Tuesday 7 August

(magnify) Edge of the Rift Valley

A steeply sloping night – I have to haul myself back up to the top of the camp bed several times. It is cold as well.

In the morning I look out across the valley to see a beautiful pink dawn light in the sky, boldly contrasting with the yellow of the acacia trees below.

Packing the donkeys this morning is much quicker than before. The Maasai allow us to help strike camp so we are not left standing around feeling quite as useless as yesterday. Already it is getting rather warm.

(magnify) Descent into the Rift Valley

We descend for most of the morning along a trail of grey volcanic dust kicked up by our feet, blown around by the breeze and very soon coating every available surface. It is now extremely hot – only the breeze makes it bearable. Oldonyo Lengai is ever-present on our right as we descend towards the rift valley floor down a gently sloping ridge. A recent lava flow scars the hillside, stopping just short of a small village of just four or five houses.

We ask Francis whether the people who live here are getting ready to leave in case of an eruption. “Oh no, they have lived here for all their lives. They believe that the mountain will look after them.”

(magnify) Oldonyo Lengai and weaver birds’ nests

We reach the trail-head a little before midday, where we sit on the parched grass in full sun to wait for Nimrod with our Land Cruiser. After a very hot – but not excessively long – wait, we hear the engine of an approaching vehicle. Unfortunately it is not Nimrod – it’s the other driver with the Land Rover. It seems that Nimrod has taken a wrong turning. The driver goes off to look for him.

The Maasai don’t seem to be terribly perturbed by the delay, but Rachel is visibly wilting in the heat. Finally Nimrod arrives and we drive away along a dusty track across the stony desert plain. We pass a Maasai village and I wonder how on earth they can eke out an existence here?

We turn left onto the main road (still a dirt track) and approach Natron Camp. One of the staff meets us and shows us to a safari-style tent. The floor is raised on wooden stilts and there is a large double bed with mosquito net in the middle. Round the back is the bathroom. It is all rather more upmarket than we had expected.

We sit down to eat our packed lunches on the veranda. As we are eating, the floor unexpectedly begins to wobble backwards and forwards, as if something very heavy had collided with back of the building. We look around for the cause, but see nothing.

After lunch we go to ask if we can switch to a twin room, which is arranged efficiently. I go off to tell Nimrod that we have moved while Rachel takes a shower.

We are in a proper safari-tented camp in a huge tent with a veranda, big beds, some furniture, and a bathroom – luxury! It has been very nice to get clean. I hadn’t quite realised how dusty I and everything else had become.

Waiting for the washing to dry (photo: RS)

I find Nimrod, who tells me that the optional walk to the waterfall tomorrow is cancelled because of the danger of falling rocks caused by earth tremors, like the one that struck while we were eating lunch. I’m quite disappointed, but we don’t really have a choice. (On the other hand I am quite excited to have experienced my first earth tremor.) The lake and the village walk are still on though.

Back at the tent we both get some washing done. It is searingly hot and the washing dries in no time. The campsite is not terribly big and is quite well shaded. A network of pathways link the tents, the resturant/bar, which is under a thatched roof, and a somewhat grubby-looking swimming pool.

(magnify) The town of Engaresero

Later as it is getting cooler, Francis and Ryan take us for a walk a short way down the road to the town of Engaresero. A shaded, dusty road leads alongside a small river where some women have set up a line of stalls selling trinkets. Francis and Ryan stop to exchange greetings with many of the people that we pass on the way.

We cross a shallow ford and then ascend a short rise into the town itself. The town is an important trading centre. It looks like a stereotypical “outpost” town – a wide dusty street lined with wooden houses, many open at the front. There are many people milling around but there is no great sense of urgency about anything. A painted tractor tire advertises “Puncher Repare”.

(magnify) Rachel carries Anna’s wood

On the way back we met Anna again, a girl aged about ten or so who had befriended us outside the camp earlier on in the afternoon. This time she was with her grandfather and she was carrying a huge pile of wood using a length of leather on her head. We walked alongside them. She let me take her picture, then I decided to cause a stir by asking if I could carry her wood. I was allowed – it was very heavy and not very comfy to manage. I felt embarassed that a little girl of ten could do it so seemingly effortlessly. We walked like that – I carrying the wood and holding her hand – until the camp entrance and then said goodbye.

Back at the campsite, we eat a decent dinner in the restaurant, and then watch bats that are feasting off the cloud of insects that has gathered around the porch light.