August 17, 2008
The patter of the rain on the tents had been comforting through the night; the leakage into the tents ..was not. Some stayed relatively dry; some slept floating on their air mattresses; Lena gave up and moved next door with Emily. We awoke to a quagmire, with just about everything that wasn’t soaked, very damp. In addition to slopping around in the mud, it was so wet that Roger could not offer us morning tea, a virtual crime against humanity in his home, Australia. We shoved our wet gear into our bags and began the slog out.
Along with the rain came a miasma that afflicted half our Walkers: fully five were struggling with stomach problems as we started our day. There was some uncertainty about whether the walking wounded could walk, but walk they did – with Lena taking a brief ride on one of the camels. The mud was a particularly sticky variety that stuck to our shoes and hiking poles in large quantities, making it a chore to walk. Fortunately, the muddy path to a main road was not long and we were soon making good time again.
Once on the open road, we covered about 16 miles – all up hill and in great heat (107) – before making camp. We met a number of interesting locals in traditional dress along the road, and met a surprising number of passing vehicles, with many waves and greetings along the way. We found a grove of thorn trees along the road and set up camp. We were pleasantly surprised that our crew – half with stomach bugs and all tired from a soggy night – had managed to keep going. The Walkers had left ahead of the camels and when Amanda and the crew caught up with us, she said: “I thought you had sick people with you.” That said, quite a few went for a nap right after arrival, and a number turned in early after a long day.
We had a nice pasta and bean snack for tea and, as usual, we finished with a hearty meal, centered around left over goat from the day before. We then retired for a well deserved rest: and it was evening and morning the seventh day.
August 18, 2008
The camels and their handlers must have had the scent of home in their nostrils because they were up and about by 4:30 AM. We groggily followed and were packed and on the road again by 6:30. The guys even came around in the dark, asking if they could help us pack-zip up our bags, fold our dirty clothes-anything to get us moving on their schedule.
We continued on the same road from the day before. Amanda said our turn would be at the first “center,” a primary school called “The Sky Is The Limit. —One mile up the hill.”
We managed to find a local guide and followed him northeast and uphill on a very gradual gradient towards the escarpment. We encountered that same cement- overshoes type mud, so this time we all followed Amanda’s advice to “walk behind the camels.”
We took a long break and ate our lunch orange at a Pokot mission village called Cacatoto. They had just had a raid on their cattle and goats so the men were armed with homemade wooden bows and metal, poison tipped arrows. They were hot to go get revenge and were only waiting on the elder’s go-ahead when we showed up. We must have been more entertaining because they hung around and examined us instead. This must have been a fairly wealthy place because some of the women had hair extensions and a lot of style.
We continued climbing to reach a camp especially chosen for the view to the south, several water pools and a magnificent, shapely old Acacia tree. Amanda says she can make a camp kitchen wherever there is a good tree; so she set up a picture perfect one beneath this Acacia while we set up our tents to take advantage of the view.
Dennis, Dave and Michael brought along their favorite Frisbees and all three came out for an intense game that included some walkers, some camel handlers and one old Mzee who joined in as well. He learned to throw and catch and seemed quite taken with the game. BaraBara, the leader of our camel handlers, made an amazing catch—2 Frisbees were thrown to him at once and he crouched and caught one in each hand. “Bili, BaraBara!”
Whenever we make camp we attract a crowd and this day we got the Mommy and Me contingent. At least a dozen women, children and 11 babies and toddlers showed up, sat down on the bank of the pond and enjoyed the show.
Ashley and Miss Bindergarten couldn’t resist going over to make friends. She noticed that some women were breastfeeding and others were feeding the babies tied to their backs with delicate little gourds hanging from beaded rawhide handles. They held about a cup of goat’s milk.
Winnie and Ashley couldn’t resist. They both bought 2 of the fragile and exquisite little baby bottles to carry home.
When the sun set the star show began. The Milky Way was stretching overhead and we picked out the Southern Cross, hanging low on the horizon. Later, a full moon rose and completed a perfect evening in our best camp so far.
August 19, 2008
Our early starts continued and we broke camp before dawn again. We waited for a while for the guide but when he never showed we eventually found an agile, old mzee with a pole and a Pokot sitting stool who took us in hand and bossed us around for hours with his hand signals and frowns.
As we began to climb the escarpment, the view back was striking but was nothing compared to the one coming up. We reached the top and the entire Rift Valley was spread before us. Looking north we could see dust from the Suguta Valley where the first Proper Walk in 2002 took place. We kept climbing and the view kept getting wider and more magnificent. There was bluish layer upon layer of distant valleys and even more distant peaks. Cameras were useless. Only the human eye could take all this in.
The trail was very rough—a river of rocks between orange and watermelon size kept our eyes glued to our feet just to keep from falling. Michael twisted his knee and knocked his elbow when he missed one little step out of the thousands we took that day.
Eventually we reached a mountain “Manayatta” (a family compound of 5-6 huts) that had to have the best views in Kenya. The Mzee pointed out the swollen leg and foot of one of his sons, a boy of about 16. This boy had made the major concession of taking off one of his 1000 miler sandals and was wearing a red flip flop on his bad foot. He had a squarish burn mark, but his real problem was a week old bite from a Night Adder. It had seemed to heal but was flaring up again. Winnie administered first aid by giving him 800 mg of Advil. She also gave him medicine for the snakebite and for some subcutaneous worms that were near the bite spot. She told him to seek more help in a hospital and we continued on.
