SILAS (36)

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My guide Silas in the elephant caves

Declined… my demand to ride all the way up Mount Elgon is declined. The second highest park ranger in command refuses to let me ride up the mountain with my motorcycle. It is apparently illegal to enter any Kenyan national park by motorcycle or tricycle (tuc-tuc). I try to convince him, I even suggest a more informal solution to our problem, but the mans’ sincerity is unbreachable.

A bit later I notice with a whim of fear and shame the sticker of the “Kenya wildlife service” on his office door, stating that “bribery is illegal and to report any attempt” of it.

He leaves me, disappointed, clad in my motorcycle gear, and ready to go, at the entrance gate. The only alternative is to pay an equivalent of almost 120 dollars to ride with the park 4wd to the end of the road up mount Elgon. Or I can visit the caves.

Still very disappointed, I decide to choose the second. The caves have to be visited with a guide. My guide for the day is Silas. We set off for a 22 km hike. We walk through the old tropical forest of mount Elgon national park. The park might be a bit disappointing if you’re looking for big animals, but there are plenty waterbucks, bushbucks, black-and-white colobus and blue monkeys.

Silas was born in this area. His tribe is related to the Masaï. They used to live inside the park but they were expelled in the nineteen sixties when the park was founded. The caves we are visiting were until then inhabited by different families. In one cave could live up to five families. That totals more than fifty people. Nowadays, fruit-eating bats inhabit the caves during daytime and salt liking elephants during the night. BBC made a documentary about it:

 

In between the cracks of the caves, there are a lot of bones from death buffalos, waterbucks,… . The cave is treacherous and in their search for salt a lot of animals loose their balance in the dark and as a consequence also their live.

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Kitum cave
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Kitum cave

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The caves are truly amazing and make you speechless. The Kitum cave (the one in the documentary) is even more than 160 metres deep. In between the wordless amazement Silas and I talk about different things.

We start with politics. Silas doesn’t really like current president, Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s founding father, Jomo Kenyatta. However the leaders of his tribe decided that every tribe member had to vote for him, so he did. He tells me that the different candidates seduce different tribes to win their votes.

Promising a new road, hospitals, a minister: winning the tribes’ vote can be done in several ways. The Kikuyu tribe remains the biggest in Kenya and so most likely they will deliver again the next president.

Another topic is male and female circumcision. Looks a bit odd to talk about but the caves we’re visiting were also used for these ceremonial purposes. Female circumcision has been completely banned since Kenya abolished this practice in 2011, but in a lot of remote villages it still continues. After our walk I give Silas a ride home on my motorcycle.

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Some kids in an old cornfield on my way to drop off Silas

As I’m packing to leave for Nairobi the next morning, Silas pops up on the camping site and asks me if I still want to climb to Koitoboss peak. A group of six Germans has come out of nowhere and they want to climb the mountain. I chip in a bit and I drive off with them with Silas as my guide.

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Silas, leading the way to the Koitoboss peak
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Koitoboss in the back, giant groundsels in the front

Silas tells me that Elgon used to be the biggest mountain in the world. Then, 15 million years ago it exploded. The base of the mountain still covers a very large area in Kenya and Uganda, but the summit was reduced by thousands of metres. The 4wd slides from left to right up the muddy road. We leave the old tropical and bamboo forest behind us, as we enter the bare moorlands. The views are amazing. The hike to the top is only 6 km and it doesn’t look that impressive, but the height and the ascent make it fairly difficult.

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mist around the peak is clearing for a second

Once on top, the clouds impede a complete panorama. I’m first on the top with Silas and the only thing you can hear is the wind. I really enjoyed those few minutes. It starts the hail while we descend and by the time we reach the 4wd I’m completely soaked. We reach the Chlorim gate by sunset. Because I don’t want to pay another park entrance fee for one night, Silas invites me to sleep in the offices of their guides cooperative. Office is a very big word, but there is a water tap nearby and somewhere a hole in the ground that serves as a bathroom, more than sufficient for me!

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On top of the peak with the Germans and our two guides

I have a very restless sleep. The park entrance is at an altitude of more than 2000 metres and it gives me very lucid dreams. Early in the morning I bid my farewell to Silas and to some of the park rangers. I set off to Kitale, riding on small country roads and enjoying the mist that still hangs in some of the little valleys.

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my room for the night
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beautiful morning, on my way to Kitale

I have some chocolate biscuits for breakfast.

A street vendor starts to admire my motorcycle I have a little chat with him and offer him a cookie. Without saying a word he leaves. After five minutes he comes back with an old magazine in his hands. “you have to stop eating sugar! I see that you are eating way to many cookies. That’s not good for your health. It’s all written down in this magazine! Trust me!” he says.

The magazine is called “diabetes”. I thank him for his concern and I give away the rest of the cookies to some kids. The vendor smiles and wishes me a safe trip. I’m touched by so much concern for my personal health and I ride off towards Nairobi.


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