Divers reap big from tourists as they save lives

Cheploch divers dive into Kerio River
Cheploch divers dive into Kerio River bordering two counties of Baringo and Elgeyo- Marakwet in the past. The youth attract tourists to the area. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Travelling along the busy Iten-Kabarnet road, one cannot resist the urge to make a stopover to marvel at a group of youth who leap 100 metres into the crocodile infested Cheploch gorge.

These are the daredevil Cheploch divers who are becoming a major tourism attraction in the region even as they save lives of people who have have fallen into the river.

Many tourists and travellers alike from far and wide have been travelling to the gorge at the border of Baringo and Elgeyo-Marakwet counties to have a glimpse of the 14 divers aged between 23 and 26.

Tourists pay for the youth to leap into the water with each of them going home with at least Sh2,000 on a good day with the proceeds being shared among the divers at the end of a 'working day'.

School parties on their way to other tourist attraction sites in Baringo County including Lakes Baringo and Bogoria have also been making a stopover of the gorge with each leap earning the youth Sh500 each.


This has been fetching them good returns with the county governments which have enlisted their services paying them between Sh80,000 and Sh100,000.

The divers charge according to the number of days bodies of victims who have fallen into the water, have started in the water.

“But sometimes we just offer our services for free as some grieving families cannot afford to pay us,” said Mike Korir, who is the deputy team leader of the divers.

During our tour last week, our interview was disrupted several times by groups who were seeking the divers’ services. We had to part with some cash as well.

The youth have also been instrumental in rescue missions in the North Rift region by rescuing drowning victims and retrieving bodies.

The divers have also offered rescue operations in Kericho and western parts of the country.

But how do the youth escape from the jaws of hungry crocodiles, some of which we spotted on the water on a tour to the gorge during out tour?.

The youth argue that the reptiles are usually too scared to attack because of the frequent storms.

“We’ve been diving for years and have discovered over time that crocodiles don’t attack when there is a lot of movement in the water,” said Mr Joel Kipsang, another diver who is among the youngest of the group at 22.

The walls of the gorge are made up of smooth rocks that compress the huge volumes of water from the Elgeyo-Marakwet escarpments, letting them out in whirling pressure at the point where the youths dive.

Interestingly, the divers just learnt the skill as a pass time activity while herding goats near the gorge while they were young.

“We started off with shallow ends while we were young. The more we grew up, the more we discovered that we could venture into deep ends,” says Mr Korir.

Among the rescue missions the youth have been instrumental in offering their services is recovering the body of a bridegroom who drowned at Kirandich Dam, 30 kilometres away in July 2015 on the eve of his wedding.

The deceased, John Mwangi, had gone on an expedition at the scenic dam together with his friend but his car plunged in to the dam.

According to his friend, Mr David Mungai, who survived the incident, the groom was reversing his car when the incident occurred.

The divers led by Philip Kemboi however called on the county government to consider hiring them so as to save lives.

The latest drowning at the killer dam with a capacity of 3.7 million cubic litres is on 12th February this year where a swimming expedition turned tragic after a man drowned.

The deceased, Paul Njukia Karugu, 25, who was a saw miller at Kituro village is said to have together with his friends, went to swim at the famous dam but drowned in the process.

A somber mood engulfed the area as villagers thronged the mega dam to search for the missing body. It took two days for the deceased’s body to be recovered forcing the county government and his family to seek the daring divers’ services.

The divers also assisted in the recovery of bodies of three chopper victims in Lake Nakuru in November last year. Bodies of the two chopper crash victims are yet to be recovered to date.

The victims were headed for a political rally in Narok when the chopper developed some mechanical problem and plunged into the lake.

Indeed, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) has recognised the rare talent of the divers with one of them being enlisted into the military in 2014.

Mr Meshack Kiprotich Kenei, 24, turned up for recruitment exercise at Kabarnet Stadium in Baringo Central Sub-County to try his luck with two of his colleagues.

The officers had made a stopover on their way to the recruitment exercise and were impressed by the divers' talent and encouraged them to try their luck.

Luck came knocking for the divers in 2015 again after four of them were enlisted to join the Kenya Police.

“We are in the process of registering our group and getting insurance cover for every member,” said Mr Korir.

The youth are optimistic that some of them will also be considered during this year's KDF recruitment exercise set to be held in Baringo County.

The divers have called on the devolved unit to offer them incentives including assisting them register with the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF).

“We also request the county government to set up an office for us to coordinate our rescue operations. We've saved many lives and we should be rewarded for our efforts,” the divers’ team leader Philip Kemboi said.

The 14 divers also train other youth who have cleared high school to join the group which has assisted them to keep off harmful activities like drug abuse and other social ills in the society.

Girls have not been left behind in diving either with one daring lady Jepkemboi Kipchumba joining the group. She also supplements by selling refreshments and fruits to visitors.

The divers disclosed that December holidays is the high season for them where they earn up to Sh70,000 in one day.

The initiative has assisted the youth live a decent life and cater for their families and siblings.

They however cited lack of proper equipment in rescue missions as a major challenge they are grappling with.

“This job is very risky. We sometimes sustain injuries in the line of duty but due to lack of an insurance scheme we incur a lot on medical expenses,”said Mr Kemboi.

The job is not for the feign-hearted with the divers sometimes being called to retrieve bodies which have over stayed in water.

“Sometimes we've to retrieve bodies which are in a very bad state after overstaying in water yet we lack specialized equipment like gloves. We witnessed this in Nandi County recently,” said Mr Korir.

The youth have called on the county government to also consider them for employment opportunities.