More climbing to the real peak and then the trail sloped diagonally downhill across a long, hot slope. We were still trying to keep up with the bossy Mzee who must have thought we were incredibly slow. He kept turning and beckoning but by noon we had done at least 10 miles and were already tired.
Waiting for the camels to make it down the narrow, twisting trail, some of us took a quick nap in the shade. But Amanda was keeping a brisk pace and naptime was under 20 minutes. We paused there for an orange and water fill up and kept walking.
The trail flattened out and the mzee really put the pedal to the metal. We were probably walking at a 3 ½ to 4 mile pace for over an hour and paused only on the outskirts of a village that was having its market day. There were Pokot men and women coming and going on the trail all around us, carrying live chickens, wheeling bicycles loaded with their goods to sell or purchases they’d made.
We let the camels lead the way and the village erupted into almost a riot as we passed by. We skirted the marketplace and kept up a very fast pace, but crowds of kids ran after us, pointing and laughing at our clothes, shoes, and hiking poles. Some of the walkers thought the crowd were hostile, but we made it through safely and walked past the village and off of their turf as quickly as possible. We still had many miles to go.
We made a decision to get to the base of the Laikipia Plateau, so we had to keep walking on a hot, dusty road for another 5 miles until we finally made a late camp in what felt like a rock quarry. We had to clear rocks to make a place to pitch a tent and then there was another layer of rocks. Even under such adverse conditions, Amanda found her tree and made a comfortable kitchen and hearth for us to gather around and recover from our grueling 21 mile day.
At bed time the wind was refreshing and drove away the bugs, but by 10 or 11, it turned fierce and was blowing at 30-40 miles an hour. Our rain flies were rattling and flapping and this was probably the worst sleeping night of the whole walk. Even the snorers lay awake, bracing for the next gust.
August 20, 2008
Morning was early and cold. We gathered toe to toe around the campfire, scrounging random bits of wood, food wrappers—even used baby wipes were piled on to keep the tiny blaze going.
This time we started by climbing straight up the escarpment. Again, the trail was rocky and rough. Often these trails seem just like dry riverbeds with not one smooth spot to place your foot safely. Amanda’s blisters were such that she started this day in flip-flops, even on this terrain.
Up and up again we climbed, with a lot of panga (machete) work to create a passable trail. At the top we entered a no man’s land between the Pokot territory and Samburu lands. This was a wildlife conservancy area and we were greeted by a group of 40+ “security” men who wanted to know our business and destination. They redirected us across the plateau and we bushwhacked in a general easterly direction. There were a lot of pretty wildflowers everywhere we stepped but we were moving too fast to stop for photos.
Eventually we came to an impressive fence — a straight line of pole upon pole with six electric wires –that we followed for several miles until we came to the guarded gate of the Mugie Ranch. We had our lunch of oranges and peanuts at the guard compound and were told that there were only about 4 more miles to go. As we followed a ruler straight road that stretched dead east, we saw crowds of vultures circling and a few of us investigated the kill site. It was a full-grown male giraffe that had broken his neck fighting with another male and needed to be put down by the Mugie wildlife managers.
After what turned out to be 7 more miles we reached a grassy meadow next to a damned lake and set up our final camp. Dinner, a bonfire and an extended celebration followed. We had plenty of drink, and butternut squash stuffed with camel meat and a surprise upside-down pineapple cake for Roger’s early 69th birthday party. There were funny awards handed out and our 8 wonderful camel guys plus Chris, the trainee, performed a closing night dance that pulled in most of the walkers too.
We all slept well with not much noise except for the sounds of the hobbled, grazing, cud-chewing camels bedded down all around us.
August 21, 2008
Today is the last time we will pack up our gear to be loaded on the camels and the last time our entire group will be together for morning tea. It is a bittersweet moment as I look at the tents with their still sleeping inhabitants feeling pleased knowing this is the last time I will need to break down my tent and equipment on Proper Walk 08. I am feeling physically tired, so tired that another day of hiking would have been extremely difficult. Even Michael of rose colored glasses fame had said that he didn’t think his knee would hold up another day after the hard spill he had taken on the loose rock.
I head down to the lake and snap a few morning light pictures always checking to see if there are any cape buffaloes or elephants in the vicinity. We had set up camp right in the “freeway” of the big animals trail to the water but our smell and noise must have kept them away as the only sounds at night were the camels chewing cud near our tents. It is a surprisingly loud noise in the stillness of the night but it does indicate that the camels were doing well.
Everyone is up now and either enjoying a “cuppa” or tearing down their campsite. We soon enjoy a “fat man’s breakfast” with John handling the egg and banger preparation. Over easy, sunny side up – just about any way we want them. Shortly after breakfast the guys have the camels packed up and are heading out to Ol Maisor. We all are so grateful for their hard work and companionship that we all go out to bid them a fond farewell and watch as they lead the camels over the dam with the morning sun backlighting their progress.
John, Emily, and Lena are heading out this morning to Nairobi with Ivan at the helm of one of the Arid Adventure vehicles to catch their flights. We all share heartfelt hugs and words that seem unable to capture the feelings of the shared experience and bond that has grown over the past two weeks. We soon load up in the large van and head to Ol Maisor for a closing celebration. Thus ends the official Proper Walk 2008.
We want to express our sincere thanks to all our friends and family that supported us and the Makindu Children’s Program. We also extend our warmest thanks to John and Amanda at Ol Maisor for taking such good care of us during a challenging Proper Walk.
We are working towards our goal of raising $100,000 for the Makindu Children’s Program. If our “adventure for a cause” inspires you please consider contributing to this great program that is helping so many AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children.