Teenagers dive into business at historic gorge
By LEONARD KULEI
Four of the eight secondary school students who dive for a fee at the Cheploch Gorge. PHOTO: CORTESY
As they stand shoulder to shoulder, ready for the next assignment, their flat and bare bellies move in unison and their red eyes tell of frequent swimming excursions in the brown waters below.
One by one, they step forward and, as if bidding the exhilarated crowd present goodbye, they lift both hands in the air and plunge down the five-metre gorge. Every one watching is mesmerised.
As they hit the water below and disappear beneath the surface, the crowd hold its breath as if expecting the worst.
After about 45 seconds of bubbles, the daredevil divers resurface several metres away from where they vanished into the water. There is a collective sigh of relief from the spectators, who give a rousing round of applause.
The eight divers are teenagers who make a living from diving into the dangerous waters of River Kerio at the historic Cheploch Gorge in Ainabmoi in Baringo County for a fee.
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Cheploch Gorge, a popular excursion destination for high school students and local tourists, is a three-metre crack in hard rock whose depth is still a matter of research.
“I cannot estimate the depth of this river. It is very deep, maybe more than 70 feet,” says Alex Kiptoroto, one of the divers.
The walls of the gorge comprise smooth rocks that compress the enormous volumes of water from the Elgeyo/Marakwet escarpments, letting them out in whirling pressure at the point where the teenagers dive.
The boys, all below 17 years, wake up every morning and instead of idling along shop verandahs like other youths their age, head out to Cheploch to showcase their prowess for a fee.
Their mission is well spelled out as they lean on the rails along the road patiently waiting for prospective customers while holding a poster reading, “Kerio Divers. Just pay Sh100 and watch.”
Timothy Tubei, 16, says he began diving in Kerio River when he was just 10 years old. But he decided to turn his talent into a business to get pocket money when he joined secondary school as his parents were struggling to pay his fees.
Tubei, a Form Two student at Kituro High School, later invited his childhood friends to join him in the venture.
“This could be a very profitable venture if we had the support of the county government and local leaders. We entertain many people, but most of them dupe us into swimming first and then walk away without paying us,” says Tubei.
Nicholas Kiplimo, 14, says they have always wanted to make their venture even bigger, but lack swimming costumes.
“We swim in our school shorts and other clothes not designed for the activity. There are eight of us in the group and the money we earn in a single day is too little to buy swimming costumes,” says Kiplimo.
He is, however, happy that he gets enough to buy books and other school items. On a good day, each member of the group goes home with at least Sh2,000.
“At least I can raise money to buy set books and novels, and have some pocket money. I love reading novels,” adds Kiplimo.
The youths swim not only to make a living but also offer their services free of charge whenever people touring the gorge fall into the crocodile-infested river.
“Last week, I saved two foreign tourists who slid and fell into the raging waters while taking photographs at the gorge. And last December, we rescued a man who had fallen into the river,” says Andrew Kiprop, another diver.
On whether they are risking life and limb by swimming in the crocodile-infested river, the youths say the reptiles are usually too scared to attack because of the frequent storms.
“We have learnt over time that crocodiles don’t attack when they is a lot of movement in the water,” says Evans Tarus.
The crocodile-infested Kerio River is frequented by thousands of local and foreign tourists every December. The county government, however, has no established mechanisms for collecting taxes from the site.
A local investor is currently putting up a multi-million shilling tourist resort along the gorge, adjacent to the spot where local artistes, including award-winning Kalenjin gospel singer Emmy Kosgey, have shot their music videos.
Baringo County, which is endowed with breathtaking sites ranging from the mystical Lake Bogoria and flamingoes in Lake Baringo, to the picturesque Lake Kamnarok, is a still sleeping tourist giant in the region.
Residents are worried that the county government is yet to tap into this rich tourist potential to accelerate the region’s development eight months since assuming office.
“The county government should use its tourist potential to bring together all the communities living in Baringo County and end the rampant insecurity.
“They should wake up to this fact instead of engaging in politicking and other activities that do not benefit the residents,” says Chris Mang’oli, a local tourist.
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Teenagers dive historic gorge