Day 4 and 5

(Continued from Day 3, Day 2, and Day 1)

A little after one in the morning, I awoke to the sound of whistling, blustering wind whipping around and blowing our tent.  “Oh no,” I thought, “Wind means more cold, more misery.  It could be stronger up there . . . I could get blown off of the side of the mountain. I could be on some slippery ridge and get blasted, lose my balance and fall.  Yes, I do believe I’m at a legitimate risk of dying. This is not good.  What would my mother say?”  I worried, fretted, and prayed over this for at least fifteen minutes before I firmly told myself just to sleep and worry later.  When our cell phone alarm rang out the alarm at 2:00AM the next morning, my first thought was “Oh NO! I am supposed to climb the mountain now. How am I going to do this?” The day before, Maina pointed out on the mountain face the route we would take to the top and I had looked on with some disbelief.  As I fought out of my sleeping bag, the cold air pricked me alive and sent my adrenaline pumping.  “One foot in front of the other Whitney,” I thought to myself repeating the motto Scott and I had discussed on the previous days, it would be the rule we would live by on this day.   I rallied myself as I hastily rolled up my sleeping bag, “You are so going to do this.  You’re at the top of the roller coaster and there’s now going back now.”

Scott moaned loudly as he rolled sideways out of his open sleeping bag.  He sat up on his knees and for a full minute violently rubbed his eyes with his knuckles, a sign that he was very tired.  “G’morning,” he mumbled ever positive and sweet.

In twenty minutes we had everything packed up.  Five minutes later we had on our fourth, outer layer of windbreaker pants, our winter coats and ponchos making our fifth and sixth top layers, and I was fiddling with a scarf.  Five minutes after that, we had both ventured outside our tent to relieve ourselves, shivering bared in the frozen-over, wind-whipped, ink black world outside.  With that, we were ready and went over to the kitchen tent for chai and popcorn, the energy that would sustain us up the mountain.

As we prepared to embark, Moses, our sweet cook, gave us each a juice box to carry and instructed us to “drink it in victory” on the way down.  It would just be Maina, Scott and I going to the summit.  The rest of the crew would climb up, 200 meters short of the summit, circumvent it, and meet us down on the other side for breakfast around 8:30AM.

At 2:55AM we slipped on our hats, tugged on an outer layer of gloves over our freshly opened hand-warmer packets, readjusted my day pack over my poncho for the third time, and flipped our head-lamps on.  We were ready.  We followed Maina out of the tent dimly lit by a kerosene lamp into utter darkness.

A small section of the immense, super black sky

The moonless heavens above gaped back at us infinite.  Stars and galaxies were flung far and wide in dense concentrations.  Though tired and scared, this outlandish display of cosmic beauty calmed my nerves as I remembered my sovereign God.  “He determines the number of the stars and calls each by name.” Ps. 147:4 rolled through my head as I glanced up in awe.

You care so much for your creation God that you name each star? Thank you for making it so beautiful!  It always brings me joy when I take the time to look. Sometimes I think it is a love letter.

“When I consider your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them?  Human beings that you care for them?” Ps. 8:3-4

Ooh!  I need this verse today! Indeed, your creation and power is BEYOND, is separate, utterly other, or “holy” as they say in Hebrew, as evidenced by the sky above and the mountain shadow before me, yet, YET, big, giant you stoop to care passionately for . . . me.  Will you please keep me safe up this mountain?  Will you give me strength to climb the mountain?  Thank you.  Thank you for your beauty, your Word, your strength, and your protection of this little lamb.

For an hour we walked on a slight incline, Scott and I occasionally talked and shared observances in fortified positivity.  Though I couldn’t see anything more than five feet in front of me, I knew from the route Maina pointed out the day before that we were crossing in front of the mountain, from the left to the right, during this one hour stretch.  Once that hour was up, we would start climbing up, and only up, on the right side of the mountain where the Lanana peak stood.

We crossed over paths of frozen water and I found the positive and thanked God that we were up early enough to cross them when they were frozen solid.  Wet shoes and socks were tolerable on days 1 and 2, but on this day they would be dangerous.  As we started our ascent up, I thanked God for the darkness, if I had been able to see, it would have been overwhelming.  Due to the steep slope, feet flexed up constantly were a must.  As I lifted a leg forward, gingerly planting my flexed foot in front of me on a hundred loose pebbles, my front leg would sometimes bend 90 degrees at the knee as I pushed up a vertical distance of a foot and a half and a forward distance of a foot.  Not every step was that steep, but all were steep enough that I had to be both careful and firm in all of my steps because otherwise the scree beneath my feet would roll and I would slide down the mountain.  Indeed, I didn’t see how it would be possible to safely make one’s way down this slope with all the loose pebbles.  When I asked Maina how people take the Naro Moru route down, he said they had no choice but to run down the mountain and slide skillfully on the scree.   I thought that was insane, giving me another reason to thank God, glad that we were not going down the Naro Moru route because I would surely break my neck.

We slogged slowly and steadily along, Maina setting a very deliberate and doable pace.  Silence reigned as there was not much to talk about and small talk would take our breath.  Time wore on, and despite our measured pace, we became tired, our breathing growing louder.   After what seemed like 45 minutes to an hour of our vertical climb, Maina finally stopped for a break.  Too scared to sit down and try to get back up again, we stood.  The break only lasted for a minute and no more, just long enough to catch our breath and slow our pulse, but not long enough to become cold.  Maina turned to face the mountain again and we continued crunching our way up the gravel, slow and steady.

There is not much to think about in a world that is dark, doing a task that is mundane, physically demanding, and yet requires a lot of focus with each step.  Due to the necessary focus and my tired body’s reminders, it was hard to think about anything else besides climbing.  As more time wore on, we began to see the outline of the ridge that we were climbing to before we would turn left and ascend to the summit.

We would climb, climb, climb, and then take a break when Maina heard our breathing grow loud.  Our brief, 30-second to a minute breaks became more frequent the higher we climbed and the thinner the air became.  Each break I would look up at the ridge and to my dismay, it never seemed to be getting any closer.  “When are we going to get there?!” my mind cried.  My mind and body were tired, all I could sustainably think about was climbing, and how it was hard.  When I did not steadily transfer my weight from one foot to the other, my foot would slip out from underneath me, rolling on the scree, and I would land on my hands and knees.  This happened a few times to all of us when we lost our focus.   In between the occasional slip or stop for a breathing break, silences grew long and my mind was left to wander to tired self-pity.  To make an effort to “think happy thoughts” and distract myself, I started to hum Amazing Grace in my head.  To my frustration, I consistently mixed together the second and third verse, could not recollect any of the fourth, and often jumped straight from the first verse to the fifth, which is my favorite.  This confusion of not being able to sing the song through correctly from start to finish actually helped to pass quite a bit of time, though I never did think of the fourth verse.

We followed Maina up, occasionally making five-foot wide zigzags when the incline was too steep.  We followed him through deep patches of loose scree that reminded me of the difficulty of trying to run or jump in loose, soft sand.  For every step forward, we slid a half a step back.

Eventually, I stopped trying to mark progress by looking at the “forever distant” ridge we were climbing to.  Instead, I would turn around and see how far away, way down below off to the right in that mammoth valley, would be the tiny light from Mackinder’s Camp, where we started that morning.  When that distance became too great and no longer tangible, I started look to the left, at the Batian and Nelion peaks, the two highest peaks of Mt. Kenya, and at Point Piggot and Point John, solitary lower peaks of Mount Kenya.  Slowly I could see gains of height on the peaks to my left until we seemed to be almost level Point John and Point Piggot.

Finally, after hours of climbing only up, we made a branch to our left crossing over large rocks at a relatively horizontal slope.  It felt amazing to leave the verticality and the scree behind!  Once the Austrian Hut (the hut technical climbers stay at before ascending the two tallest peaks) was in sight we knew we had made it to the top of the ridge!  We made a beeline for the hut, eager to take a more extended break and readjust our packs and outer layers.

Inside the hut it was dark and empty.  In fact, it was down right eerie to be at the top of a wind-whipped, snow-capped mountain in a hut that felt dark, abandoned, and so alone.  Despite the slight “haunted” feeling of the hut, Scott and I were able to relax.  We talked, shared our feelings and emotions thus far and thoughts on what was to come, and encouraged each other.  By the time Maina was ready, we were pumped up and ready for the last 200 meters of the 785 meters (2,576 feet) we would climb that morning.

We left the hut at 6:00AM when the first stripe of amber orange split the navy sky from the black earth.  The scree we had been battling on our way up was replaced with solid rock and ice-covered snow.  I was quite nervous to cross the snow in my worn running shoes that lacked traction. The first patch of icy snow we had to cross only had slight slopes down on either side, which made it somewhat less intimidating.  I took a deep breath and told myself that I am from South Dakota, thank you very much, and by golly I am a wicked good, snow walking pro.  I also told myself to be very careful because that is what my mom urged me to be the last time I had spoken with her.

I crossed the patch of snow with finesse and nary a problem.  Once Scott, who had taken the rear to watch out for me, had crossed we continued on across a dry patch until we reached a place that sloped more sharply down on either side of us and the only way to go was up, across rock and snow.  A cable drilled into the rock had been provided for climbers to hold onto in case one slipped.  I did as Maina demonstrated, loosely holding the cable in one hand as I made my way relatively easily over to him and Scott followed.

Daybreak approaching over clouds

Doing ok so far! Stopped to take these three pics before continuing on.

Mt. Kenya’s highest point, Bastian Peak, rising out of the shadows of night.

The next part was all over snow and you had to walk on a narrow ridge that was less than my foot’s width wide abutting a vertical rock face.  Clenching the cable this time, and using my free hand to grab onto any rock crevices that I could find for added stability, I made my way across the 15 foot long ridge.  I watched to make sure Scott made it safely and then I turned my attention back to what Maina was doing.   Next was another horizontal snow crossing, this time without a rock face to hold onto, with a cable, and a steep, maybe to your death-if-you-slip-drop, on the left side.

Oh dear, this is nuts.  Good thing my mom isn’t here to see this.

