“Andrew!” I look up as I hear my name. A tall solid Kenyan wearing dark trousers, pink jumper, beanie and green Masai blanket waves with a huge smile. This must be Paul, the tour guide Rosemary had organised for me. We shake hands and introduce ourselves before I follow Paul off up the road to Nakuru.
Once we cross the Nakuru-Nairobi highway the road starts to climb. For the first 4km of the climb we walk through what Paul describes as the wealthy part of Nakuru where the mzungus and government officials have their homes. There are no matatus or podi podis here. Rather, private vehicles are the norm. This morning the roads are quiet because it’s only about 7am. It takes us about an hour to reach the Menengai Crater Forest gate where I pay our entry fees (KSh200 for locals and KSh600 for tourists). From we will follow the dirt road on our uphill hike.
As we climb Paul takes me just off the road and tells me to turn around. I look back and see the vast expanse of Lake Nakuru in the distance. The city of Nakuru is down on its banks; it looks like a long way off but we’re only half way up the climb. But Paul doesn’t tell me that. He doesn’t want me to feel disheartened.
About three-quarters of the way up the climb we pass Menengai Hill Secondary School. It’s a small school with mud buildings. But the children we see walking to school are still smiling and seem grateful for their education.
The farm houses up here are also mud buildings. The farms are worked by hand and life must be hard.
We reach a fork in the road and Paul takes me on the path to the right to see the view down over the plains towards the town of Gil Gil. The view is amazing and, while I can’t capture it on my camera, I have captured it in my mind. A patchwork of farms and plots stretch out before me. The sun reflects off small collections of tin roofs where the farms are broken up by villages. In the distance, mountains rise up from the valley floor.
We walk back and turn left up the final climb to the crater. I can’t believe how big it is. I had read that it was 12km wide but couldn’t picture that in my mind. Until I came up here and looked out from the road. Paul tells me about the crater’s various features but, in all honesty, I’m just in awe of the view.
I stop to take the obligatory tourist photo at the information sign. At 2,278m above sea level, we are 50m higher than the highest point in the whole of Australia. It’s the highest altitude I’ve ever been to.
I also have Paul take an obligatory photo at the sign the local Rotary Club have installed. The school bus in the background comes from a town two days drive away. The students came to see the crater because there will be questions about it in their final exams. They stayed about 20 minutes starting their return drive. I note that there are no Australian cities listed on the sign.
The government has erected signs warning people not to climb down the crater and not to litter. Both are obviously ignored because there are plenty of trails and used water bottles on the crater’s inner wall.
We follow a narrow trail down the lip of the crater. It’s little more than a goat track and drops steeply downhill for about 100m. From here the views are majestic and I feel so small in this vast expanse of nature. It’s one of my favourite feelings in the world. Paul is a perfect host, ensuring that I feel safe and letting me know we can stop for a rest whenever I feel we have traveled far enough.
We reach the end of the track and there is a lovely flat ledge for us to sit on. The shade is divine after climbing for 10km in the morning sun. We share some snacks and water I brought with me as we chat.
Paul takes a photo of me. As you can see, I am having a fantastic time and am happy to be out hiking.
We climb back to the top of the crater before walking around further to our right where Paul again takes me down a little trail to another spot just inside the crater’s lip. Swallows float on the winds that rise up the crater’s walls. They whoosh past our heads and I feel the wind from their wings rush past my face. The swallows glide in formation on the thermal winds that the crater creates and I am mesmerised. In the distance we see Masai herders working their cattle on the crater’s floor. It’s a large herd and we can hear the Masai voices rising out of the crater despite the distance. While they’re not speaking particularly loudly, the crater’s sides form a funnel here. We stay here for another hour or so until the sun starts to burn my skin.
We start to head back down to Nakuru. I feel at home in the dust and sun. That sense of comfort is made stronger by the blue gum plantation that is being used to protect the soil structure. It was funded by the European Union so is a very international plantation: African land, Australian trees and EU money. The walk down to Nakuru is literally all down hill. We stop at the forestry gate for me to collect my change and receipt (they didn’t have either when we entered because it was too early). And then continue on our way.
Once in Nakuru tour guide Paul walks behind me as we pass over the highway overpass. He explains that this is one of the few dodgy places in Nakuru where beggars might try to grab my bag (every town has that area). Paul is a trained and experienced security guard so it is second nature to him to protect his clients. We stop at a photo printing shop where he asks whether he can print some copies of the photos I took (he paid for them himself as the pictures were for him) and then at a small shop where he prints out a certificate to show I climbed the crater (a lovely touch). Paul has a curio shop in the market opposite Merica but he doesn’t pressure me to buy anything. When I leave, there are two hawkers who try to hassle me so Paul tells them to go away and then walks with me until they are long gone.
I had a wonderful time and highly recommend Paul as a tour guide (PK’s Crater Tours, Ph: 0726 280 016). The tour cost KSh1000 plus KSh800 for park entry. It is usual for guests to carry some small snacks and water for the guides (1.5L water is KSh55 and I paid about KSh150 for some nuts and apples to share). So, for about KSh2000 ($25 Australian or US) you will have a wonderful hike with a local guide. Sure, you could do it on your own but Paul is good company for the 20km return hike.