Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Christmas in Kenya: Days 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, and 25

This is Part 5 in a series. You might want to checkout the previous post, or start at the beginning.

The Gate of Hell and School

We decided to go to Hell's Gate with Roswell's family. We would leave before them to eat lunch there, and they would meet us later at the picnic area. To get there from RVA, we had to descend into the valley. There are technically 5 ways down, but two are really far away and one is prone to carjackings, which only leaves two. The way that we chose to go down is the better road of the two when it's dry, but it had been raining the night before, so large sections of the road were now simply mud. Really thick, slippery mud, at that. There were times where we were going downhill with our nose pointed 30 degrees from the direction we were moving (I'd use radians but most other people don't like them). Surprisingly, it felt quite a bit like driving on a really icy road. Dagger's dad did a great job keeping us on the road, and there was never a time where I felt unsafe. Actually, most of the time it was just fun.

A picture of the sign above the entrance to Hell's Gate Park.
The entrance to the Gate
After getting to the floor of the valley, the mud road meets up with a paved highway, so it was really easy from there on. After reaching the park, we went to the picnic area (which is also the start of the hiking trail) to have our lunch. On the way there, we got to see super impressive cliffs on either side of the car. We were sitting on the roof of the car, so we had a really good view of the giraffes and warthogs and zebras that we passed. The picnic area was packed out, so we sat on some nearby rocks for our lunch. The whole time that we were eating, there was this one monkey that kept coming closer and closer to us, only to be scared away by Dagger. Fortunately it wasn't a baboon, so no one made any serious attempts to kill it. All it took was Dagger simply picking up a rock (not throwing it), and the little monkey was gone in the blink of an eye.

Just as we finished eating, Roswell and his family showed up, bringing the size of our group to 10 people. We decided that we didn't need a guide, and started our hike. The entire hike was along a stream that had slowly worn its way down into the earth. The area around is all soapstone, so in a matter of years the water can cut its path several feet deeper. Apparently, since the last time that Dagger's family had been there, the stream bed was about 3 feet deeper. It was the most gorgeous thing. I can't say that I ever remember being in a really narrow canyon (with risk of flash floods) before. The walls were towering over us by 50 - 100 feet (I may be exaggerating... distances are hard). In places, it was barely wide enough for two people to fit side-by-side, and in others, it was wider than it was tall.

My favorite parts of the hike were the parts that were also the most difficult. These were the parts where it got really narrow, and there was suddenly a waterfall that we had to climb down next to. There were little worn-in footholds in the soapstone that you had to use to navigate down. However, in one place it was narrow enough that I could do the splits across the river and stand, Sam Fisher style, on both walls of the trench. Unfortunately, to get down from that position I would have to jump forward across the waterfall's edge, drop 6 or 7 feet, and land in mud where I would sink down to my ankle. I opted to back up and climb down the normal way. Apparently, they used to have nice metal ladders to climb down, but now they were all gone and we had to use the soapstone holes.

The view from the top of the ridge overlooking the park.
The top of the park
The hike ended with us climbing up all at once the height that it had taken us 2 hours to descend down. But, because we were basically climbing up the side of a cliff, when we got to the top, the view was incredible! We could see for miles and miles, and we could look down to where we were and see how everything looked from above. Naturally, I kept my distance from the edge, but the view was still amazing. It was one of those things that was impossible to capture on film. Not even a panorama could have done it justice. After admiring the view (and posing for family photos), we hiked back to the cars and were on our way.

Oh, in case you were wondering why it was called Hell's Gate, it's because the British explorer who first came to it saw the massive stone columns and the geysers of hot water, and smelled the sulphur, and thought to himself: "I must be at the gate of Hell." Fairly straightforward. Nowadays, the steam vents are harnessed to produce geothermal energy. We drove to the top of one of the hills and took a look at the geothermal plant up there. There were columns and columns of steam, and it smelled really strongly of sulphur, but apparently Kenya has about 25% of its power from geothermal plants.

