The first feeling when you reach the top of Mt Ololokwe — some kilometres off the road to Marsabit, after Archer's Post — is awe. The sense of wonder is inspired by the scenery that lies before you, from the vantage-point of the giant cliffs at the edge of the mountain. The cliffs overlook the rugged view of the Samburu plains and the world beyond. And there is more.
From Ololokwe's peaks, everything below appears tiny; the long tarmac road from Archer's Post towards northern Kenya looks like a bold dark line on a map, or a silhouette of a giant snake hiding its head behind boulders, and the cars seem like moving toys on a model town board.
The sheer vertical drop from the ledge to the valley below is frightening, and could possibly inspire height-induced vertigo — that dizzying feeling that people get when they are in an open space far off the ground.
The wind sighed softly. It had a calming effect, crowning the other feeling of accomplishment among us, the tourists arriving to this place. It was not an easy feat, climbing the rocky and scrub terrain for hours from the Sabache Camp at the base of the mountain in the searing mid-morning to afternoon October heat.
Ololokwe is relatively flat at the top, so we lay down to rest and soak in the sights and the cool atmosphere before beginning our descent. A committee of vultures soared above us, perhaps peering beneath the valley for carrion, or a suicidal animal falling from above. There are signs of animals, both wild and domestic, at the top of the table mountain. The presence of elephant dung at the peak is particularly puzzling.
A little after we arrived here, Eric Mbuthia, a fellow hiker, called out like he'd seen a sign: "Come see this, you won't believe it!" I looked behind. So did others; Bilha, Lucy and Philip.
Eric was holding a phone, taking pictures of what we were seeing in front of us. Bilha and Lucy rose to see what he had captured; the images of our backs silhouetted against the rugged landscapes in the distance.
At the mountaintop, the scenes are a feast for any landscape photographer and Eric — a self-confessed budding photographer in the alternate life away from his daily medical practice — was our unofficial photographer.
At a lesser peak earlier on, we had watched with admiration and awe (again), as fellow hiker Caroline Kibor get engaged to a Maasai warrior, in a mountain-inspired betrothal. But it was all for fun. Caroline was happy as she looked at this man wearing a green-and-red shuka and a rungu by his side. The man gave beaded items to formalise the "union" amid ululations from the rest of the group, the sounds of which reverberated across the mountain. The mock engagement birthed a "Caroline Mwema" — Mwema being the first name of the Maasai warrior, cum groom, cum tour guide.
Way before this trek to Ololokwe, Shiwan Adventures, our trip organiser, had marketed this place as a must-go-and-experience adventure, and a chance to give back to the society. He billed it as a "hike with a purpose." It would be a moment to engage and bond with the local community, and get a chance to make donations of clothes, shoes, food and other items.
I imagined before arriving here that I would find hordes of people, in their settlements, or in some other settlements where we would mingle. I found none of that. Except at the Sabache camp, the people were few and far between. In the vast Samburu countryside, I saw a few children peer at us innocently while standing in front of their dwelling behind a thicket as we traversed their land. At another point, I saw two men clad in shuka and who carried guns. I saw lots of camels browsing on the almost-bare vegetation. Even when our air-conditioned tour van got stuck in the sand tracks and we had to stop for a while to pull it out, we never encountered a stranger.
Some hikers had wandered off the trails and had encounters with two residents, who were naked.
It was probably because this valley and nearby Suguta Valley, which we could view from the mountaintop, are very hot.
Everyone wanted to take a bath at the camp. My skin was a clammy mix of sweat and dirt and I was quite thirsty. There is water that springs from the mountaintop — and then disappears into the rocks. Our guide had encouraged us to drink and he took copious amounts of it, even though the water looks greenish and smells, possibly, of elephant dung.
It was late evening and darkness was approaching by the time we got back at the base, and the environment was uncomfortably warm. Thankfully, the excess warmth in the atmosphere made the tepid water that was dripping from the showers a little soothing and relaxing — washing away the grime and exhaustion.
There was another reason why the shower was a must-take. Many of us had skipped bath for at least a day, having spent the previous night many kilometres away from this camp, at the base of Mt Kenya. At Sirimon Camp, the night and morning had been very cold and it was naturally inconvenient to bathe, especially with everything there being makeshift infrastructure. Sabache was a contrast. It had permanent shower rooms. The rooms may have had no lighting at night, perhaps deliberately, but it was all good.
That evening, after the shower, we would return to Sirimon for another night in the cold. We spent the night away seated around a campfire, regaling stories of the day, of life, and of make-believe tales of fun — including Caroline’s whirlwind betrothal at the mountain. We danced to the tunes of Mugithi and other music pumping from Bluetooth speakers.
By the wee hours of the morning, the batteries were dying and the embers from the bonfire had stopped glowing. It was time to get back to the tents to sleep.