I took a deep breath, shot up a two-word prayer of “Help me!” and crossed to where Maina waited.  Next we turned to our right and climbed up rock and icy snow using a series of cables.  This proved to be very tricky and nerve-racking for me because nearly every time I placed my foot up on a rock or snow ledge to step up my poncho would get caught underneath my foot.  If I continued up with my poncho underneath my foot I would not be able to stand up straight (and you want to stand up straight when you are climbing steep, precarious rocks) and the poncho could also cause me to slip and fall . . . down.  Thus, with nearly every step I’d have to let go of the rock crevice or cable I was holding onto, reach down as calmly as I could, and tug my poncho out from underneath my foot.  The tension in my body and worry in my mind battled against the calm fortitude I was struggling to hold onto.   Meanwhile Scott below me was keeping a careful eye on me, silently panicking every time I stepped on my poncho.  There were no good places to stop on this stretch because each foothold necessitated taut muscles for stability so we had to continue monkeying our way up from one cable to the next.  I fought hard not to think or worry about anything but the simple, step-by-step, one move at a time, tasks in front of me.  If I had let my mind stray, my courage might have left me and I needed to stay calm.  By the time we reached a resting point, my mental strength was sapped and I was breathing harder than ever.

Oh. My. Goodness. This is nuts!  Did I say that already?  This is nuts.  But here I am.  Other people have done it.  I have to finish this now.  I cannot turn around and go back down what I just came up.  What happened to being able to walk up to this peak without any technical climbing?  I should totally have some sort of carabiner clip attached to a cable and myself right now. This is nuts!!  Breathe Whitney.  This is a chance to catch your breath, not hyperventilate.  Besides, you’ve never been a drama queen so don’t start acting like one now!  This really isn’t the time for that.  Put on your Tough Tomboy Whitney face one more time for just a little bit longer. You can do this. Channel your inner Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider confidence and show this mountain who is boss with style!

With a more calm, almost clear head, I (ahem, Lara Croft?) continued on after Maina with Scott following behind.  I got better at keeping my poncho in check and the climb became slightly less precarious with less ice-snow and bigger and better rock ledges to rest on.

Finally, my head popped over a rock and on the other side of it I saw not another rock, but the sunrise.  Eeeeek!  I was at the top!!  Clambering up I squealed to Scott that we had made it!  Oh what a relief!!!!

The view on the other side. Glorious!

Too pretty not to post two pictures of the same thing, right?

The view to the left, gray rock glowing red in early sun.

Further to the left

Bastian Peak aglow

Once he was up we made our way over to the very tippy-top point of the peak (where we were dismayed to find that one other person on a different route had just beaten us!) to declare our victory.  We had done it!  That morning had been the hardest climb that we had ever done, but we had succeeded.  Our bodies and our minds were pushed, but we overcame.  The sunrise view was a glorious recompense as we stood on top of mountains and worlds below.

We’re here!  Alive! At the top of Point Lenana!

Hello Sunshine!  Yippy!!!  I’m alive!

King and Queen of the World!

What? We have to get down now? I could do this all day!

Victors and champions we were.  We praised God for our safe journey thus far and were awed by the golden splendor stretching out before us.  His creation sang praises to our hearts (Psalm 148:1-5) and He was magnified as we stood on His mountain overlooking His earth.

In memory.

The softly lit beginning of Nithi Gorge on the Chogoria Route that awaited us.

The valley to the right, golden, pink, then purple clouds below.

Nithi Gorge silhouettes

After awhile it was time to start our trek back down and we had a lot of distance to cover.  In one day we were going to speed walk down the entire mountain, what took us three and a half days to climb up, we would go down in one.  The way off the summit onto the Chogoria route was much less scary than the Naru Moru route up, partly because there was no snow on the north face.

On our way down.  See the Nithi Gorge in the distance, slightly right of center?  Our breakfast point was just in front of the blue lakes on top of the cliff on the left of the valley.  We had a lot of ground to cover!

To my dismay, I did find that we would have to scamper down some scree.  The first few lengths Scott and Maina would run down and I would slowly, slowly pick my way down slipping and flailing every now and then.  I was so slow that I gave up on the scree, and just climbed down bigger, solid rocks to the right of the gravel.  It was faster, but not as fast as Scott and Maina running and sliding.

Maina on the small scree pebbles and me on the bigger, more stable, rocks

Slipping, sliding, flailing, and gasping!

A high, mountain lake

Nithi Gorge, slightly closer to breakfast!

We then came to big expanses of scree that would take me forever to get down so I knew I had to find a way that did not make me think I would slip and crack my head open on a rock.  So, what I did was crouch down over one foot (this way if I did tumble, I would not fall more than 6 inches to the ground) and place the other foot out in front of me as a guide/path smoother/balance keeper.  With that, I pushed off with my hands and down the mountain I skied!  A la this guy.

I had seen pictures before of handicapped Adaptive Skiers and took inspiration from them. Mimicking their style got me safely down the mountain with speed, I even passed Maina!

To turn to the right or to the left I just leaned and dragged my gloved hand in the ground on that side.  I don’t think Maina had ever seen anything like it because he looked at me with happy wonder as I passed him on my way down.

Barren, lifelessness at high altitude

Eventually the scree stopped and we walked on.

Life again! Plants, grass, and streams!

At this point I was a stream/creek/brook/river crossing pro.

Finally we stopped for breakfast and a much-needed rest around 8:45AM.  I think we stayed in that spot for at least an hour and it felt so good.  Scott and I stripped off two to three layers of clothing and reclined in the sun happy, relieved, and tired.

Our breakfast overlook. So nice to rest!

The view behind us. Bastian and Nelion peaks just to the left of center, and Point Lenana to the left of them. (The peak on the right of the picture looks like it might be as high as Lenana, it’s not!  It just looks that way because it is much closer than Point Lenana.)

After breakfast, Maina set a pace of a very swift walk and down the mountain strode.  He was so fast that we barely had time to take pictures and enjoy the ridiculous views of the Chogoria gorge with Lake Michaelson.  Since the path on Chogoria is often used and there actually is a path, we just let Maina go ahead of us whenever we needed to snap just one more picture.

Hello gorgeous.

Us and the valley, camera angle compliments of our guides artistic sensibilities.

Our first “up close” (as in, not from the top of Mt. Kenya) view of Lake Michaelson.

I swoon.

Oh la la! C’est Magnifique! (When I can’t express myself enough in English, I switch to French, I think it gives extra “Ummph” to what I am saying.  What do you think?)

Mt. Kenya makes an appearance (back right), clouds dapple the hills and valleys, and we walk on.

The valley downstream from Lake Michaelson. Cue Enya music.

This is my favorite flower in all of Kenya! Our guide said it is called Mackinder’s Flower (like the name of our campsite the night before) and it is his favorite too. You may also remember this flower from our Mt. Longonot hike.

Us! And God’s crazy-beautiful earth behind us!

Mmm. Mt. Kenya, Lake Michaelson (you can see just a slip of it), and the waterfall (Gates Falls I believe?) downstream of the lake.

Gates Falls

After another few hours, with no breaks to be had, we left the gorge behind and now below us were rolling hills.  Maina continued his impressively fast pace and my legs, though long, could not keep up with him and for the first time on the whole hike I became grumpy.  I was tired, my feet had blistered, my knees hurt from stomping on them as my body’s momentum carried me down and forward, I did not have the time to rest and take in all the views, I think my adrenaline had crashed, and I was tired!  Still, I was glad that day would be our last day of hiking and we hadn’t decided to split our descent up into two days because I really wanted to shower the next day and sleep in a real bed the next night!

Rolling hills, a different beauty

Finally around 1:30 we made it to our lunch location where I fell asleep on the grass and had to be woken up by Maina when it was time to press on.  Only two more hours of walking to go, and this time we would be walking on a dirt road, which made me really feel like we were close to the end.

On the bottom left of this picture you can see the dirt road we were walked on.

Beauty still reigning

This next part of our walk went well because Maina walked slightly slower and I could keep up with him and the scenery we passed through appealed to my eye and had me imagining different movie storylines being filmed there.

Walking through Time Keepers. These old trees, laden with moss/lichen, reminded me of a “Gone with the Wind” or “Pride and Prejudice” (Mr. Darcy’s grounds specifically) movie, or maybe a movie about a rich colonialist living in Africa at the turn of the century.

Around 4:30PM we made it to the Chogoria gate entrance and our campsite for the night.  We had hiked 50 miles over our four-day climb.  We had climbed to the summit at 4,985 meters (16,355 ft) and back down.  Exhausted, I went straight inside our tent and with the remaining sputters of my energy and undid our mats and sleeping bags before passing out until dinnertime.

At dinner, awed by how Moses and the crew were still working after a long day and carrying huge heavy packs the whole climb, I asked them if they were tired.  They assured me they were very exhausted and I was relieved not to feel inadequate, as I would have if I were the only one tired.  After dinner was done at 7:30 we went straight to bed as we had done the night before.  We slept all the way through the night and in the morning we just had chai as our gear was loaded on the car and then we were on our way.  Or so we thought.

Load ’em up and get ’em out!

All set to go! Complete with “thumbs up!”

As we drove away we finally spotted a live elephant! (red circle) Still glad we didn’t run into one on our hike though!

The road was beyond terrible. We had been told many times by our guide that this was The Worst Road and that proved to be the case when bumped along and smacked the earth breaking the metal bar that made the car turn left.

The driver and his co-driver tried to fix the problem, here they are going for a “test drive” while the rest of us follow behind on foot.

The “test drive” failed here when the car really had to turn left again. And so here we waited and waited for two hours.

Scott played games on our phone to pass the time.

While Scott was on our phone, I took random pictures to pass the time. Here is a picture of flower number 68.

Finally, our drivers’ colleagues arrived with another car! Let’s go! I want to shower soooooo bad!

Packed and ready! Complete with another “thumbs up!”

With this Land Rover we finally made it out of there and arrived in the town of Chogoria an hour and a half later.  Here we met our awesome driver Antony who had waited patiently for us.  We sped back to Nairobi, checked into the Hampton House, Scott let me have the first shower, and there I stayed for a very long time. The end.

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Day 3

(continued from Day 2 and Day 1)

Tent door glistening with sparkly frost in morning light.

The next morning I had to tug extra hard as I unzipped our tent door crackling though bits of ice and frost that had formed across our tent overnight.  The sunlit, sparkling, frosty tundra that met outside was beautiful though, and its stillness gave me a sense of peace and reassurance thereby boosting my will and strength and subduing my anxieties about what lay ahead.

The fresh morning air and sun on my skin brought new appreciation for this place.  I wandered with my camera, before anyone else had yet woken, and I found this guy slurping nectar. I snapped this picture and crept quietly up to him.

