Dispatches from the Rift Valley: From Longonot to Manyara

Posted on 16 April 2012

It’s a relief, nobody hurt or killed, no Land Rover breakdowns – just too many AK’s and cattle wars and the sad situation where a group of adventurers like ourselves had been killed and others kidnapped up in Ethiopia’s Danakil on the Horn of Africa where we had recently been – now closed to all travellers. Adventure, it seems, is all about windows of opportunity.

Behind us now is Djibouti, the Red Sea’s Gulf of Tadjora, the blinding salt flats of Lake Assal, lowest land point in Africa, ‘Deset’, the lowest island on earth, the lava spewing active volcano of Erta Ale, the Danakil Desert, and Dallol in the Danakil Depression, considered the hottest place on earth. Also behind us is the ancient walled city of Harar and the beautiful Ethiopian Rift Valley lakes that brought us South, like jewels in a necklace, to Lakes Chew Bahir, the Ocean of Salt, and Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake. To add to the symbolic Rift Valley calabash we are carrying from the Horn of Africa to Gorongosa in Mozambique, we have now added sipfulls of water from the Kenyan Rift Valley lakes of Baringa, Bogoria, Nakuru, Elmentata and Naivasha.

Sometimes the planning and research is as exciting as being on expedition itself. The next Rift Valley leg will take us from the volcanic rim of Longonot, then through Hells Gate to follow the shorelines of Lakes Mgadi and Natron, then a climb up the active volcano of Ol Doinya Lengai, the Maasai ‘Mountain of God’ that towers above the East African Rift Valley in Northern Tanzania. Following the Rift it’s on to the elephants and tree climbing lions of Lake Manyara, down into the World Heritage Site of Ngorongoro, a Garden of Eden of wildlife within the largest intact caldera in the world. This chapter will end at Lake Eyasi, home to the Wahadzabe tribe of hunter-gatherers.

On this leg we are joined by big Eric Vorster from Land Rover Menlyn. Eric has travelled with us before and understands the challenges of expedition life. Sergio Fernandes from Sabco is assisting with the Kenyan leg and Seven Summiter Mike Nixon is mountain biking this fascinating chapter. Lumbaye Lenguru is the Maasai interpreter and Brad Hanson will be assisting us in Tanzania. Throughout, the team will be continuing with the humanitarian work attached to the expedition. We’ve had great support from Land Rover in Nairobi and the expedition Landies are serviced and ready to go. Lots to look forward to.

Herewith the latest scribbles from the expedition journal:

 An Expedition Mascot

The little fellow is up for it again. Ross’s son, 11 year old Tristan Holgate has been chosen to join up for Chapter 3 of the expedition. It is important that we keep it in the family, says granddad Kingsley, the ‘Greybeard of Adventure’ known to Tristan as Pops. The young adventurer has already sailed Africa’s East Coast in a traditional Swahili dhow and regularly served as ‘expedition mascot’ on the recent Holgate odyssey to track the outline of Africa. Tristan’s first Rift Valley challenge will be to climb to the crater rim of Longonot.

To the Rim of the Crater We bid kwaheri to the Fernandes family, our delightful hosts in Nairobi. Everywhere in Africa the support form our fellow countrymen is heart warming. It makes us proud to be South African. One Landy behind the other we drop down over the Ngong Hills back into the Great African Rift. The track takes us through choking red dust and Maasai manyattas. Our challenge is to climb to the crater rim on Mount Longonot.

“Baby steps will get you to the lim of the clater” says Gabriel our cheerful guide who transposes his ‘l’s and ‘r’s. The slog of climbing to the crater rim of Mount Longonot is well worth it. Stretching between the walls of the east and west escarpments is an endless view over this part of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. Below us giraffe and zebra make their way across the plains that run down to Lake Naivasha. We gaze south towards Lakes Magadi, Natron and Manyara. The Rift Valley seems endless, so many challenges ahead.

