HISTORICAL TRAIL ACROSS THE RIFT VALLEY OPENED FOR TOURISM
On the 9th of February 2011, five trekkers completed a 7 day 155km walk across the Great Rift Valley in the official inauguration of the Trans-Rift Trail. The trail is a traditionally used path that at times is only one foot wide, in other places as wide as a road, which connects the communities and villages right across the Great Rift Valley. This is the route that Africa’s great explorers used as they searched for the source of the Nile including James Hannington, Joseph Thompson, and Count Teleki von Szek.
The expedition was the brain child of William Kimosop the Chief warden of Lake Bogoria National Reserve.
“For the last fifteen years I have been thinking of how I can use this old treasure to create a new and unique tourist attraction that will propel the North Rift into the list of Kenya’s top tourist destinations”, said Mr. William Kimosop, a senior warden and the Director of the expedition.
The Trail is also known as the, Old African Highway. It is a foot highway that has been used by local communities for many hundreds or thousands of years for trading. It runs through some of Kenya’s most spectacular countryside, from Mochongoi on the Laikipia plateau, the trekkers scaled down the escarpment and stayed at the freshwater oasis at Emsos village. Then they hiked along the shores of the flamingo laced and boiling hot springs of Lake Bogoria, and cut across the scorching rift valley floor to Maji Moto. After swimming in giant pools of hot spring water and staying in the community bandas, the trekkers started the long hike up the Tugen Hills into the cool forests with spectacular views of the next leg – the searingly hot Kerio Valley. The trekkers crossed the Kerio River and then scaled the massive Keiyo escarpment rising to oxygen depleted altitude of 9,800ft to celebrate at Chororget. The trekkers described the experience as life changing, they camped, slept under the stars, stayed in villages, learned from elders, explored gorges, and swam in hot springs among had many other adventures.
“Due to the fact that it runs right across the Rift Valley, I have christened it The Trans Rift Trail”, adds Mr. Kimosop.
To prepare the community for tourism business Mr. Kimosop has trained 90 guides and set up a central hub at the Equator visitor center at Mogotio where bookings can be made and information and maps obtained. Some guides have special talents, Jackson does animal tracking over rocks, while one of the three female guides Ms. Esther Chepkerui, is an expert on herbal medicine.
The trail has significant conservation value as it crosses important wilderness areas, cutting across a variety of altitudes and habitats including the breeding grounds of the rare greater Kudu, a spectacular eland sized striped antelope with long backward pointing spiralling horns. This antelope is shy and elusive, but the communities know where they live and breed and are determined to protect the remaining herds. They have created two community sanctuaries Chuinea and Irong which connect the kudu home range to Lake Bogoria.
The Trans Rift Trail is the first real hiking trail in Kenya. It is set to compete with and attract users of the Euro Trail which runs from Czech Republic to Spain, the Inca Trail of South America, Appalachian Trail in the US and the just completed Trans Canadian Trail.
“Trans Rift Trail is a significant part of our Kenyan heritage and we appeal to the Government of Kenya through the Ministry of National Heritage, to declare this Trans Rift Trail, a National Heritage to preserve its historical importance for local traders, and can be developed as a tourist attraction”, said Dr. Paula Kahumbu, the Executive Director Kenya Land Conservation Trust (KLCT) and expedition leader. As a national heritage the trail will be protected from obstructive developments just as our road network is protected. National Heritage status will also make the trail available to be appreciated by all Kenyans as well as international visitors, while creating economic opportunities for the local communities.
The Trail can be done in a variety of ways; all it requires is a good degree of physical fitness. It can also be done in one 7 – 10 day stretch, or in short sections, on foot, on bicycle or even a wheel chair. Appropriate clothing is essential in the searing heat as Satya Dam, an Indian Mountain climber and polar explorer found out when lost his mountain climbing shoes after the soles melted in the 42 degree heat.
Despite or perhaps due to the physical challenges the expedition was a life changing experience.
“You will not know how vast and beautiful Kenya is unless you got out there and see it. It’s wow! It’s more like a reality TV show. You have to see it to believe it”, remarks Mr. Dominic Wanjihia, an alternative energy innovator, on reaching the end of the Trail.