A climbing rock in the middle of the park with a strange anchor at the top: a bicycle.
Can you spot the bike?
When we finished with Hell's Gate, we headed back to RVA. This time, because the road that we had come down was so bad, we decided to head up the other viable road. It was certainly less muddy, but it made up for it with how bumpy it was. There were massive boulders jutting out in the middle of the road and more holes that you could count. While it had been sunny and dry in the valley, up in Kijabe, it had been drizzling all day. As a result, the ground was slick and there were pools of water sitting around, waiting to entrap us. We actually got stuck once, but switching into four wheel drive solved that problem nice and quickly. We eventually got back safe and sound, and headed home. We wound up the day by watching Megamind (one of Will Ferrell's best roles), and then headed to bed.

The next day was the day that we had planned a big hike with a bunch of the people who had been part of Dagger's graduating class. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the meeting place, there was only one other person. Eventually, Roswell showed up with the bad news: no one else was coming. Then the other person got a text from his little sister telling him to come home to babysit her because their parents were leaving. And just like that, the massive hiking expedition was down to 3. But, we went anyway. We started off trying to find the close caves, but they bested us again. Apparently they are a good hiding place. So, we ended up going up to the train tracks and heading away from RVA, towards a waterfall that we knew was up ahead. Along the way, we passed a crew doing maintenance on the tracks. I assume that they were doing maintenance.

After about 45 minutes to an hour of walking along the tracks, we got to our turn off. There was a bit of a path (apparently used by charcoal burners, who we could hear working in the distance), and it went along the cliff face. However, the dirt was really soft, and the path got really narrow in places. There were places where you could only fit one foot and you had to hang onto the vines above you to keep from sliding down. Usually, sliding down wouldn't be too bad because there were enough bushes to catch you if you were to slip, but in several locations, there was nothing. If you were to fall, you would fall all the way to the riverbed below. But, we made it alive to the river. However, at that point, we lost the trail and ended up turning around and heading back home.

Oh, if you're wondering why there are no pictures of this, it's because you don't want to take pictures of charcoal burners. Because what they're doing is illegal, they can be kind of scary at times. So, just to be safe, no camera. After we got back, we took a couple hour break, and then Dagger, his brother, and I all headed back out on another hike. This time we went to explore a trail that we had never been down before because we had heard that there were waterfalls down them. This trail was really close to RVA, but somehow, we still managed to get lost. Well, not really lost. We knew basically where we were at all times. We made it to the river, and we just had to follow the river to the road. The problem was, that path took us through people's fields, and we heard cow bells and dogs barking at us. We eventually made it to the road (a little tired), and then made it home (a lot tired). We actually got back at the exact same time that the company arrived, conveniently. We weren't even late for dinner.

Thursday was the first day of classes for RVA students. As a result, when I woke up, everyone else was gone, either attending class or teaching it. I killed time until lunch, when everyone came home. Dagger and I made a plan to go throw some pottery (meaning use the pottery wheels) later that afternoon, so I worked on taking down the Christmas tree until then. I had never thrown pottery before, so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. It turns out, it's actually pretty fun. The wheels weren't electric, so we had to kick them from time to time to keep them spinning. It's a challenge to get them spinning fast, but I was starting to get the hang of it by the end. Dagger gave me a brief introduction to throwing pottery, and away I went. I threw three pieces: the first one looked good but it cracked, the second one survived, and the third one did not. But, in the end, it was worth it. I enjoyed myself greatly.

We had company that evening for dinner, and when they left, they took Snoop, the dog that we had been keeping for them. I'm sure that Winston is quite pleased. Friday was a very slow day. The first thing that I did was sit in on Dagger's dad's Pottery 1 class, and I saw how he taught pottery. Dagger actually did a very good job, although he obviously isn't as good as his dad, who does it for a living. After that, we attended the chapel out on the lawn. The choir did an amazing A Capella rendition of the Kenyan national anthem in both Swahili and English. It was very stirring. The afternoon was eaten up with hanging out in the library and helping the school's IT man with some ideas that he had for the future of the school. The evening was a "Caring Community," which is where the staff have ~10 students that they have adopted for the year, and they have them over to their house for the evening for fun and games. We played a variant of Charades, as well as Four on the Couch. It was actually a really fun evening and I really enjoyed hanging out with them.