There you are. Gotcha! How is he supporting himself anyway?

After a full, warm, breakfast, we left our camp mid-morning and started climbing our way up through the basin of a wide valley bordered on our right by tall rocky cliffs.  Moving quickly, we worked to outpace the steadily encroaching clouds as they filled and engulfed the valley below us.  We had not yet even seen Mount Kenya and if we could beat the clouds, then we had a chance of seeing the top of Mount Kenya that morning.

Way down below us, off to the left, around the cliff, was our camp the night before. On the right you can see a layer of clouds climbing below the patch of blue sky.

Following various stream beds until they meandered off or disappeared into the earth at their source, we made our way up.  The land seemed to be barren tundra.  Every now and then we would cross over animal droppings belonging to a mountain cat or see a bird flit by.  As we continued on, the feeling that you were crossing over to inaccessible isolated land, where only few species could live, increased.  We were alone.  No one had been here for over six months.

Halfway to the top of the ridge we finally got our first view of Mt. Kenya.  Finally, our destination, and in some senses our foe, was revealed.

There she be!!

Super zoomed-in. Wow.  Our peak, that we would climb, was still hidden behind the two you see here.

Scott, with a giddy grin that didn’t leave his face the whole time Mt. Kenya was in view.

At the top of the ridge, looking back over where we had come from. I love the light on the slope of the far ridge in this photo.

At the top of the ridge I huddled next to Scott for warmth as we rested our legs, Mt. Kenya now obscured by a cloud, we could only peer down into the next valley before us.  There we could see strange plants that we had never seen before.  The most peculiar looking ones were Giant Groundsels that started as round bushes and then grew up into the sky with up to a ten-foot stem/trunk beneath the original round bush.  From that bush and stalk of “flowers” would shoot up another two and half feet.

Giant Groundsels galore!

As we traversed down into the valley we felt like we were aliens on a foreign planet.  The air was quiet and the landscape bizarre.  We passed under the old Giant Groundsels, over the young groundsels, around two to five feet tall feathery plants that looked like a green version of Mr. Snuffleupagus’trunk on Sesame Street, and across giant lobelia with gorgeous symmetry.

The Giant Lobelia that reminded me of Mr. Snufflupagus’ trunk or a fuzzy smurf. As Scott and I discovered, these also had Bozo Clown qualities to them because you could hit the top of them, and, if they were fresh, they would bend slightly over to the side and then vibrate/sway from side to side. Behind us was a trail of swinging plants. 🙂

“Snuffleupagus” close-up

Another variety of Giant Lobelia exhibiting it’s symmetry. This photo is from National Geographic because I, sadly, was too scared to take a picture of these not wanting to waste camera battery. All of them were filled with water that had condensed on it, like this one, so you had to be careful when you used these as a place to step on to avoid marshy ground because you could still get your feet wet if you weren’t careful!

Still had to traverse lots of water on this day, BUT I never slipped, fell, or did anything to get my feet wet the whole day! Victory!

For lunch we stopped at a high mountain lake where we got another view of Mount Kenya.  The crew had set up the kitchen tent for lunch so we could have someplace warm to eat, and after the previous day’s freezing lunch-in-a-cloud I was very appreciative of this.

Brief glimpse of the mountain at lunch.

Scott at the lake at lunch. The clouds behind him conceal a tall cliff and Mt. Kenya beyond. The two porters on the left were on their way to go fishing. They ended up catching a trout which the crew enjoyed for supper that night.

After lunch we helped the crew dismantle the kitchen tent and then we were on our way up another ridge.

It shows itself again. . .
Scott here is wearing his hat with Viking braids!

A dense growth of Giant Lobelia and Groundsels. Definitely felt like we were in Star Wars on an alien planet having never seen plants like this before.  Also, my friend from the morning is perched atop a stalk of “blossoms.”

At the top of this ridge, we would be able to see our base camp for the night, have a straight-on view of Mt. Kenya, and hike downwards the rest of the day.  Yippee!

TaDa!!  Sadly, our peak was still hidden on the right where you see the snow disappear into the cloud.  This valley leads to Mackinder’s Camp and the Naru Moru path is down below in the bottom of the valley where you can see the stream. We wouldn’t connect with this path until right before we reached camp.

Happy to be almost done for the day! Just another hour of walking downhill! To the right, a fully grown Giant Groundsel, so odd.

We reached Mackinder’s Camp around four in the afternoon and for the first time in three days we saw other people outside of our group.   Our crew pitched our tent right away and Scott and I clamored inside to stay warm and get ready for the next day’s summit.  First we lightened our day bags, leaving in only what was necessary.  Then we carefully laid out each and every article of clothing that we would wear stacking them in the order in which we would layer them.  Since we had to wake up at 2:00AM to begin our climb promptly at 3:00AM, we would wear these outfits to bed and leave them on, topped with additional outer layers, for our ascent.  Taking a deep breath and gritting my teeth, I stripped off my warm clothes and started layering on the cold clothes in my pile.  After a bit of coaxing, Scott did the same, shivering and repeatedly gasping, “I’m so cold!  I’m so cold!”  When we were finished we had on gloves, hats, three layers of pants, three layers of wool socks, four layers of long-sleeved shirts and jackets.

Once we were set we went over to the kitchen tent where we had chai and popcorn for snacking and then a three-course dinner including fried chicken.  We reasoned the meat was still safe to eat after three days because it had been frozen, maybe?

As soon as we were done with dinner at 7:45PM we said goodnight to the crew, Moses gave us back our water bottles filled with freshly boiled water (each night we always put these in the  sleeping bag to help stay warm), and got ready for bed so we could try to get in as much sleep in as possible.  Learning from previous night’s experience, Scott and I slept better that night and shivered less thanks to our warm outfits.

To be continued. . .

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Day 2

(Continued from Day 1)

Throughout the night my body kept rolling to the right due to the uneven ground, around 3:00AM I had a great sensation to pee begin, tree hyraxes (large fluffy rodents) made loud calls all through the night until 5:00AM, and then at 6:00AM the birds started.  Once I heard the birds start, I knew it was dawn and eagerly wiggled out of my sleeping bag cocoon and promptly relieved myself behind our tent ready to be done with that awful night of sleep.  Over breakfast of eggs, toast, bacon, sausage, porridge, and chai, Scott told me that his night hadn’t been any better.  His mind was plagued with worries of elephants the whole night and one time he thought he heard elephant footsteps and grumblings, which caused him to freeze perfectly still and scarcely breathe for a full half an hour as his sleep-deprived brain reasoned that if he moved the elephant would surely be startled and charge the tent.  His worries proved to be unfounded though as the guide confirmed in the morning that no elephants had been near the camp that night.

Scott, sleepy-eyed, at breakfast


We left camp around 10:00AM and hiked up and up through the hills of Spanish Moss draped trees, turning to bamboo forests, changing again to a bare, burned forest with rocky and soggy ground underfoot.

Up through the forest on the other side of the valley. Notice the lack of a trail. When I say Kamweti is rarely used and you really need a guide, I mean it!

This is my second favorite flower on the mountain. I don’t know its name, but I call it the Flame Flower. These were quite common. Upon further research, it looks like they belong to the Kniphofia Spec. family.

The “macro beauty view” from our morning break stop. We waited here for the crew to catch up (they had stayed behind to disassemble the camp) and to make sure they hadn’t gotten lost on their way up the hill. Notice how it seems like we’re level with the clouds already!

The “micro beauty view” from our resting spot.   I can count at least ten different species of plants/fungi in this picture alone. Also, notice the water, that is the wet and over-saturated ground that we are walking through, very squishy.

Here Scott is holding flower number 30. I started counting species halfway through Day 1. I ended with about 70 different species of flowers, but I am sure I missed many because I started counting late and I missed all the plants that do flower, but weren’t blooming while we were there because it wasn’t their season.

Scott and I chilaxing.

Farther up, the vegetation changed to tall grasslands with chest-high yellow and green grasses. We walked on and on, combing the grass between our fingers, until we finally reached the top of a steep ridge where we would have lunch.

The beginning of the “grasslands,” end of the burned forest.

We walked through fields of tall grass. . .

. . . and fields of shorter grass. Scott discovered that these grass blades were hollow inside and used one as a straw to drink his water just to see if it would work.  It did.  Maina looked at us like we were nuts.

See that fleck of white in the center-right? That’s a waterfall. Hidden waterfalls like this, that no one ever sees, remind me of Lost or Jurassic Park or like I stepped into a time-machine and went back a few thousand years. Are you reminded of the same?  Do you think like me?

Scott and Maina. At the top of the ridge to the right would be our lunch spot. . . in a CLOUD!

From this lunch point until our campsite for that night we were in the clouds.  The air was cold, wet, and rather miserable inside the cloud.  The land we were crossing was over-saturated with water and one had to quickly jump from one small clump of tall grass to the next to avoid sinking into the wet ground.

This is us walking in a cloud. Scott is up there, with his poncho on now, and Maina further up, to Scott’s immediate right in this picture. Scott is looking back wondering where in the world I’d disappeared to. I think these plants are related to the Giant Lobelia, of which we would see many varieties.

Of course, one can only accurately hop to so many clumps of grass and eventually I took a spill and ended up knee-deep in cold, muddy water.  Uggh!  For the second night in a row the porters and Maina would be drying my shoes and socks around the fire.

When we reached our campsite it was raining.  My body was cold and soaked from both my fall and the rain. While I’d had my brave, “tough-girl” face on for the past few hours, when we reached camp I was so thankful to see that the porters already had our tent set up that I immediately dove into it delighting in the dry, wind-free shelter.  I quickly changed into fresh, warm long johns and wool socks, leaving my soggy wet pants and socks in a heap at the corner of our tent.  Ahh, so much better!

Eventually, Georgie beckoned us out of our tent with “Tea is ready.”  Once seated in the kitchen tent, I took off my wet shoes I had worn over to the tent and Scott brought them, and all my wet clothes apologetically over to the crew around the fire outside so my stuff could dry.  The crew gamely rigged up a drying method, hanging my shoes from sticks stuck in the ground and hanging everything else on a multi-branched limb, which they stuck in the ground and occasionally took up and “roasted” over the fire like nyoma choma.

Maina being awesome. He undid my laces, pulled the tongue of my shoes out, and hung them on sticks to dry. Very effective.

The stick with the rest of my wet gloves and socks.

