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Fording Rivers



by  Kate Dernocoeur, guest blogger

One special aspect of the Great Walk of Africa is that it is the only “boots on the ground” safari allowed in Tsavo National Park. It was just us: eight tourists, our guide (Alex), the walk’s founder (Iain Allen), and four Samburu protectors versus the entire wild world of remote Kenya. Our one hundred mile walk took us for four days along the final section of the muddy-brown Tsavo River  to where it joins the Athi River to become the wider, emerald-green Galana River for another six days’ walking parallel to the 40-mile Yatta Escarpment to the park’s east entrance.202



Much of what is possible in that place is defined by the rivers. Animals from the nykaa (meaning “scrubland”—and the source of the name Tanganikya) make regular pilgrimages to the water slake their thirst.



The predators are well-aware of this and often linger in the salt bush and other greenery edging the river, hoping for good hunting. 721


When startled, then, the animals know to run away from the river. And, of course, the rivers are populated by all manner of water-based creatures—including crocodiles and hippos.




To make the journey even more wild, Iain Allen and his Samburu headman, Mohammed (who has led each of the 65 Great Walks since they started in 1997), established much of the route on the north side of the Galana River, where there was no vehicle traffic. At all. Just us.

Heaven, I believe, is to be so remote that you can hear the sound of your own heartbeat.

Just one thing: it meant fording the river twice a day, once to begin the day’s hike, and then, at the end, to get back to camp!


In Africa, more so than here in my everyday world, things do lurk in the rivers. The way to ford the river, Iain taught us, was not to behave like a baboon. Baboons cross rivers by hopping from rock to rock. Hungry crocodiles know this, and are very adept at snatching them (and anyone acting like them—such as unwitting tourists) from midair. The crotchety, grumpy, feisty—and highly unpredictable—hippos, too, tend to turn on anyone who has the audacity to invade their territory. Actually, in all the Great Walks, hippos have posed the gravest dangers, and so we were all careful to obey when we encountered them.

So, in order to safely ford a river in Africa, Iain said, it’s best to behave like an elephant.


It’s darn near impossible to take down an elephant. Crocs know this, and so they don’t even try. Hippos, too. (Or so we were told.) This meant that every day we bared our soles, put on our river shoes, bunched together, and galumphed across as one, massive, elephantine blob.








The good news: no one got eaten!



Author Bio: Kate Dernocoeur is always thrilled to escape the predictabilities of everyday life for the unknown. Her feet are very loyal…but they do appreciate being put up after a long day in the hiking boots.

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Peggy DePersia
    Feb 10, 2014 Reply

    What an adventure, Kate. Such wonders to experience in our world yet.

  2. posted by
    marianne miller
    Feb 10, 2014 Reply

    Kate, great photos, vicarious adventure for me in the 63 degree sunshine, waves lapping 30 ft away in a predicatable condo in the FL panhandle…but reading The River of Doubt (Candice Millard) T. Roosevelt disasterous trip on the Amazon in 1917…a terrific read by a Natl Geographic editor and writer..makes it come alive!!

  3. posted by
    Judy Bereza
    Feb 11, 2014 Reply

    Oh my, Kate. I held my breath while reading your blog.
    Your adventure sounds amazing. Some day…..

  4. posted by
    Cuba: Decline and Decay | DesignDestinations
    Mar 25, 2014 Reply

    […] If you follow my weekly blog you know.  Sure some times guest bloggers jump in there to write about fording rivers in Africa, pretending to be elephants to scare off the alligators.  I like these contributions because the stories are interesting and it is fun to keep blog […]

  5. posted by
    Kati Boland
    Apr 9, 2015 Reply


    What a GREAT journey… you haven’t lost your touch, either for the journey or
    the story. Congratulations!


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