This post is another of my reflections on my various African trips. This particular memory is a weekend during my semester in Kenya. Our class had traveled from our base in Karen, outside of Nairobi, to Lake Naivasha in the Rift Valley to camp. We were given the option to go camp on our own. My best friend Marc and I decided to take advantage of this opportunity and prepared our backpacks to go out on our own.
Our destination was Hell's Gate National Park. It is a relatively small park in the Rift Valley, and the only one in Kenya you are allowed to walk in. Supposedly it is devoid of lions and considered somewhat safe. While going on safari and game viewing is exciting and enjoyable throughout Africa's game parks, there is nothing like walking amongst the wildlife with nothing to protect you. You can't escape. You don't have your comfortable seat behind sturdy sheet metal with your window view. You are at the mercy of the surroundings. All your senses are elevated as a result.
We hiked for several hours the first day, exploring the terrain. The animals are wild and their senses detect you well before you get close. They tend to keep more than a safe distance away, but on a couple of occasions we had giraffes who were curious and actually approached us from across a narrow gorge. It was exhilerating to see them in that setting. That night we decided to hike up to a higher ridge for a nice view and safer surrounding to camp. It was less likely that wildlife would trek up to that level to check us out. It was a beautiful view from that escarpment of the surrounding savanah grasslands below. It turned out to be much windier in that exposed setting, but we had no animal encouters. The next day we stumbled apon a Maasai enclosure (where they keep their cattle when on long range graze runs). We also saw several Maasai women trekking many miles for firewood and water to bring back to their manyatta.
The last morning we woke up and started the long hike back out of the park. We were now back on the basin floor of the valley walking in the almost waste high spotty grasses. We each had on backpacks with all our camping gear, tents, sleeping bags, food and water. They were heavy but bearable. The two of us walked in single file. Suddenly ahead of us a large warthog appeared. We had startled it and it started to charge us. It was the largest warthog with big tusks that I had ever seen (although some of that may have been the urgency of the moment) It came directly at us at great speed. As we attempted to turn and flee, we lost our balance with the heavy packs and started to fall to the ground. Now we were at the mercy of this wild animal. It came full speed to within just a few feet of us and darted at a 90% angle off to one side in a cloud of dust. If it had continued any further it could have damaged us significantly.
Those few moments in our encounter with that warthog impressed apon us how quickly things can change in the wild and how fortunate we were to walk away unscathed with just our egos bruised at having fallen to the ground in attempting to avoid the onslaught. We had heard stories of other hikers suffering broken legs or other damages as a result of run ins with wildlife. It certainly cemented the visceral feeling of our walking/camping safari to Hell's Gate National Park.
A couple years later, I would revisit this park, but in a land rover with other experienced friends. I have always marvelled at Africa and its wildlife and wildlands, but I've always tried to entrust myself to the expertise of locals than to my less knowledgeable self for my safety. Africa is an exhilerating place to visit, but it can cause much harm in so many way. I have always been very fortunate in my travels, but in a future post I can share some of the misfortune that has happened to others I know who were less fortunate. That might be better suited for Halloween time.