Inside the kitchen tent it was warm and the hot tea and accompanying freshly fried mandazi were quite welcome.  Since I couldn’t move without my shoes, I just sat and stayed in the warm, but smoky, kitchen tent for a few hours watching Moses prepare our dinner of oxtail stew (made from a seasoning packet), ground beef and vegetables (fresh vegetables which he chopped by hand with a cutting board in his lap) with spaghetti, and fresh fruit.  After a while it stopped raining and the sky cleared.  Georgie gave me his sandals so I could get up and walk around.  Once outside, I looked around more carefully and realized that though the place was a bit barren, it was beautiful in its own way.   The fact that we were some of the very few people to ever see this place magnified its untouched beauty and lent us a feeling of being explorers on a maiden trekking expedition.

This babbling brook was our source of water.

The kitchen tent, crew around the fire, and cliffs overlooking.

Barren, solitary, untouched, rugged, beauty

Me posing for Scott.  After he took this picture he have the camera back to me and then crossed this creek to try to find a private place to go to the bathroom.  Unfortunately, he slipped on a rock and fell in the stream!  Scott’s clothes joined mine around the fire to dry and I apologized to our crew as they set up more sticks for Scott’s hiking boots.

After dinner, I retrieved our now dry shoes, socks, and pants from the campfire and we retired to bed.  Despite waking up several times that night shivering and having to jab my icicle fingers into my armpits, between my thighs, or inside my clothes on my warm belly, I always fell right back asleep as I was on level ground and exhausted from not sleeping well the night before.  Scott on the other hand, whose sleeping bag’s zipper we could not get to work, became very cold and shivered miserably most of the night.

To be continued . . .

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Mt. Kenya: Pre-climb and Day 1

On September 14th at 7:05 AM I was scarfing rhubarb-apple-crisp-oatmeal out of a bowl I carried as I hurriedly wound my way through the dukas surrounding Tenwek Hospital until I arrived at a small green and white one.  The woman I was to meet there at 7:00AM hadn’t yet arrived.  I relaxed, taking a moment to enjoy the last bites of my oatmeal, and trying to relax my mind with its whirling To Do! list and instead relish the still quietness of the early morning as the sun lit the colorfully painted dukas around me.

Yes! The guesthouse kitchen garden had rhubarb! This Midwestern girl was DE-lighted when she saw this on her first day at Tenwek.

It was our last morning at Tenwek.  We would leave this beloved place today for another one of our “Kenyan Adventures,” but this time we wouldn’t be coming back.  The adventure in front of us was the biggest yet.  We planned to climb Mount Kenya, the second tallest mountain in Africa.  This was the reason I was outside of this small duka at seven past seven in the morning.  I had an appointment to get my hair braided with “lines” across the top and braids down the back.  I figured perhaps, with my hair braided, I wouldn’t feel quite as gross as I would otherwise after five days without a shower.

At 8:55AM, with two-thirds of all my thick hair stretched into tiny tight braids across my skull, my anxiety became too much and I told the woman braiding my hair I was very sorry, but I had to go, we did not have time to finish.  Scott had been left with empty suitcases and piles of stuff on the floor to pack and our driver was due to arrive at 9:00AM.  As I ran back through the dukas with my empty cereal bowl and my hair partly braided, I got a call from the driver saying he and his co-driver were nearly there.  And so it was that we left Tenwek that Friday morning in our usual style, a rather stressful rush.

We did our best scrambling and managed to get all of our stuff together and on the road with our driver friends, Antony and Isaac, reasonably on time.  We drove through Nairobi, dropped off the majority of our luggage, and proceeded to Mount Kenya with two bulging duffel bags crammed with sleeping bags, sleeping mats, winter coats, long johns, pants, long sleeve shirts, ponchos, hats, gloves, and lots of wool socks.

Arriving at Castle Forest Lodge on the south side of Mt. Kenya, we took a cup of chai at the lodge’s restaurant with our drivers before they left us and wished us the best of luck up the mountain.

Castle Forest Lodge. We had chai with our drivers on this veranda and dinner that night was inside this old, historic house.

As it was not yet dinnertime, Scott and I retired to our bungalow to make sure we had everything we needed to climb the mountain packed as efficiently as possible and sort out what needed to be in our light-weight day packs and what the porters could carry.  At dinnertime we feasted on an intensely green, pureed spinach soup that was so good it had me wondering if this Kenyan-trained chef hadn’t added some truffle oil to it.  The coconut curry chicken that followed was equally as impressive and you can bet that before we departed on our five-day hike the next morning I had in my possession a handwritten copy of the chef’s chicken curry recipe.  The elusive sweetness turned out to be mango chutney.  Now you know, go add it to your curries!

Anyway, back on track as there is much to cover . . .


After a much-needed great night’s sleep, we woke up the next morning at 6:00AM giddy, excited, and nervous.  We had breakfast at the restaurant, and met our guide, cook, and porters who would be taking us up the mountain.

Our crew, trying to fit everything into their giant backpacks the morning we left. This was done with much haggling about what I assumed to be the weight of some items compared to others.

In our party there was Scott and myself, our guide Maina (My-na), our cook Moses, a porter/cooking assistant/waiter/vocal, opinionated jokester Georgie, the head porter Bruno, and four other porters who would help carry everyone’s tents, gear, water, and food.  In total, we made a group of ten.  These Kikuyu men had grown up on the south side of the mountain and were some of the only people in the world who could show us the way to the top of Mt. Kenya using the Kamweti route.  The Kamweti route is a string of elephant trails and it is rarely used; in fact, the last time someone had used it was in February.  Due to this, we were guaranteed to see no one else outside our group until the third night at our base camp before the summit hike where we would join with the popular Noru Moru route.

We started the day’s 17 kilometer trek by walking through 8Km of forest on an old logging road before reaching a morning break stop for chai.

The only time on the Kamweti route that we would follow a visible trail.

Going up!

We knew that a year and a half ago a charging elephant had killed a woman hiking around the Castle Forest Lodge area, so our heads were constantly on a swivel.  Our eyes searched behind trees, through bushes, and up and down hills looking for the looming elephant.  God heard many prayers and appropriate scriptures claimed to help calm our nerves and put our trust in Him who puts breath and life into everything and can calm stormy seas—aka stop an animal from charging us in the name of Jesus!

One of the many elephant turds we crossed over. As you can see, they are very uniform with a cylindrical shape. This one looks like it’s a day or two old.

This is my “I’m slightly nervous there might be an elephant behind me” smile

Where we breaked for chai was the old village grounds of our guide, Maina. He had lived here as a child but the villagers were asked to leave by the government since they were inside the Mt. Kenya park lines and the government felt their living there might damage the natural habitat. Sad.
About the bags, they are my attempt to keep my feet dry! My porous running shoes would let water in, but my hope was the plastic bags would keep my socks dry. By Day 3 I had two layers of socks and two layers of plastic bags, worked wonderfully on that day!

After our chai break, we left the logging road and continued on through a bamboo forest using elephant paths and occasionally a machete to help hack our way through.

Bamboo forest, not sure why Scott is waving like that. UPDATE!  Scott has told me that he’s holding up five fingers because we had walked five miles at that point.

This picture illustrates well the “path” that we were on. Clearly, we would have been totally lost without our guide!

Almost to our lunch spot.

Our prayers for safety continued as we climbed higher up and over hills leaving the bamboo forest behind entering our first bit of bog where you had to be careful where you stepped lest your shoe get soaked through with water.  We rested here for lunch enjoying tomato soup and tomato and cheese sandwiches.

The afternoon portion of our hike took us through indigenous forest with beautiful trees covered in Spanish moss and others that had clusters of pink flowers on them resembling clusters of red grapes hanging all over the branches of the tall trees.

Tree draped with moss.

Pink “grape cluster” flowers on the trees above us.

We passed through more bogs that had “meadows” of Forever Flowers and purple thistle-like flowers.  It was all new to us and very beautiful, but we hardly had time to take it in or stop for pictures because Maina, our guide, moved so quickly through the forest and the bogs.

Forever Flowers

Scott and Maina standing on over-saturated ground

Afternoon break. Loudmouth (I mean that affectionately) Georgie is front and center.

I had a more difficult time making my way through the bogs in my old, porous running shoes. (They were all I had!  The hiking boots I could have borrowed were too small!)

A bog filled with Forever Flowers, tall purple thistle flowers, and grass clumps.  Beyond the bog is one of our porters and Maina heading down into the valley where we would camp that night.

After stopping to take the picture above, I hurried to catch up with Scott and the guide who had continued on.  I hopped and jumped from one clump of grass to the next and in my anxious haste I slipped off a clump of grass.  As I slipped, I reached out to catch myself and my hand got all cut up by a Devil’s Horse Whip plant.  With my hand bleeding and my shoe soaked, I felt thoroughly sorry for myself as I plodded along after Scott, who’d stopped for me, and the guide, who had continued his swift pace down the hillside and was now far in front of us on the way down to our campsite.

Me, holding my cut left hand up, walking after Maina down to the river we would camp by that night. Scott had taken the camera from me after my fall. Maybe he was trying to help or maybe he was worried I would ruin the camera, probably both.

At the bottom of the hill, we crossed over a small river and Maina actually helped me (which helped to end my brief pity party) across the river and then it was just a couple hundred meters to our campsite in the river valley.

Look what we found at our campsite! This horn belonged to an African Buffalo. Also a very dangerous animal, especially when they are alone and not in a group. Our tent is behind Scott.

The view out of the front door of our tent.

The view from our bathroom, a.k.a. the open area behind the back of our tent. Tehe. 😉  Up above you can see some of those pink flowering grape cluster trees.

Our camp. The crew’s tent is the green one in the foreground. (Still not sure how all 7 guys fit in there. I couldn’t have done it, that’s for sure.) The kitchen tent is to the right and our tent is in the back left.

That evening for dinner, Moses made the best fish and chips we have ever had, along with popcorn, a platter of fresh, tropical fruit, and chai, of course.

The dark kitchen tent in the evening.  Moses is on the right working his magic preparing our dinner over two kerosene burners.

During dinner, the porters and Maina sat around a campfire and dried this poor mzungu’s wet running shoes.  We retired to bed that night happy to have survived the first day and nervously excited about what the next day would hold.

To be continued . . .

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Brief recap of last week at Tenwek

Hello!  Hello!  As you might have guessed, we have been quite busy the last few weeks.   I started typing the post below two and a half weeks ago.  Though we are back in the US now, there are still many things we want to share with you and record for ourselves.  In the meantime, I figured I would just share this short post with you.

