I just love Kenya, often termed a land of contrasts. Very few countries on earth combine the allure of sandy beaches, inviting snow-capped mountains, and sweltering deserts – all accessible in a single day!
Take the Great Rift Valley for example. If you paid attention to your Geography teacher, you may recall that Rift Valley was formed when the core of the earth heaved and sighed millions of years ago because of volcanic activity. So vast is the valley that it is visible from space, running from Lebanon in the Middle East to Mozambique on the southern part of Africa.
Many people are fascinated by the expanse of the plains within the Rift Valley. Then there are the lakes such as Nakuru, Naivasha, Elementaita and Magadi that act as magnets, drawing thousands of nature enthusiasts like moths to the fire.
Away from this beaten path lies another piece of the rift. Certain parts of Central and North Rift have remained largely unexplored when it comes to tourism. Yet they contain unrivalled beauty that cannot be categorised in the aforementioned stereotypes.
Nakuru to Kabarak
Let us begin our trip from Nakuru towards Kabarak. Rich farmlands punctuate the route. Healthy cows can be seen in bomas near the road. Past Kabarak, however, the terrain is bleak. It may not look like your preferred destination, or so it seems. Still, in this harsh landscape, towards Lake Bogoria lies Lake Bogoria Spa, a true diamond in the rough.
We get here at dusk, tired and exhausted from the long drive from Nairobi. Tugen dancers energised from generous helpings of mursik stamp the ground in their rhythmic dance, the sound of their feet reverberating throughout the dining area. It is here that I also got to taste the specially prepared sour milk – a favourite for Kenyan athletes returning home after their legendary exploits abroad – for the first time.
The stench and the beauty
Early the next morning, we spent some time exploring the nearby Lake Bogoria. The lake is set on the bottom of the 600 metres Ngendelel Escarpment. Bogoria lacks an outlet, and the high alkalinity in the lake has been a factor in the propagation of the blue-green algae that is at the core of the lake’s global fame. Still, the stench from the algae is enough to make you puke.
You may hate this algae all you want but it is the staple diet of flamingos dotting the late – though during our visit, the numbers were low due to rising water levels leading to diluted food source. But did you know that this algae is not only the flamingos’ food but the source of their vibrant pink colour?
The algae contain beta-carotene, or aqueous bacteria with a reddish-orange pigment. This is dissolved in the birds’ fat and then deposited in the feathers and as the birds grow, their colour slowly shifts to pink. Got it? A well-fed flamingo with a deeper shade of pink makes for a desirable mate. Conversely, a pale bird may spend many more days in the singles club. In the flamingo world, you are what you eat! We leave Bogoria at midday but not before exploring the famed hot springs.
Sights of fluorspar
We take the vertical ascent towards Kabarnet, the air getting cooler by the minute. Kabarnet town is set on a hill, one side overlooking the Iten escarpment. Ahead of us lies Kerio Valley, perhaps one of the most scenic locations in Kenya. This was a learning trip, remember? If your primary school teacher ever told you that Kenya produces a particular mineral called fluorspar, well, this is where the mines are. But as I stood there gazing in awe, I thought little of what the mineral has to do with my life. All I wanted was to watch nature at its best.
Glorious Kabarnet-Iten road
If the landscape does not stir your emotions, then the Kabarnet-Iten Road will. The road must have been designed by the best engineers available. To minimise the gradient, the contractors simply made numerous twists and turns, coils upon coils of tarmac meandering all the way to the bottom of the valley. All they just wanted was a road, but the winding route has become a sort of a tourist attraction.
We get to Eldoret just before dusk having enjoyed the hidden gems of the “other” Rift Valley.