Boulder-hopping down Kenya’s Rift It’s tough going but to be true to the journey, some of the team now led by local Maasai age, set warriors, must scramble down the two thousand meter high rugged Nguruman escarpment that forms the Western wall of the Rift, leaving the Landy crew to boulder hop down a cattle-smuggling route to the flamingo-lined edge of Lake Natron. We all meet at a remote village for more Right to Site, LifeStraws and Mozzie net distribution. Rich in wildlife and traditional Maasai culture, this part of the Rift is Kenya’s most challenging.

It’s very dry. Through the stifling heat haze we make out the shapes of Maasai giraffe, wildebeest, Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelle, kicking up dust as they slowly make their way across the Rift Valley floor to drink from the brown waters of the Ewaso Ngiro.

Using the point of a Maasai spear, Ross draws a map in the sand. We’ll take a dirt track out of the Rift, stamp into Tanzania at Namanga, then West across Maasailand to set up a base camp to prepare for the challenging accent of Ol Doinya L’engai, Maasai ‘Mountain of God’, the only active carbonate volcano in the world – life’s a great adventure isn’t it?

Mountain of God

Great news! Climbing through the night and the wind and the cold, expedition team members Ross Holgate, Mike Nixon, William Gwebu, Eric Vorster and guide Burra Ammy all made it to the crater rim of Ol Doinya L’engai. All agreed it was bloody tough going but the sunrise views over the Great African Rift and Kilimanjaro to the east made the accent worthwhile. On various expeditions, United Against Malaria team members have succeeded in reaching the summits of Mt Mulanje, highest point in Central Africa, the Rwenzori Mountains of the Moon, Kilimanjaro, tallest freestanding mountain in the world and on this expedition the active volcanoes of Erta Ale, Mt Longonot in the Kenyan Rift and now Ol Doinya L’engai. As always it was great to have the experience of expedition member Mike who has climbed the highest peak in every one of the world’s seven continents. His comment was ‘tough going and potentially dangerous at times, especially as the Maasai have nicked the old mountain club steel pegs and ropes, obviously their need for cattle ropes and spear heads were greater than those crazy enough to tackle their ‘Mountain of God.’ ‘Toughest thing I’ve ever done,’ said Eric Vorster, the dealer principle from Land Rover Menlyn. Next we follow the Western Rift Valley escarpment to Lake Manyara where joined by the &Beyond Foundation we will continue with our humanitarian work.

We reach the Rift Valley village of Mto wa Mbu (Mosquito Creek). The Mgubwe, Iraqw, Gorowa, Irangi, Tatoga, Chagga and Maasai have used Mto wa Mbu as a trading post for centuries and it’s probably the only place in the Rift where you can hear the four major African language groups of Bantu, Khoisan, Cushitic and Nilotic spoken in the same area. Here we say cheers to Mike and Eric. Mike who has mountain biked the Rift Valley with us is off to race in the Cape Epic. Eric from Land Rover Menlyn has sponsored the big Land Rover 130 Defender, known as the United Against Malaria mother ship. We’ll miss their good humour around the campfire at night, sharing the stories of the day with a ‘Captain’ or two, but they’ll be back to support more Rift Valley chapters. Taking their place are United Against Malaria warriors Lumbaye Lenguru and Brad Hansen, both are experienced adventurers who as always bring added energy and excitement to this world first geographic and humanitarian journey to complete Africa’s Great Rift from the Red Sea to Mozambique.

Lake Manyara – a Garden of Eden

This national park situated in a shallow depression at the base of the Western wall of the East African Rift Valley, is an example of what more of the Rift would look like without the interference of man and their livestock. It’s a game-filled forested ‘Garden of Eden’ that runs down to a lake shore filled with birdlife. Elephant are plentiful and it’s a great place to view Manyara’s tree climbing lions. ‘More baboons here than any other park,’ explains Brad who runs his own safari company out of Arusha and knows this part of the Rift like the back of his hand. With a big ‘dagga boy’ buffalo giving him the evil eye, Lumbaye Lenguru adds a ‘sipfull’ of water to the Rift Valley calabash, this time taken from the lake’s hot springs at Maji Moto. &Beyond, our United Against Malaria partners host us to a night of luxury at ‘Tree Lodge’ – crisp clean sheets, hot showers, ice in the drinks, fluffy towels and the bark of leopard at light. I toss and turn, must be missing the bed roll! Will keep you posted.

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