Our last week at Tenwek flew by.  There were so many errands and things to do to prepare for our departure that I told Scott more that once I felt like I was running around “like a chicken with my head cut off.”  One of the things I did was host a gathering on our last Monday evening in honor of our Kenyan friends.  For the get-together, I made an array of desserts:

  • Banana Fosters layer cake,
  • Chocolate cake with chocolate orange frosting (Kenyans, at least at Tenwek, are not familiar with frosting so these cakes were quite novel to them),
  • Mint chocolate chip (brought from the US) brownies,
  • Pumpkin (they have pumpkins here!) pecan (pecans brought from the US) pie (This was my friends’ first ever pie and they really enjoyed it!),
  • “fruit punch” with mango and pineapple juice mixed with a Stoney (a soda here with a strong ginger flavor).

The food table after the party. I forgot to take a picture before and during the party! Pictured here clockwise from top: empty punch bowl, mint chocolate-chip brownies, Banana Foster’s cake, savory roasted tomato bites, pumpkin pecan pie (Clearly Kenyans don’t know that pie is normally sliced into triangle wedges! They scooped this out like a casserole, which is an ok way of doing it too!), and chocolate cake with chocolate-orange frosting.

All items turned out great, despite many substitutions according to what was available.  At first, our Kenyan friends didn’t quite know what to think of it all, as everything was very different from what is normally available to them. Thus, they were a bit timid to try the foreign desserts I prepared.  After sampling one thing though, they had to try everything and told me they loved it all saying, “It is too sweet,” which is a great compliment here!

The rest of the week was filled with laundry, packing, travel planning, cooking big batches of food to last us the rest of our stay as well as provide snacks during our two weeks of travel, and many “goodbye” errands.   The goodbyes were bittersweet because we don’t know when we’ll be back, but yet they felt good because we realized just how much we’d accidently come to mean to these people and how much they appreciated us, without us ever doing anything “extraordinary.”  We are in awe and so thankful for all of the relationships the Lord blessed us with in Kenya.

Below are some pictures from our last week in Kenya.  Looking at them now makes me “homesick” for Tenwek and these people!  Praying that the Lord himself will go before them and will be with them. He will never leave them nor forsake them.  May they not be discouraged and fear far from them.  (My prayer paraphrase of Deuteronomy 31:8)

Some of the teachers that I taught with and myself. Due to the teachers’ strike, these were the only teachers present at school the day I went to say goodbye to them. These teachers were not government employees and therefore not part of the union. Even then, they did not teach for fear of retaliation from other teachers. For a few days during the strike I taught math to the 8th graders (who are having “life-determining” national exams in two months), but then I too stopped just in case my teaching might cause a ruckus. I was sad not to see everyone before I left and sad not to be able to teach!

My teacher friends who were at school my last full day at Tenwek were very glad to see me and were sorry about the national strike. We chatted for a while and they would not let me leave without taking lunch first (pictured above, rice with beans and carrots). I was happy to do so because I had come to really love these humble, but tasty meals!

Before I left, I snapped a few pictures of the 8th grade boys playing soccer (football!).  The 8th grade class was still coming to school despite the teachers’ strike so they could review material on their own together.


I love this action shot with the ball up at the top of the frame. I also like that this picture shows the normally neat and tidy uniforms as haphazard and ripped in this picture, giving the viewer more information.

The road in front of the hospital on my way back from visiting the school. You can see the piki pikis on the left, women roasting corn over jikos in the top center, and cars used as taxis on the right.

I passed by these mamas’ stalls . . .

This is Nancy. Nancy is always sweet and smiling whether I buy fresh produce from her that day or not. In front of her, you can just make out a bowl with fresh beans in it. She was shelling beans to sell them when I took this picture.

This is Amy. Her stall is next to Nancy’s and she managed to sell me more bananas for “banana cakes” than I can count! Amy also always greeted me with a smile and a handshake and asking how I was and then “How is Daktari?” finally instructing me to greet my husband/family for her when we parted ways.

And then Nick’s duka . . .

This is Nick, in the center of the photo. I met Nick on one of my first few days at Tenwek. He was the first Kenyan-on-the-street that I spoke with. I remember I was a bit nervous and slightly scared/intimidated, but I just smiled and tried to be nice. Turns out that’s all I needed to do to make a friend. He works in his brother’s duka and we often bought napkins, toilet paper, or soda from him. Nick is trying to be a cool cat in this picture and refused to smile for me. He is missing his left front tooth so I think this is likely why, that, and he’s probably seen many a rapper pose like this.

I then started joking with Nick and managed to sneak this photo of him smiling. I felt bad resorting to trickery to capture him smiling in a photo, but after I showed him this picture of himself he was quite happy with it so I think it would be OK with him to share it with you.

Crossed the road that leads to Mama Joyce’s house . . .

Mama Joyce has a beautiful shamba where she grows many, many different things. When I visited her shamba she gave me a full stem (branch? stalk?) of bananas, two pineapples, and a 6 foot tall piece of sugar cane.

. . . and reached home where I had to pack up some things to give away.  When I was just ready to leave one of my favorite students came to say goodbye.  I was so surprised and happy to see her!!  This girl, Dorcas, is awesome!  Besides being smart and participating in class she is very wise and totally loves the Lord.  As we sat and talked about life and the future, she referenced the Bible multiple times and I was amazed how well she could comprehend certain lessons of life I have only recently learned!

As a goodbye gift, she gave me some bananas and a loaf of white bread she had just bought at a duka (with permission from her mother).  Of course the gift was completely unnecessary, especially when I have plenty of things, but I thought this was so, so sweet of her.

Dorcas and myself

I said goodbye to Dorcas and made my way to my two best Kenyan girlfriends, Mercy and Betty, to give them some food, containers, and ziplock bags (these do not exist in Kenya) that I hadn’t used up and they would appreciate.

Betty is on the left. She is a seamstress and a single mother to Victor, who is 10 months. Mercy is on the right with her son Caleb who is 2 1/2 years old. She too is a single mom and I met her because I bought a lot of fresh produce from her and she had Scott and I over to her home to have chai earlier on in our stay at Tenwek. She has great faith! She introduced me to Betty when I needed someone to sew me a skirt. Both women would come to my house after church on Sundays and I would show them how to make some typical “American” meal and we, along with their sons, nieces, and Scott, would all feast together.

After saying goodby to them, I went home and started packing again.  When Scott got off of work, we went together to say goodbye to our friend James who runs and owns a duka and restaurant.  On our way we fortuitously met some of my other 6th grade students!

Me with some of my most participatory boys. I was so glad to see them again! (Please excuse my outfit.  I was testing the hiking boots, which I deemed to be too small and uncomfortable to use on Mt. Kenya, and the over-sized sweatshirt is Scott’s because all of mine were packed!)

Scott and I with James in his duka. We loved James! He has great English and is very quick-witted and fun to talk to. On this evening he was so happy to see us as he had eagerly waited to give us gifts. Scott received roughly 30 pieces of candy to help him climb Mt. Kenya for “energy boosts.” For me he pulled out a beaded bracelet he had talked about getting for me before so I could buy it from him cheaper than I (as a mzungu) would be able to get it myself and gave it to me for free. Then, after thanking him and raving about it for a little bit, he pulled out another one just like the first, but a different color. This one he also gave to me as he remembered I originally wanted the bracelet for a friend back in the States. I thought this was so nice and thoughtful of him!

On our way back home both Scott and I remarked how much we appreciated James and his friendship and how we had been so blessed with so many great friends in Kenya.  We love and miss them all and because of them, our time in Kenya was truly special.  We praise God for these promised blessings of friendship.

We packed late into the night and woke up early the next morning to leave Tenwek. Though we left it physically behind, I think we will always keep Tenwek, and the people there, close in our hearts.


P.S. There are more posts on their way in order to complete our Kenyan story!

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Chronicles of Casualty

Well, 0ver the past two weeks, I (Scott) have made the transition to work in Casualty, which is the name of the ER at Tenwek.  Needless to say, this has been quite the interesting, challenging, and unique experience.  In addition to working in Casualty, I continue to round in the ICU and on the medicine service in the mornings, then cover casualty in the afternoons/evenings.  This double-duty has made the past few weeks especially busy, but Steve, a fellow Duke resident, is also on the medicine service now, so it has been enjoyable working together and brainstorming solutions to a variety of dilemmas.  Below are some of my experiences I’ve had while working the last two weeks.

A tough case:

My first day in casualty was actually rather calm with no trauma cases and no pediatric patients (two types of patients that Internal Medicine physicians like me do not typically provide care for).  However, day two was especially hectic with several minor traumas and an overflowing Casualty unit.  One particular patient was especially difficult.  He was a 17 year old young man who presented with right leg swelling and difficulty breathing.  He had been completely active and healthy 5 days prior, and never had any medical problems.  When I saw him, he was clearly in distress.  His heart rate was very fast, his blood pressure low, rapid breathing, and his oxygen saturations very low at 54% on room air (normal is >90%).  With his leg swelling, I presumed that he had a blood clot in his leg that migrated to his lungs causing a pulmonary embolism (PE), which is a blood clot in the vessels that supply the lungs.  I gave him a shot of Lovenox, which is a blood thinner used to treat the clot.  Ultrasound was done which confirmed the clot in his leg, but we are unable to do a CT angiogram or VQ scan, which are the tests to confirm PE.  Nonetheless, based on his history, it was clear that this was the diagnosis.

Unfortunately, over the next few hours in Casualty, his condition deteriorated.  He became more hypoxic, restless, and developed more labored breathing.  He was still able to saturate ok with an oxygen facemask, but I anticipated we would have to intubate him if he worsened.  I grabbed an ultrasound machine, and did a bedside echocardiogram on his heart.  What I discovered was a massive clot in his pulmonary artery and that the right side of his heart was in complete failure due to the clot.  In the U.S., this would be someone that would be a candidate for thrombolytics, which are potent “clot busters”, however, we do not have that here.  A few minutes after the ultrasound, he suddenly coded, stopped breathing, and his heart stopped beating.  We immediately started CPR, and shocked his heart several times due to an abnormal rhythm.  During the code, his labs came back that he was also in renal failure with a high potassium, which may have contributed to the code.  We continued the resuscitation attempt for about 30 minutes giving him continuous CPR, shocks, multiple drugs, and intubation, but we never regained a pulse.  I was devastated…probably more than any other death I have had in a long time.  I don’t know whether it was that he was so young, or that the cumulative effects of all of the mortalities I have witnessed here, finally taking its toll, but whatever the cause, this death was especially difficult.  After talking with the family, I came home, and was fortunate to have Whitney to help process my emotions, as I was struggling.  That night was a near sleepless night.  I replayed the events of that day over and over again, trying to determine what we could have done to save this boy.  Through prayer and reflection, I eventually realized that no matter what we do for patients, whether in Kenya, or even in the resource rich United States, we cannot always save everyone, which is a hard truth, but the reality.  Although I was able to re-compose myself in order to continuing taking care of patients the next day, I will never forget this patient, and his memory will always be with me.

