5 minutes in to our ride we stumbled across a herd of zebra! Half of them were on one side of the road, half on the other. You could tell they were wanting to cross and once we pulled up it became more of an issue. We watched as they went out of their way to walk farther away from us before crossing the road. When we weren’t stopped watching and biking down the road closer to them they crossed in much more of a hurry. By the time the last zebra crossed they were running across as they were “so” scared of us. Zebra are perhaps the skittish animals I have ever seen. They scamper away at the slightest anything.
We did discover one interesting fact while biking along. We can’t get nearly as close to the wildlife on foot/bike as we could in a safari truck. Apparently they all get used to the smell of the trucks and know they won’t harm them. We, however, smell entirely different and apparently not that good either, judging by the distance the animals keep 🙂
After our encounter with the zebras a little further down the road we saw some giraffes off in the distance and a large herd of Impala. This was the most Impala we had seen in one place and they were a lot of fun. A few of the males were locking horns and wrestling like big horn sheep would back home. Then the herd decided they should cross to the other side of the road. The road is dipped down a bit from the plains on either side so they have to do a little bit of leaping. They are extremely elegant leapers and it looks even better when they’re running. In order for the running to occur we had to get closer. So I sent Lindsay walking down the road while I videotaped the Impala running across the road behind her. We also saw some warthog families along the way, which all turned tail straight up in the air and ran away to what they considered a safe distance. The first few hours of our bike safari were essentially us watching animals turn tail and run away, mostly zebras. This suited Lindsay just fine as she loves Zebras.
Eventually we ran out of road the direction we were heading and were conveniently at the entrance to the Hells Gate gorge. We opted to go in on our own without a guide (which is most definitely not needed and we found it more fun on our own). You do have to sign a guestbook saying you’re in the gorge; perhaps they come look for you if you don’t come back. Then down we went into the gorge.
It was a very cool gorge, lots of fun turns, close walls, some ladders to climb up and down to different levels, an overall good experience. We first walked down following a small stream running through the gorge and then we took the fork in the gorge to the left. This led you along the graffiti wall. It is a part of the gorge wall where pretty much everyone that has come has scratched their names into the very soft rock. We of course “did no such thing” 🙂 Eventually the twists and turns of the gorge end at the “Devil’s Bedroom”, a big circular section where the only way to keep going would be to magically levitate 20 feet up to another opening.
We headed back to the fork and went straight this time. You essentially follow the creek down through the gorge which is easier said than done. Most of the time you can walk on either side of it, but every now and then it narrows and you’re forced to go through a person wide chunk of gorge just above the water which has of course now become deeper. The water is also hot as most of it comes from hot springs. This part was fun and we got wet and dirty along the way. We walked, climbed, fell, for a very long time until finally deciding to turn back and head out. We were trying to find the viewpoint , but we missed it. Apparently the last “exit” point, that was marked, takes you up on top of the gorge to the viewpoint. We figured it was at the end of the gorge as it does open up the farther you go. No animals spotted in or near the gorge, but we saw signs of gazelle. You could also imagine a leopard walking along the rocks above your head waiting to pounce. No such luck though.
So about 2.5 hours later we were back at the entrance and stopped in the shade to clean up and have our lunch. We told the rangers we were still alive and signed the book. Then back on the bikes for the rest of the park. Riding back along the way we came we spotted a giraffe right next to the road. I got off my bike and posed for some pictures and then we made it to a fork in the road. The road we were going to go down was the buffalo circuit road, which winds through the park and is apparently the best road for viewing the most wildlife. It is 12.5 km long. They also don’t mention that is straight uphill for 10 km. Straight. Up.
The first kilometre was nice and we ran into another herd of zebra. This time I got off my bike and walked into the field to see if I could sneak up on them and get really close. No such luck. You take one step forward, they all take ten back. Chickens. Back on the bikes we came around a corner and the up started. You could see the top of the hill so we figured we’ll get to the top and it will loop back to the left and into the park. Nope. More up. So we biked/walked up that hill. Then the road was under construction and we were not entirely sure which way to go. We had been following a group of people on bikes ahead of us but somehow they had disappeared. Either they’re in amazing shape and were way ahead of us (doubtful) or somehow they turned back without us realizing. We kept upward and onward and crested another hill. From there we could see a village to the right, (not a good sign), and more uphill road to the left, or a slight down farther left. We chose slightly down.
Down lasted about 30 seconds then we came into a giant parking lot that will become part of their geyser electrical system. Not the way out. So we turned back and of course went up hill. This next hill was by far the worst. No biking this, only walking in the hot, hot, sun. Take 100 steps, stop. Drink a sip of water. Take 100 steps, make sure Lindsay is still alive, give her water. Sit in shade. Curse this hill. It was a very long few hours and we would like to forget most of it. I saw one antelope type animal on the whole way up and it ran off in a second.
Eventually we made it to a viewpoint of sorts where we could see all of the park below us from the entrance to the gorge. We were very high up. There was a skull of some animal on the ground, bleached from the sun. It felt fitting. We were almost out of water at this point. More uphill still. Finally we saw a park sign. This place is horribly signed and you really have no idea where you are for hours. We were now at the Kaparatania view point; according to the sign anyways. There was a bench, but the view was not very good as it face away from the park into a hill.
Just past this point the road began to go down. We stopped and had a conference about whether to follow it. We had no map, and were not even sure we were still on the Buffalo circuit road. We could see that to get back to the entrance the road needed to make a ninety degree turn to the left. The road went slightly to the right. It was either go back down the way we came, or go down this section. We chose the new and unknown, hoping it would turn.
Finally we had some wind blowing in our faces and could cool down a bit. Our hands, however, paid the price now instead of our legs as the brakes were crap and we had to squeeze like hell to slow down. Miraculously, after many kilometres the road started making its way to the left. Eventually it even levelled out and there was wildlife again. We saw many more gazelles, impala, and zebras. It had become a fun trip again, minus the lack of water as we were now out. We rounded one corner and could see some zebras just over a little rise but we were mostly hidden from them. I decide this was good stalking territory. We stopped, and I started to sneak through the grassland towards the zebras. I went slowly and paused whenever the one zebra would look around as he was off alone up on the hill while the rest of the herd was down in a sort of valley. I probably got within 40 feet when finally the one zebra sounded the warning alarm and they all ran down the hill on the opposite side away from me. The lone zebra then turned back and loped back towards me to challenge me from coming any closer. It became clear at this point that he was the stallion and was protecting the ladies. His expression was quite readable and made it clear that it was time for me to leave. It was fun.
A few more kilometres back down the road and we were at the big rock for climbing and the road out. We still had a few more hours of sunlight to stick around and look for some more animals, but we were spent, and very thirsty. We rode back to the entrance, grabbed some pop from the gift shop, downed those, then stopped to sign out at the entrance. I took a picture of the “map” at the entrance and admonished myself for not doing so earlier, since I could have just looked at the picture of it on my camera to see where we might have been all day. Then we made the ride back to camp, stopping to buy some much cheaper water along the way at one of the street vendors.
Back in camp we returned the bikes and headed to our tent to shower and rest. Lindsay decided to go first and I lay down at the entrance of the tent to watch our stuff. That’s when I met Nyet-Nyet.