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.
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.
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.