Happy endings:

Fortunately, despite having several patients pass away, we are able to help the vast majority of patients.  We had a number of patients come into casualty this week that made dramatic recoveries as well.  One such patient, was a 20 year old college student.  She presented with acute lower right abdominal pain that had just occurred 2 hours prior to arrival.  She was previously healthy.  On arrival, she had a very low blood pressure, and severe lower abdominal pain.  We gave her several liters of fluid while awaiting her lab work to return, but her pressures continued to be low.  She denied the possibility that she could be pregnant, but we checked a pregnancy test anyways given her age and presentation.  While waiting for the results, she was found to be very anemic with a hemoglobin of 5.7 (very low).  We ordered emergency blood products to transfuse her, as she was becoming drowsy, and more hypotensive.  We continued infusing fluids rapidly, and eventually her pregnancy test returned positive.  Immediately, based on that result, I suspected a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, which occurs if the fertilized egg implants in the tubes instead of the uterus, and then ruptures.  A quick ultrasound confirmed that there was no embryo in the uterus but a large amount of fluid (likely blood) in the pelvis.  We rushed her to the OR where the OB team operated and confirmed the ruptured ectopic.  She also had >2L of blood in her pelvis, which is why she was so hypotensive.  She is now doing great after getting transfused, and the proper operation. Praise God that she presented when she did, and that we could help!

There are numerous cases such as these of patients who present likely hours from dying, but after stabilization, a careful physical exam, and focused diagnostic workup, we are able to help many patients.  We also have continued to have patients give their lives to Christ while in the casualty bay.  Yesterday morning, casualty was slower than usual with only a few patients in the unit.  Moses, one of the young Clinical Officer’s (equivalent to a PA in the U.S.) who was with me in casualty was very excited about the hour or so with casualty not being busy.  Instead of just sitting around, he excitingly proclaimed to me, “Scott, this is a great chance for us to really talk to our patients about the love of Jesus.”  We walked around spending extra time with every patient and there family about God’s love, the gospel, answering spiritual questions, and praying for patients.  It was awesome to see Moses’ excitement to do this, as if he could not contain the love of God within himself,  but just had to share it!

Mass Casualty

A few days ago was an especially interesting day in casualty.  First off, we were crazy busy.  Our casualty unit has 7 beds, however, that day we had at one time 15 patients in casualty, most sitting in chairs or where-ever they could find room to sit.  By 6:15 pm, we still had 12 patients in Casualty, most of them had been admitted, but were waiting to be taken to the various wards.  However, since we were so busy, our two casualty nurses did not have time to wheel the patients to the wards.  At 6:20, we received a phone call that there had been a serious, multi-car accident, and that 8 patients were being taken by ambulance to Tenwek, and would be arriving in 20 minutes!

Over the next twenty minutes, myself and Steve, took matters into our hands and were wheeling patients all over the hospital trying to clear out the unit for the victims of the car accident.  We quickly wheeled patients to the ICU, medical wards, surgical wards, pediatric wards, and for the ones not yet admitted, we moved them into the hallway to wait.  Before we knew it, we had completely emptied casualty.  This left a few minutes to inform the on call surgery residents, and additional clinical officers, and any other personnel that was around.  We set up eight stations with IV lines, oxygen tubing, IV fluids, and other essentials.

Next came the victims.  Initially, the first two patients walked in and aside for some scrapes and bruises, looked not too bad.  It seemed that maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.  However, a minute later 6 patients were brought in, all bleeding, hurting, or even unconscious.  Each consultant and resident assigned themselves to a particular patient.  Since we didn’t know their names, patient were assigned a number based on the severity of their injuries with #1 being the sickest.  The patient I was working on was patient #2.  My patient had a massive laceration of his head with a large hematoma.  He also dislocated his right hip and had a severe fracture of his left arm.  Fortunately he was conscious.  After getting him stabilized and determining the extent of the injuries, he was taken to the OR where he was fixed up.  Patient #1 ended up dying, although everyone else has now been discharged from the hospital.  It was a unique experience for me, since I have little experience working in an ER, and during those previous experiences, never had a mass casualty like this.  It was cool to see the efficiency and teamwork displayed during that chaotic, but effective two hour period.

A few images:

Once again, I could go on and on with countless stories about the interesting cases we encounter on a daily basis, but again I have become more long-winded than I intended.  I am on call this weekend, our last weekend at Tenwek.  I cannot believe our time here is coming to an end.  It has gone so fast, and been life changing!  Please pray that our last week here will be fruitful and cherished, as we say goodbye to friends, patients, staff, etc.  I hope to post once more before leaving.  Anyways, I thought I would end with a few xray and CT scan images from some of the cases I have seen that may be of interest.  Thanks for reading.

This is a young woman that had a large brain abscess (the white ring you see) with severe edema. She came in with multiple seizures, and could not move the left side of her body. We were fortunate to have a visiting neurosurgeon to drain the abscess, and she was recently discharged with continued antibiotics. Pray for her recovery!

This woman presented to Casualty a few days ago after falling off a motorcycle taxi and smashing her head. At the top of the image, there is a large, depressed skull fracture. The fracture caused intracerebral bleeding and edema. Additionally, some of her brain was visible outside the skull. She received emergency surgery, and left the ICU yesterday. She is doing amazingly well with only mild neurologic deficits.

This was the mass casualty patient that I saw (trauma patient #2 as discussed above). Here you can see his humerous (left arm) is fractured in multiple pieces.

This patient was admitted for “asthma”. However, when I met him, I heard what sounded like stridor (a high whistling breathing noise caused by airway obstruction). On examination, he had a massively enlarged thyroid gland that can be seen extending into the chest above. CXR showed his trachea was displaced and extremely narrowed with as little as 1-2 mm left for air to pass through. He was likely only hours from completely obstructing his airway which would cause him to suffocate. Fortunately, we had his thyroid removed, and he did great!

This xray is extremely abnormal. This is an unfortunate woman who came in with severe anemia. She received a unit of blood from a relative on arrival, and within hours of her transfusion, she developed severe respiratory distress, requiring intubation. Her xray revealed that she likely had TRALI (transfusion related acute lung injury) which is a rare reaction to a blood transfusion. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, she later developed kidney failure and passed away.

This is what disseminated, or miliary TB looks like on CXR. We see this often, and patients tend to do poorly with this, especially if they also have HIV. This woman recovered well and has been discharged home.

Until next time,


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A Survivor

Short Story Bios Part III: Tabitha

A man was going to the bathroom in a pit-toilet when he heard a baby crying.  He looked around for its source and saw nothing.  He then realized that the sound was coming from beneath him.  In the hole beneath him was a baby lying in the morass of human waste.

The man somehow dug the baby out of the hole and lifting it to the light he could see that she was covered in feces and maggots.  He brought the girl to Tenwek Hospital immediately where a nurse lovingly and carefully washed her clean and picked off all of the maggots.  The baby was tiny and severely dehydrated.  Lots of fluids and love were transfused into her little body and she was named Tabitha.  After a week and a half the baby was well enough to be discharged, only there was no home for her to go to.

Mrs. Stanford, a short-term missionary here for six weeks, had been volunteering in the nursery and caring for Tabitha.   She decided to take Tabitha “home” to her residence here at Tenwek and care for her.  They live across the hall from us and when I can hear Tabitha crying during the night, I thank God for it and how He saved her.

On Saturday, we celebrated her one-month birthday.  She is just now nearing nine pounds, and while you can see some scars on her back where the maggots were eating at her, these will hopefully go away.  Since she is doing well, she will be brought to Tenwek’s baby home in Nakuru this weekend.  It will be sad to see her go!  Her beautiful eyes are so big in comparison to her tiny face and she just learned to smile yesterday! She must stay in the baby home for six months and then she will be up for adoption.  This baby home has a 100% placement rate for their babies so pray that a most loving family gets this beautiful baby girl.  She is such a gift.

She once was meant to die and very near to death, and now she is alive and well.  Praise God.  “Turning toward the dead woman, he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’  She opened her eyes . . .” Acts 9:40

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Short Story Bios Part II:  Jocelyn*

I, Whitney, met Helen, a hospital chaplain, at 11:00AM to round and pray for patients in the surgical ward, but before we could go, we first we had to “take chai.” Taking chai is a requirement. If you like chai, it is a luxurious requirement. We took our chai with the other hospital chaplains who proved to be a very warm and welcoming bunch. Once our bellies were filled with the sweet, milky tea, Helen and I set off to the women’s surgical ward.

The wards at Tenwek, and throughout Kenya, are big, open rectangular rooms with a row of beds lining each of the two longest walls. (For a patient to have a semi-private room they must either have tuberculosis or extra money.) We made our way into the ward and stopped at a bed one-third of the way down on the left side. The thin and delicate-looking woman in the bed had been mangled.  Both arms were wrapped in bandages from her fingers up past her elbows. The tip of her left, middle finger was missing. Because her gown was too big on her, you could see through the armhole that her torso was also wrapped in bandages. Her face was swollen, with fresh scars across her forehead that circled down and around her closed, puffy right eye. On her left cheek was a smaller slash.

Helen pulled the woman’s right eye open with her thumb. The woman’s right eye remained motionless, unseeing, and did not move with her left eye as she talked with Helen in Kipsigis. When Helen had finished talking with her about her eye and how she was doing that day, Helen rested her hand gently on the woman’s shoulder and turned to me. “This, is Jocelyn. She has been here for three weeks. She is a Christian.” She then turned to Jocelyn and told her in Kipsigis who I was and why I was there. I smiled at Jocelyn, who smiled sweetly back at me and tried out my name saying,


“Yes, Whitney. Chamage?”

“Mising.” She said with another smile, pleased that I knew a word or two of her language.

Helen asked Jocelyn if she could share her story with me.