Saturday was spent killing time and packing for our departure the next day. We played some Mario Kart and some Ticket to Ride, but that was pretty much all that happened the entire day. I packed my bag up, Dagger packed his up, and his family packed a couple of bags for us to bring back to America for them. We had space, so why not? Sunday, we went to AIC again, but this time, all of RVA was there, so it was packed out. They had another guest speaker, this time a man from Kijabe, and he was good. He talked about unity in the body of Christ, using the story of Jacob and Esau as well as Obediah and the Edomites. One of the points that he made that really stood out to me was that helping our brother doesn't mean just helping them financially. It means helping them up physically, or emotionally, or spiritually. I don't know why, but that really stuck with me.

After church, we finished packing the last minute things, and then we were off to Nairobi. On the way, we stopped at a conference center for lunch and while we were there, magic happened. The rain started slowly enough, but soon the steady 'drip, drip' on the roof became a dull roar as the rain came down faster and faster. It was a subtle change at first, barely noticeable, but the roar of the rain was suddenly augmented by another sound. "Plink." "Plink." "Plink." They came faster and faster until they deafened out even the roar of the rain. Through the window in front of us, we could see them bouncing off of the metal roof of the conference center. On my final day, I was granted the privilege of seeing it hail in Kenya.

Moving on from that, we got to Nairobi and Dagger's parents dropped us off at Chisel's house. Our flight wasn't leaving until midnight, so to avoid driving back to Kijabe in the dark (really dangerous in Kenya), Dagger's family dropped us off early and headed back while it was still light out, letting Chisel's very nice parents take us to the airport. Chisel's uncle was visiting at the time, and we got to hear about his efforts working in Tanzania and with ECHO. ECHO is the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization, located in Florida. What they do is develop sustainable ways of growing food to help solve hunger problems in poor countries (like Tanzania). They are a Christian organization, and they do it all as a ministry. They have a demo farm in Florida where they grow all sorts of plants high in nutrition and easy to grow in inhospitable environments. They also focus on educating farmers in these countries how to grow food sustainably (like rotating crops to put the nitrogen back in the soil). What they're doing is so important. I can't stress it enough. That is the exact kind of organization that I think needs to exist in our world today, and it's the sort of thing that Christians need to show more interest in. Proper stewardship of the environment is our job as humans, and too many people just blow it off. But, before I get all preachy, kittens!

After having our fill of playing with the next door kitten (so cute!), we left on our final journey in the country, to the airport. We got in the airport, checked our bags, killed some time looking for Bitter Lemon pop (which ended in failure), boarded the airplane, and said goodbye to Kenya. After a long flight (during which I watched Mystic River, which is NOT an airplane movie), we got into Heathrow at 5am. We had a 4 hour layover there, during which nothing interesting happened, and then we boarded our flight to America. After a long flight (during which I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which is NOT a happy movie), we got into DFW at 2pm. So, for 22 hours of travel, we ended up having only 14 hours of daytime pass us by. Silly spheres.

But, I'm safely here in Texas, and I'm back at school. This has been one of the most amazing things to ever happen to me. What I've seen and experienced on this trip, I will never forget. To everyone who actually read all of these... Wow. I'm impressed. Thanks for putting up with all my rambling. Goodness knows there was a lot of it. I would just like to say to Dagger's family, thank you so much for letting me stay with you. You put up with me as a guest for such a long time. Thank you for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime experience. And to the rest of my family: 4 down, 3 to go.

Full Series

Part 3Lazy Holidays
Part 4Masai Market
Part 5: The Gate of Hell and School


  1. Great journal Terry.
    Your family is tremendously happy that you got to have this experience -- enriching AND challenging you for a lifetime. So many thanks to the Rothfus family for adopting you!! Dad

  2. So we are now tied.
    D has been to 4 as well, but B leads us all at 5!

  3. Actually, B has 6... Kind of far ahead.