Sipi Falls are often touted as one of Uganda’s highlights, and they didn’t disappoint. There are three separate falls, pouring off Mount Elgon, going under the road and then over a rock arch with a sheer drop to the valley floor. Enterprising locals charge you an extortionate amount for approaching closer than about two hundred feet, but the view is better from further away anyway.
Heading over the border into Kenya, I paused in Eldoret long enough to check out the cheese factory (which also makes very good ice cream) and then pressed on to Nakuru and Menengai Crater (a huge extinct volcano). The road from Nakuru to Naivasha goes right through the Rift Valley, with spectacular views over the soda lakes and escarpments – possibly the only time that the incredibly slow speed of the matatu (minibus taxi) was a good thing.
Once safely ensconced at a Lake Naivasha campsite, I set about exploring the area in the most rewarding and eco-friendly way possible – by bicycle! The area is one of the few places where you can get about under your own steam as opposed to in a huge safari vehicle (which sadly does not deter the legions of tourists who zoom up in Toyota Land Cruisers), and the thriving bike hire business allows you to support the local economy a bit more as well. Unfortunately, the bike I got given on my first day had a non-adjustable saddle (actually, it was rusted to the frame) and I had to tool about with my knees up around my ears for the whole afternoon. Wasting no time, I pedalled out to the Crater Lake Game Sanctuary, a small volcanic crater filled with lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor), antelope and the odd buffalo. As I was walking around the rim, it looked like there were hundreds of flamingos hanging about at the water’s edge as well as in the centre. As I descended, however, and became assailed by the stench of carrion and the buzzing of flies, it transpired that they were all dead. Keeping a wary eye on the treeline (for leopards) and the shoreline (for crocodiles), I returned to the visitor centre and was told that the flamingos feed in Lake Naivasha, fly to the sanctuary to spend the night and die of delayed-action pollution effects. It remains to be seen whether this will affect the carrion-feeders.
On my second day in Naivasha, I managed to get a better bike (with working gears and full frame suspension), and went to check out the aptly-named Hell’s Gate National Park. This is a dramatic volcanic area, full of craggy cliffs, sulphur (take that IUPAC) outcrops, obsidian caves, gorges and steam venting out of cracks in the ground. The view is spoiled somewhat by a sprawling geothermal power plant (taking advantage of all the free heat), but on reflection it’s undoubtedly better than a coal-fired one. The roads were long and dusty, leading to plenty of skids on soft sand, but it was well worth it for the feeling of actually being outside and the car-free vistas.
As a convenient supply stop, I’m in Nairobi today – which, according to most guidebooks, enjoys the dubious reputation of being the most dangerous city in Africa. It doesn’t seem so bad, but I’m leaving tomorrow nonetheless. An American Peace Corps volunteer at my hostel bought a Trivial Pursuit game yesterday, and was understandably distraught to discover that it was the British edition, complete with numerous questions about football (soccer), cricket and Coronation Street.