“Aay,” said Jocelyn with a nod at me.

Helen fixed her eyes on me and became serious as she began to tell me Jocelyn story.

“Jocelyn and her husband had been having “difficulties” so she had gone to stay with her parents. She had occasionally done this before at times when he had beaten her badly.  Her husband was also a drunk.  She had been at her parents’ for a few days when he came to her parents’ home at a time when she was there alone. Perhaps he had been waiting and watching to see when she was alone. He came into the house and attacked her with a panga (a double-edged short, flat, sword). He attacked her so violently that he was surely meaning to kill her.”

“Oh,” I said taking it in as my eyes examined the evidence of his attack.

“Her eye?” I asked. “Will she be able to see with it again?”


My eyes rested on the missing end of her left middle finger. Helen turned, exchanged a few words with Jocelyn, and turned back to me.
“She tells me her finger was cut off when she grabbed onto the sword tightly to stop him from cutting and stabbing her.”

A bold visual of a woman hunched in a corner with her hand protectively reaching out and grabbing the swinging sword as both the man and the woman cry out sweeps through my brain.

“Does she have nightmares of this?” I ask Helen who translates.

“Yes, she says every night.”

“Oh,” I manage with a nod and Helen continues the story.

“Some villagers had heard of the attack and came and attacked her husband, beating him. Jocelyn was taken to Tenwek. When she woke up in the ICU, she learned that her husband had been badly beaten by the villagers and that he was taken to another hospital. Then she learned that after three days in the hospital, he had died. Her husband is dead.”

“Oh,” I said again, unsure whether to be happy or sad that her husband had died.

“Maybe,” began Helen, “if he had come to Tenwek, we could have told him about the Lord,” said Helen leaning forward raising her eyebrows. “But, he was not brought here,” she said as she leaned back again, “and he is dead,” she concluded with a nod.

I nodded with her processing this information. Her husband was dead. Did God have him die as a blessing to Jocelyn? I was glad, in a way, that she was rid of such a husband. But did she somehow love him? Was she sad? Happy? Her husband being dead could also be a financial burden if he had earned money for the family. If she had kids, how would she care for them and find enough money to feed and clothe them and pay for their school fees?

I asked Helen if she had children who confirmed with Jocelyn, who didn’t look over 30, that she had five boys and no girls. In Kenyan culture, children and especially boys are a prized thing. People would say that she had done well for her husband. But now, how would she raise five boys on her own?

While I was thinking through this, and what Jocelyn future might look like, Helen had been conversing with Jocelyn and now stopped to tell me that Jocelyn children were at her parents-in-law and they had never come to see her the whole three weeks she’d been in the hospital. This was not a good sign. Why had they not come to visit? Why had they not let her children visit?

“Do her parents-in-law blame her for her husband’s death?” I asked Helen.

Jocelyn told Helen that in the years past her parents-in-law never tried to correct their son and tell him not to beat her. To them, it was best to pretend the beatings did not exist. She was not sure what they thought now, but hoped she would be able to get her children back without any problems.

Helen then asked me to pray for Jocelyn, telling me that Jocelyn was able to understand some English.  Jocelyn, Jocelyn’s younger sister, Helen, and myself all bowed our heads and we prayed to God together as I spoke aloud.  Helen and I then moved on to another patient’s  bed and prayed for her and the baby she lost, and then we moved onto another patient, and another, but it was Jocelyn that I could not get out of my mind.

Would you please pray for Jocelyn too? Please pray for:
• Physical healing. That her wounds would not inhibit any work she might do to earn money
• Emotional healing:

  •  Pray that God can be near to her, heal any angry feelings she might have towards Him.
  •  After years of being beaten and now with a scared face, her self-esteem might be pretty low. Pray that she defines her value on God’s scale. That she know she is a Princess having been forever adopted as the King of Glory’s child. Let Jesus be the lover that she never had. Let her feel the love and strength in his steadfast, tender and healing embrace.
  •  Pray that her nightmares stop in the name of Jesus

• Provision

  •  She must now provide for her family of five boys
  •  She was discharged from the hospital last week, but her bill for her surgeries, drugs, and 3-plus week stay was Sh200,000 or $2439.00.  This cost is actually much, much lower compared to all other hospitals in Kenya (and obviously the U.S.), but Jocelyn really has little to no money.  When I last saw her, her family had managed to pay Sh9,000 ($110.00) of the bill.

• Whatever the Holy Spirit leads you to pray for

Thank you!  I know she’ll feel your prayers.


*Name has been changed

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A Confession

School has been out for two and a half weeks now and I (Whitney) have been doing a variety of different things, coming into contact with many different people.  I would like to share some of their stories here in a series of “short story bio” blog posts.  I plan to share the stories of Timothy, Joselyn, Tabita, Evette, Edna, and Mercy.  Some of their stories are inspiring, and others sad, even cruel, but unfinished.  I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I have.

Part I: Timothy

School had been out for four days and Scott and I had just returned from an amazing trip to the Masai Mara.  While we were unpacking and settling back in, our land-line telephone rang.  I answered the phone and identified myself.  The voice on the other end of the crackling line was an unfamiliar one and clearly Kenyan.  I was able to make out that the person said her name was “Helen.”

“Helen the guesthouse cook?” I asked puzzled.

“No, I am Helen Tongus, chaplain at Tenwek Hospital.”

This statement piqued my already heightened curiosity even more as I had not met any of the hospital chaplains yet, and I had no idea why one would know me or call me at home.  I asked how I could help her, hoping to figure out the reason of this mysterious call, but first she had some questions for me,

“Are you the one who has been teaching at Dr. Steury Memorial School?”


“Were you teaching students who were around 11 years old?”

“Yes” I answered again, becoming slightly nervous at this interrogation.

“Why?”  I asked, happy to ask a question of my own and hoping to understand what was going on.

“There is a boy, one of your students, he told me that something you did made him very uncomfortable.”

Gulp. My sympathetic nervous system kicked into full gear and silence ensued as my brain processed this information zipping along at lighting speed alternately running through any potential scenarios in the last few weeks that could have possibly made someone uncomfortable and at the same time shouting jumbled exclamations in my head of

“No!  I’m innocent!  Ahhh!  What did I do?!  I’m doomed!  How did I get myself into this?!  Stupid!  No!  I’ve been framed I tell you!  Please no!  All I wanted was to help and now I’m RUINED!  But wait!  Wait!  I don’t even know what I did!

During my silence Helen decided to continue her interrogation.  “Did you give your students a test or homework or something?”

“Yes, homework,” I responded.

They asked for homework!  It wasn’t my idea!

“And I think you told them, like many other teachers do, not to copy from each other?” “Yes.”

What’s so wrong about that?   It’s right, other teacher’s do it too, you even said so! However, I did do something other teachers don’t do, I made frosted banana cookies and gave them to the kids who got the extra credit problem right.  Do you know about the cookies Helen???  You see, I’m not a real teacher, so I could not give them extra points, but I wanted to reward them in some way.  Is that wrong?  It probably is.  Maybe that’s what made him uncomfortable?  It is probably a terrible violation of some Kenyan cultural tradition that I didn’t know about.

“And when you marked their papers, did you ask them if they copied?”

Alright Whitney, you’re going to have to start talking sometime, just be smooth, nonchalant.  Innocent until proven guilty, right?  Act innocent!

“Ahem. Yes, I wanted to make sure that they did not cheat so I checked their papers very carefully looking for work that would indicate that they had done it themselves.  If I didn’t see enough work to support the answer of the math problem, then I called them to me in the teacher’s office, where I was correcting their work, and had them explain how they arrived at their answer.  One boy admitted that he had copied so I told him I couldn’t give him credit for that problem, but everyone else was able to explain, to a reasonable degree, how they found the answer to the problem.”

Helen continued, “Ok, so this boy is, I think, one of your students.  Last week his parents noticed that he was not acting like himself.  He was quiet . . . He was not active . . .  They were worried that he was sick, so they took him to Tenwek.  The doctor in Casualty [Tenwek’s Emergency Room] evaluated him and said that there was nothing wrong with him and told the parents he was not sick.  I thought to myself that maybe the boy had something else wrong with him, something emotionally disturbing him.  So I asked his parents if I could take the boy aside and talk with him.  He was able to confess to me that he had been picking on his neighbor kids and he had also copied his homework from his friend and then lied to his teacher when she asked if he had done it on his own.   He felt very badly about this, so much so that he felt physically sick.  He had been told that God sees and knows everything you ever do, and he knew that God had seen him cheat and lie.”

“Oh.” I said, wondering at this turn of events, this boy’s story and curious as ever what Helen’s agenda was in calling me.

“I then prayed with him and we asked for God’s forgiveness because he knew that he had sinned against God.”

“Like David.” I managed dumfounded, thinking of Psalm 51:4.

Helen:  “Yes, and then I explained to him that all was forgiven because he had confessed and asked God for forgiveness with all of his heart.  That Jesus had already paid for that sin on the cross for his sake.  So that he could become the righteousness of God, clean and perfect before Him.  I told the boy he had nothing more to be worried about, he could now feel comfortable having confessed to the Lord.  Still, he told me that he wanted to see you and confess to you, his teacher, and ask for your forgiveness too.  I tried to find you that Friday afternoon, but I was told you were in the Mara.  So, I called the boy on Saturday, after he had confessed to his parents, and I prayed with him and encouraged him then.  He still wanted to meet with you and confess to you, so I am very happy to have reached you tonight and I would like to prepare a time to meet with me and the boy, Timothy.”

“Yes, yes please.  Anytime is good for me.” I stammered.

Aye!  Wow. Oh Lord, this boy and his pure, sweet, uncontaminated spirit humble me.  I am honored to be a part of this.  May he never become jaded to sin and accept the world’s tolerance level.  May he always desire to be clean, and therefore near you, as he does now.  Thank you for the indwelling of your Holy Spirit convicting him.  Thank you that he heeded your Holy Spirit and did not find ways to justify himself, even though his peers may also cheat and lie.  May I also be this sensitive to my sin, I don’t want to deceive myself, may I be weary when I find myself reasoning and justifying.  Thank you for this boy’s example.

