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Hiking Ol Donyo Sabuk

Hiking has since time immemorial been used by the weary of heart and heavy of mind to relax and unwind, our writer goes up a hill to find out more

Njeri Maina @njerimainar

Ol Donyo Sabuk Park is just 40 minutes from Nairobi, and only a three-minute drive if you are staying at Beketa Holiday Camp. Ol Donyo Sabuk means ‘Great Mountain’ in Maasai, and the mountain referred to here is none other than Mt Kilimambogo. The mountain is named after the most sighted animal in the park, the buffalo.

Apart from buffalos, the park has aardvarks, antelopes, hares, leopards, bushbucks and baboons and many others. It is also home to numerous birds amongst them turacos, the white-browed sparrow weaver, grey-headed sparrow weaver, African pied wagtail, mourning dove, augur buzzard, African hawk eagle and purple-breasted sunbird and is a perfect choice for birding safaris.

The first time I hiked up the 9.2km to the summit of Mt Kilimambogo was early last year. The trek was well worth it, as on reaching the summit I immediately took advantage of the green picnic spot and started eating to replenish whatever I had lost on my way up, my defence being that I would lose it on my way down anyway.

Eating after hard treks seems counterintuitive, but it gives me life, so judge away! The second time I went up was sometime in March when I was accompanied by Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) officials and the head warden of Oldonyo Sabuk Park during an eastern circuit media trip. This time round, we cheated and used a car instead.

We stopped at the viewpoint where one has a scenic view of the surrounding towns and stopped again at Lord Macmillan’s, Lady Macmillan’s and their dog’s graveyard.

“Lord Macmillan wanted to be buried at the summit of Mt Kilimambogo. So after his death, his workers put his coffin on a tractor and started driving towards the summit. There was no road, it is very steep and the tractor gears failed here, and they decided to just bury him at that spot. They would later bury his wife, their dog and their nanny here,” Polycarp Okuku, the head warden explains.

Soon after, we get into the car and reach the summit after a few bumpy minutes. It is cooler and the grass is still as green as I remember it from my last visit. The fact that one can summit with a car means that kids can come and enjoy the space and frolic in the grass or sit in the open banda nearby. Entry into the park is Sh300 for adults and Sh215 for children. Foreigners pay Sh2,600 for adults or Sh1,700 for children.

Wooven hammok

After our motorised ‘hike’, we go back to Beketa Holiday Camp where a sumptuous dinner, a glorious campfire and warm beds await. Beketa is a holiday home near the park that seamlessly blends with its surroundings. There is a woven hammock outside, which is beautiful and Instagram-worthy. Meals are delicious and home cooked. One can either camp outside or occupy one of the bedrooms in the property.

After encountering buffalos, which stoke my irrational fear of being carried off by a buffalo despite reassurances that we are totally safe, I end up sleeping in one of the glass-walled bedrooms. I feel bad that June had prepared a warm and cosy tent outside for me. But the fact that I had at least stayed in the tent for a full 10 minutes firmly squelches the guilt.

I can see the stars from my room and name constellations till I fall asleep. I am woken up the following morning by the sunrise, which is filtering through the glass walls. My fellow journalists are already up and fighting over pancakes.

Mr Wambua and Jean, the proprietors of Beketa have a personalised pancake recipe. I will be back to pry the recipe out of them and do another motorised hike up Mt Kilimambogo. See you at the summit.

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