Ebola caves!

Trip Start Jun 08, 2005
Trip End Aug 18, 2005

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Flag of Kenya  ,
Sunday, July 3, 2005

Day the Twenty-sixth - in which we show ourselves around Mt Elgon, and walk all day without getting Ebola or seeing any elephants.


Now I'm going to tell you about the gate/fence story I kept going on about yesterday. Basically we were up and out for 6am - which was the time we had arranged for the boda-boda dudes to meet us. We were also assured yesterday that there would be someone at the gate to Delta Crescent Farm to let us out. This makes sense, since a guard should be manning the gate at all times. Or not.
Not only was the gate locked with no-one around to open it, but the boda-boda guys weren't there. Not quite believing they would pass up such an opportunity - we did offer them a decent amount of money - we figured they'd be waiting up the road at the crossroads.

But first we had to get out. How do you get out of a place designed to stop poachers getting in? Why, you climb the gate of course. It's that easy. Shhh, don't tell the poachers.

The boda-boda dudes were not at the crossroads either. Huh. Their loss.

So instead we walked the 6km in the pre-dawn grey. Well, we walked most of the way -- a truck passed us so we flagged it down and rode in the back for a while. The walk was nice, still quite cool and so peaceful. The sun came up behind us, setting fire to the sky. There were quite a few people around, mainly walking to and from a well with buckets.

Got a good view over to what I think is Endebess Bluff:

Also passed the Mt Elgon Lodge, as mentioned in 'The Hot Zone'. It looked pretty nice, so I guess it's had a re-vamp since the author was here.

At Chorlim Gate we had a bit of an altercation with the ranger guy. Basically there is a big sign with the entry fees on it. With this reading $5 and having just been to Kakamega and paying $5 there as students, I think it's safe to say that $5 is the price of entrance with a student card. However, the guy was telling us that there was a new rule instituted by the KWS [Kenya Wildlife Service] making it $15 unless you have a letter from the KWS. This is ridiculous, since why would presenting yourself at the KWS HQ in Nairobi make you any more of a valid student than showing a student photo card? He pulled a hand written letter out, but we argued that hand written doesn't make it official, so he found a document from 2003 [so not a new rule then] which confusingly stated that admission was $5 for organised groups with approval from the KWS, and students. Those two things are separate but the wording does leave it open to interpretation. The organised groups need approval; that makes sense - the KWS would make sure that they are indeed a valid tour group, but students just need to show student ID at the gate.

We tried to explain, but he was having none of it, even going as far as to say that the 2003 document wasn't the official document after all, but that he couldn't find the real one. He suggested we ring the KWS, knowing full well that it's Sunday.
Not really up for arguing at the gate all day, we paid the asked amount, $30, and asked for his ID so we could contact the KWS later. He wouldn't give it to us.

Then we had to pay $20 for an askari [guard] to walk with us, in case of buffalo. Since we had paid $20 more than we should anyway, we refused. So he said we could walk by ourselves. Hmmm.

Nice start to the day, then.

The park was lovely and we didn't see any buffalo. We heard them once, snorting behind a screen of vegetation. We did see red duiker, loads of colobus monkeys, some samango monkeys, waterbuck, and even leopard footprint. I assume it was leopard - obviously a big cat, fairly large print with distinct pads. Can't think what else it could be.

We saw no sign of the famous Mt Elgon elephants, rumour is they have all gone over into Uganda [the national park straddles the border]. We walked along the track, slowly ascending, until we got to Kitum cave [again, if you've read The Hot Zone, this is the one of Ebloa virus fame, though the cave he describes is actually not this one but Makingeny cave]. The caves are at about 2,400m, which means the air is pretty cool for the walk. The entrance is hidden until you're pretty much in front of it.

We spotted some dassies [rock hyrax] on a large boulder by the entrance.

Right outside the cave was a buffalo skull placed on a rock. Not entirely sure what for...

We wandered around inside, Stef with his headtorch. It really is pitch black in there - it's easy to forget how dark dark can be, with our lives of residual light. Towards the back a sort-of rushing noise started, and we both froze. Thoughts of large quantities of running water flitted through our minds, until we realised it was the bats on the ceiling taking to flight.

The ground was covered in a fine dry powder, though we had to negotiate through the mine-field of buffalo-pats that were dotted around. The air smelt pervasively of bat and 'dry' - if that can be a smell.

There is an ancient petrified forest at the back, which Stef was delighted about. He was touching the walls, but I didn't dare touch anything. Ebola does nasty things...

We also walked to Makingeny cave, which is huge and has a waterfall pouring over the entrance.

The elephants [used to?] come into these caves to scrape rock from the walls for salt. No elephant dung around though. To think the mountain used to have herds of hundreds of elephants...

We didn't walk to Endebess Bluff because I reckoned it would be too far to walk, recalling my mental image of the map we left back in the tent. So we went back pretty much the way we had come. We stopped for a rest - tired little feet! - under a tree because it was raining lightly, and Stef noticed a fallen branch with an orchid growing on it. I reckon he can sense orchids at 50 paces...

On the way out Chorlim Gate the guy called to us, asking us to stop. This was because the entrance ticket we had paid for had a stub which we needed to give back to him. Only it had his ranger ID on it, so we didn't. We kept walking on through and up the track. Outrageous behaviour!

The walk back began with us trailing a group of goats, sheep, and cows herded by two men and their dog. The men had proper crooks and often had to put them to good use when their charges made frequent dashes for the bushes on the verges of the track or stop to scratch/shit/generally be awkward. Our walking pace wasn't quite fast enough to get us past them safely, so we were kind of tripping over them for a while.

It was getting toward dusk by the time we got back - having walked the whole way despite looking around hopefully for boda-bodas. That makes today a round trip of 35km, so it's not surprising that when I sat down at Delta Crescent Farm I couldn't get back up again.

Going back to our tent revealed that there had been an invasion while we were gone. Overlanders! Noooo! God, I sound so pretentious, but there you have it. I cannot fathom why you'd want to go on an overland truck trip. I suppose if you don't know anyone who could go with you, and you didn't want to go solo... but still. You can't chose the people who you are then stuck with for 5 weeks plus. Not to mention that you don't immerse yourself in the country and the culture half as much.

I'm sure there are worse-behaved groups but this lot did display a number of unattractive overlander traits. Namely making a lot of noise and drinking too much. Also, when the dinner circle was set out they excluded the black driver and cook. We showered and had dinner, taking the iPod with us [to dinner, not into the shower] and eying it warily as it transferred all the photos. Yey!

I stupidly took my doxy on too little food and prompt threw up over the edge of the balcony affair. Fortunately the pillar provided cover, so it wasn't too embarrassing. Stupid - I've done this with doxy on about four separate occasions now, and the results are always the same.
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