I met with Helen, Timothy, Timothy’s mother and younger brother three days later on Wednesday.  Helen led the conversation and Timothy told me what had happened and asked for my forgiveness, saying that if I forgive others, our heavenly father will also forgive me.   I thought this was so sweet, that his reason and plea for me to forgive him, was so that I too could be forgiven by God, a quote of Matthew 6:14.   I assured him that I forgave him, praised him for listening to the Holy Spirit’s convicting and humbling himself, leaving his pride, which enabled him to admit that what he had done was wrong.  That is hard to do!  I encouraged him that all had been forgiven by me, Helen, his parents, and God, and that now he could grow in his faith and walk closely and joyously with God.  When we have sin, it’s like a wall that separates us from God and we can’t feel close to him, but when we confess it, that wall is removed, gone forever, and we can be in communion with our loving Father again.

On a scrap of paper, I had written down some thoughts and favorite verses that I go to when I have sinned and wonder at God’s forgiveness.  I gave this to Timothy and encouraged him to read through it.  I also included Psalm 32:1-6, which reminded me exactly of him and his story.

Helen asked me to close in prayer, I prayed, Timothy and his family left, happy, and Helen and I rejoiced at Timothy, his character, and how his mistake had caused us to meet.  We planned for me to round with her on the surgical ward the following week.  This arrangement caused me to meet Josephine and Evelyn, two women with unique stories that I will share here in the following days.

For now, peace and blessings to you!


“Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119:165

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Lake Naivasha

We went on a surprisingly awesome trip to Lake Naivasha, not this past weekend, but the weekend before.  Sorry this post is a bit late!  Our internet was out all weekend so were not able to get this post published sooner.  I say “surprisingly” awesome because Lake Naivasha is not necessarily a tourist hotspot like the Mara or Lake Nakuru, and people did not get excited when we told them we were going there.  Additionally, our last-minute replacement driver was a stranger (sort of a friend of a friend), so we kept our expectations low–but it was great, jam-packed, adventuresome weekend and we again experienced the beauty of Kenya!

On Friday afternoon, our driver, Antony, arrived early to pick us and our friend Steve (a fellow Duke resident) up and immediately we clicked with Antony and fast became friends.  We exchanged stats about our lives and shocked each other with cultural facts from our respective countries and lives with a lot of joking in between.

We hoped to see some animals over weekend, but again, kept our expectations low, so when a pack of baboons crossed the road on our way to Naivasha we were excited.  It proved to be a great foreshadowing of what was to come!

We heard that all of the flamingos had left Lake Nakuru (the place that we had initially planned going where literally millions of flamingoes flock) and some had headed to Lake Oloiden, which is a small lake next to Lake Naivasha so we headed there first before the sun could set on our first night there. We were delighted to see the beautiful pink, tall birds before it got dark!

Flamingos at Lake Oloiden

After viewing the flamingos we drove to our lodging passing zebra, giraffe, and gazelle on the way, had dinner, and made our way to our lodging for the weekend.

We stayed at Fisherman’s Camp in a “banda” that slept the four of us. On the top left you can clearly see that Scott is way too tall to fit on the bed, as the wall-to-wall distance for sleeping was only 5’9″, and he is 6’4″. In fact, only our driver, Antony, was short enough to sleep comfortably. The first night, it was so muggy in our banda with no air circulation, and Scott felt so trapped in his little bed that he had a minor panic attack (which he never has before) at about 1:00AM and suddenly made a big racket unbolting the door so he could sprint outside to be free and get some fresh air. On the right side you can see our lovely private bathroom consisting of a cement floor with a hole in the ground. On the bottom left is the outside view of our banda. Needless to say, it’s no Ngerende, but the price was right at sh1000 (about $12) per person per night and surprisingly they did have hot showers!

We woke up early the next morning and this sunrise over Lake Naivasha greeted us as we drove the short distance to Mt. Longonot.

Whitney’s preferred sunrise pic.

Scott’s preferred sunrise pic.

Mount Longonot is a dormant volcano that has a huge, deep crater on top of it with a smaller satellite crater one off the side.  Both craters are remnants of the volcano’s eruption.

Mount Longonot as seen from Hell’s Gate. The more flat slope is on the left side is the rim of the crater. The peak on the right side of the mountain is the highest point on the crater’s rim and the summit of the mountain.

Even on our hike up, the mountain and surrounding landscape were already so beautiful!

The huge and deep crater that met our eyes at the top was stunning!  The forest inside the crater is untouched and seemed mysterious and exciting to us, almost like you expect some unknown, or even extinct, creature to live down there.  L to R: Steve, Scott, Whitney

Crater stats. Love the cloud shadows in these pictures.

The view to the left. The group of men there were from all over the world and were in Nairobi for a United Nations safety and threat course. One of the men is a Risk Analyst for the UN and his job is to analyze threats, decide whether or not certain countries are safe for foreigners to be. He also “eliminates threats” . . . I think you can read between the lines there, right? The funnest member of the group though was their leader (at least the leader of the hike), a hilarious, energetic, crazy Dutch man that had more Dutch pride than all of Pella, IA combined. (Maybe that’s an exaggeration?) It was a pleasure meeting all of these men, hearing their stories, and observing how they joked and bickered with one another about their respective countries’ past entanglements.

Leaving the UN group behind we started on our 7.2Km trek around the crater. Left side: the path ahead. Right side: the steep crater wall–don’t want to fall off the path!

Looks like we might be in the clouds when we reach the summit!

We passed by the small satellite crater on our right.

Getting higher and closer to the peak, but we still have a long ways to go! The red line shows the path to the peak.

Left: Scott taking in the crater. Top right: A lava tube formed from the outside cooling faster than the lava flowing inside. Bottom right: The narrow, and steep path up.

One last look before we’re in the clouds!

The summit! Sadly, the top of the mountain was in the clouds while we were up there and we couldn’t see anything but white.

In typical Whitney fashion, every flower was pointed out and whenever she could get the rest of the group to stop for a second, she would snap a picture.  The water on this flower is from the moisture of the cloud condensing.

Outside vs. Inside.  We disagreed on what views we liked looking at best.  Whitney loved looking to her right, at the ever changing landscape outside of the crater.  The picture on the top left shows the many rippling ridges beyond the mountain that reminded us of Kauai, HI.  The picture on the bottom left shows the many different colors of vegetation growing which prompted Whitney to exclaim more than once, “It looks like a Monet painting!”  Scott, on the other hand, was all about the massive crater inside the mountain.  The top right picture gives some sense just how deep the crater was.  The bottom right picture shows how wide the crater is (over a mile wide) with the summit directly across from us.  The shadows in the forest were made by some very tall trees stretching up and out over others.

After climbing Mount Longonot, we headed directly over to Crescent Island on Lake Naivasha that afternoon.  Crescent Island is actually a peninsula where many grazing animals live happily without any real predators.  Since there are no predators, you are allowed to walk around the island and get as close as you dare to the animals.

Upon entering Crescent Island through a forest of Yellow Fever Acacia trees, we were greeted by giraffes! In this picture you can see Maasai giraffe (front and back) and a Rothschild’s giraffe (middle).

This giraffe was holding still for our picture, but when we heard it move we both turned to look to see where it was going and our driver snapped this picture.  It’s an accidental favorite.

Do the eyelashes make him/her seem feminine to you?


Lilac-Breasted Rollers–Whit’s favorite

Just some wildebeest and zebra chilling beneath the acacia trees.

Lots of birds!  The top left is called the Superb Starling and our Kenya travel guidebook doesn’t tell us the other birds’ names. 😦  There are over 500 bird species at Lake Naivasha

Scott had Whitney slowly walk backwards smiling the whole time while this picture was taken.  Needless to say, Whitney did not like approaching the zebras without being able to see if they were getting irritated with her nearness!

Great White Pelicans in flight on the left and a coy looking stork on the right.

“Whatchu lookin’ at?” –Waterbuck

Scott and waterbuck

Male impala on the horizon.

After a big supper at the Fisherman’s Camp restaurant, we went to bed early and slept slightly better due to our tired and worn out muscles.  The next morning we woke up early again and headed to Hell’s Gate National Park.  We rented bikes to bike through Hell’s Gate and convinced our driver to join us (he deferred on Mt. Longonot).  Hell’s gate has mostly herbivores with a few leopards, cheetah and hyena so it is relatively safe to bike through.

Acacia tree with zebra.

We love giraffes!

Scott with giraffe and zebra

Ok, so, there are two zebra at the bottom of this cliff, but it’s the colors and texture of the cliff that we love!

Crazy zebra stripes!  Look at all the stripes on their legs too!

When we reached the other end of Hell’s gate we left our bikes and went with a Maasai guide through the gorge.

A section of the gorge

Inside the gorge.

This water was super-duper hot!  Hell’s Gate, next to dormant Mt. Longonot, is a site of geothermal activity.

Here we’re using an Emergency Exit to climb out of the canyon to go see Central Tower up above.

There are emergency exits along the canyon because there can be flash flooding of the canyon and in the narrow parts this means death for the person in it.  A half hour later, we were back in the canyon making our way to the Devil’s Bedroom when we were told that seven school children from Nairobi died here in April. There had been a flash flood and some children had not heeded the guide’s pleas to get to an emergency exit upon hearing the sound of distant water rushing.  We had just been told this when we heard the sound of water in the distance.  We saw the Devil’s Bedroom with its waterfall for all of a second before our guide started sprinting and yelling, “Quick!  Quick!  Move now!”  Muddy water began flowing beneath our feet and we all sprinted through it, soaking our shoes and our socks, adrenaline pumping, acrobatically jumping from one rock to another trying to keep up with our agile Maasai guide, and wondering if we might see a flash flood or if we might get out in time.  We reached this emergency exit and clambered up it as fast as we could.  Luckily, it was a false alarm and it was suspected that a water pipe from the nearby geothermal energy plant had burst.

Towards the end of our hike with the Maasai guide he dug up some ochre (what the Maasai traditionally use for face paint for ceremonies) from the ground, mixed it with water, and, upon Whitney’s request, painted our faces according to the traditional male and female patterns. Here’s our best attempt to look tough with imaginary bow and arrows and spears.  I’m not sure we live up to the face paint.

We then biked back!  Our poor driver is in the background walking with his bike.  He told us he felt “lighter” on our drive home.  😉

After Hell’s Gate we started the drive back home to Tenwek.  On the way we passed through Narok, where our driver lives, and there we bought the beef and goat you saw in our last post and also went to our driver’s home where his wife served us a late lunch with mango juice and chai to drink

Scott and I with our driver, Antony, and his sweet family.

We then returned to Tenwek quite tired, but happy with all we got to experience.

~Whitney and

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