Written by: Derek Cullen
It was just like any Saturday morning, I had been working on my laptop all week while camping alone next to hippos on the shores of Lake Naivasha, Kenya. Except the surroundings of my tent were now starting to become a little too familiar and I yearned for adventure. Having packed up the tent and all of my belongings, I decided to take a local minibus to a nearby national park where I would hike to the top of an imposing Mount Longonot.
However, things didn’t really work out the way I expected and upon meeting a local guide at the foot of Longonot, my mission to hike to the mountain summit suddenly became an expedition. Gabriel Kahinga and I decided to camp overnight in the forest which blanketed the crater floor. In truth, I was terrified and this was in no small part down to him repeatedly mentioning the words python, buffalo and leopard.
We carried five litres of water each, tents, meat, instant noodles and sleeping bags. Having hiked to the crater rim, we descended cautiously from the lowest point of the crater rim until we were suddenly faced with an immense forest which had seemed unassuming from up above. Gabriel pointed to a bees nest in the rocks, a sober reminder of a fatal incident in recent years when some visitors had disturbed a bee’s nest before falling into the crater.
Just knowing we were sitting around a campfire in the bottom of an ancient caldera was a fascinating feeling. It was a feeling I will never forget, a fleeting moment of mystery as we ate and moved closer to the fire with moonlight flickering between the branches above. We could have stayed up the entire night, we could have talked about the Western World and the one in which we were sitting, we could have laughed and joked about how ridiculous it was to choose this bizarre place as our home for the night, but with what sounded like the faint cry of a leopard cub, Gabriel stood up. It was time to retire to our tents for the night. Although a distinct silence surrounded us that night, it was cold and very unnerving to open the tent door anytime nature called.
The following morning, it took four hours to hike our way from one side of the crater to the other. At this point, I was far beyond my comfort zone but the adventure continued to throw up unexpected surprises. We hiked past the smoking remnants of volcanic activity, the skeleton of an unfortunate buffalo who had fallen from the crater from rim above and then alarmingly, the faeces and ominous claw marks of a leopard in nearby trees. “There is only one cat that we know of in the crater,” said Gabriel, before we continued onward in search of our way out.
Climbing out of the crater was terrifying but reaching the crater rim, we embraced each other while looking back down into a sprawling forest below and the intimidating nature of the crater. It had been a truly unique adventure infused with many experiences but none more so than the experience of spending time with a local who would lead the way into and then out of such a precarious place. Truth is, having left my lonesome camping spot in search of adventure the previous day, I found so much more than I could ever have expected, not the least of which was a new friend.