Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Hiking with Harvey

On Sunday I went hiking (read: "walking along dirt paths") with my friend Harvey, another VSO volunteer.

There are many places to hike outside of Nairobi which are amazing and beautiful.  However they are difficult to get to by public transportation, therefore requiring expensive taxis, and entrance fees can be quite high and sometimes include the cost of 2 armed guards which escort you on the hike. Finding expanses of green space inside Nairobi is difficult.  Finding green space in Nairobi which is safe even more difficult.  And finding green space which is safe, easily accessible by matatu and inexpensive to enter nearly impossible. 

Hiking is one of my absolute favourite pastimes, and with exception of the epic hike of Mount Longonot over New Year's (read: "climbing up face of volcano and nearly dying"), I haven't had the opportunity to do much since arriving in Kenya.  So when Harvey asked if I would go hiking in Karura Forest, a park run by Kenya Forest Service, just a mile north of the City Centre, I was definitely keen to try.  

Harvey points to a tall tree.
Karura Forest is just beautiful.  It is covered in tall (and I mean tall!) trees which makes it cool and shady.  There is a creek with a lovely waterfall.  And there is a line of caves which were used by the Mau-Mau, freedom fighters pushing for Kenyan independence from the British in the 50s.  For wildlife there are monkeys (which we saw plenty of) and other more obscure animals such as bush pigs and dik diks which alluded us.

The park used to have a reputation of not being safe, with muggings not unheard of at all, but the Forest Service has put up a fence and placed askari (guards) every few kilometers or so.  It is very safe now - there were many families and joggers and people walking their dogs.  Sadly in the whole day I can't remember seeing a single Kenyan in the park - it was all wazungu (foreigners). 

Might seem strange to have a whole post about a Sunday morning hike (still read: "walk along dirt paths") but Nairobi can be a difficult city to live in.  It is dirty (dirt on the ground, dust and exhaust in the air) and it is aggressive.  Just getting to work each morning can involve arguing over the inflated "foreigner" price for transportation, an elbow or two in the ribs trying to get a seat on a matatu, narrowly avoiding 3 car accidents, crossing highways heavy with speeding traffic, walking more than a mile over dirt and rock paths covered in broken glass, and crossing the Nairobi River on a rickety bridge basically put together with a few planks of wood and some gaffa tape. That's just the morning commute.  Finding a piece of quiet, clean, safe forest may just be a saving grace.

Standing in one of the Mau-Mau caves.
There are 50km of hiking trails in the park, so plenty left to explore. And plenty more opportunity to spot that elusive dik dik (will get a photo for you Nick!).

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