Between Maai Mahiu on the floor of the Great Rift Valley and Ndeiya in Kiambu are a series of hills and rocky outcrops that form an outstanding, panoramic background. Motorists on the Nairobi-Maai Mahiu highway often get a glimpse of this view, as the road windingly descends along the escarpment.
The Maai Mahiu road, for some stretch, is like a ledge or a shelf carved on the rocks on the escarpment. Down below, from the road’s outer edge, is a view to behold. The sheer drop to the floor of the valley is hazy and on the horizon, the sky meets the earth.
The sights inspires awe, though for a motorist driving here for the first time, it can be overwhelming. Further on the road, a tiny Catholic church, built by Italian prisoners of war in 1942, stands by the roadside. It almost appears to have been hewn off the escarpment wall.
We arrive at the bottom of the valley, before Maai Mahiu town, fairly early in the morning to begin a trek across the valleys and hills to Ndeiya.
Our journey begins not so far off from the highway, because the tour van cannot hack through the rugged off-road to Namuncha. There are small pools of water that have not yet dried up this early July morning, from the last rains that hit this place.
We get off the bus and begin the trek, on an easy flat, murram road, which is almost becoming dusty as we move on. Thankfully, there are few vehicles on the road to raise dust clouds. There is little concern in any case, since the terrain is easy and the sun is yet to make its full presence felt.
Shiwan Adventures, the outdoor events agency taking us through the trek, told us it would be an easy trek. Nick is an affable man with an easy and noble mien, from my first outlook.
He is the agency’s lead host and one of the guides on the journey. He is still encouraging us as he did when we were still on the tour van; the basic message that sears into my mind is that the trek is not a competition. At this point, everyone is walking at his or her comfort level and it is a chance to mingle and learn from each other.
About three kilometres on, we were at the place that should have been the starting point. As if the kilometres already covered counted for nothing, we did warm-up exercises to begin the trek. Not too far from this place, the first ascent begun, a moderate terrain of loose rock and scrub up a hill named William.
William Hill was fairly easy but was just the beginning. There were many others on our trail that we did not even bother to learn their names. I however made a mental note of a hill I have heard before named Mount Margaret somewhere in this area, wondering why the hills had non-local identities.
The sun was shining now and gradually making us weary. We had expected an easy trek, though traversing through the wild grounds also offered chance to marvel and reflect on nature and life.
As we scaled the many hills, one would put all efforts to reach the peak and would find that the journey to another peak had only just began. The mini-summits were frustrating, especially when you were expecting this to be the end of your struggle.
However, the experience of making the effort and finding the strength to summit another peak was stunning and inspiring.
At the summit of William Hill, for instance, the land and farms below appeared like beautiful cartography, with each natural and manmade demarcation visible on the eye-view ‘map’. From the hills, the giant cracks on the ground that formed recently during the heavy rains were visible. The standard gauge railway piers and track clearance (for the railway line to Naivasha under construction) can also be seen from a distance.
From another peak, the valley below teemed with Maasai livestock and smoke billowed from the earth-mounds of burning charcoal, which was incredible given that the area barely has any vegetation cover except for the stunted ‘whistling thorn’ acacia scrub and little else. A herd of gazelles galloped in the valley. This is wild territory but human beings have clearly encroached on the land.
There were magical moments on the way, and more evidence of the wild. At the base of the one hill, a tortoise was trying to get away from the human incursion. It was quite the expert at camouflage as it appeared exactly like the many stones on the ground, until I noticed one of the “stones” shifting away. I recognised the reptile, seeing its head, and then its legs, and then examined them closely. Its limbs had rusty claws.
Muta, a colleague, lifted it up, and it gave a snake hiss-like sound. That sound can be horrifying when you are holding the animal, as I realised when I picked it up. The physiology behind that hiss, as I later learned, is quite fascinating.
Further up the hill, I encountered a bird lying on the ground, on the bare rocks.
I then crouched to take a better view but at this point it felt threatened and flew away, leaving on the bare ground two small white eggs.
At the end of the journey in Ndeiya, the hike had completely worn out most of us. We had all run out of drinking water, having only carried little for a moderate easy trek, which instead turned out to be a tough, magical hike.