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Kenya Trekking Safaris: a trek through the glades and Lava Caves of Chyulu

A chance visit to this fascinated area reveals the world’s second largest lava and a trekking safari paradise.

The long rains have fed the rivers off the otherwise dry and lands with rich earth waters coursing through the parched terrain. Every thing in kamba area is luscious green with grasses and flowers blooming in all colours. On an impulse, we take the road with the sign post reading “Chyulu Hills National Park”

That the Chyulus are fascinating for a trekking safari by nature lovers is an unforgivable understatement. They are ravishing, a trekking naturalist’s delight full of a stunning array of plants, animals and scenery. The hills run almost 100 kilometres parallel to the Nairobi-Mombasa road. You can see the cones from Sultan Hamud and way past Kibwezi

Volcanic activity in the area began 1.4 million years ago. There are hundred of hills and cones that make up the range of Chyulus. Most estimate the hills at between 600 and 10,000years and volcanic eruptions like the famous Shetani and Chaimu in Tsavo West.

The road to the park headquarters is lined with baobabs and thatched homesteads of the Kamba. The cattle, with there ribs etched clear against the skin from the drought, are showing sings of fattening up. We reach the park headquarters where beautiful wooden carvings are placed around the compound. I compliment the warden, Mr Onyango, nicknamed Simba (lion).

We get our rangers, two young men, Adan and Mohammed, while the warden continues his meeting with the local community. There are many issues to address, especially those of the elephants straying out of the park during the dry season and raiding the farmers meager crops. “One of the ways of bringing income in the community is to start eco-projects with them, so that they can benefit from the park, “explains the warden.

Our rangers suggest that we do a trekking safari of the caves. I’m more inclined to hike the hilltops but it is too late in the day to do that. We drive over volcanic stones and dry tracks until they is no road. The long grass has completely colonized the tracks. Its good that the guides know where we are going. Finally we have to abandon the car and trek through the long grass.

The faint sound of an elephant trumpeting carries through the glades as we reach the opening to the first crop of caves called the Kisula caves.

We don’t have torches, but we wander through the cool cave until the point where the opening shows. There is rock strewn about and animal foot prints trailing inside and then pitch darkness.

“There is one more cave popular with trekking safaris you must see, “our rangers enthuse. A trek away and another short track through the towering grasses bring us to an enormous hole in the ground and a ladder that takes you down. There are two openings with rocks littered about.

“Come here,” says the rangers sitting at the opening of the cave. From where we are they is nothing to show why the men are so eager that we see. We climb down through a vent in the ground. There is a cold draught, and its so fresh and cool.

The Leviathan Cave is the world largest lava tube. Much as I would love to walk through, the opening is blocked by green moss-colored boulders and the inside is too dark.

“Caves have their own unique ecology, “says Simon of the nearby Umani Springs Camp, who founded the local cave exploration group of East Africa in 1964, whose heydays are sadly passed.

“The openings of the caves are actually collapsed holes in the tubes, “he explains “Caves have distinctive vegetation because they actually breathe. ”They have a constant temperature and the cool air you felt at the Leviathan is the air drawn out.” He says.

Lava caves are relatively rare and different from the more common limestone ones at the Coast. They have their own features like lava ropes and benches, stalactites and stalagmites produced by different minerals dissolved in the ground waters.

“The caves are believed to be connected to the Mukururu side,” the warden explains later.” People have done only about 16 kilometers but if these lava tubes reaches Mukururu, then they are almost 60 kilometers long.”

“But we need money to establish that”, says the warden lamenting the lack of funds not only for caves exploration but also for the park, which is so full of exciting finds.” It’s not easy to go through these caves. Sometimes there are pockets of stumble gases you can stumble into during your trek.”

I’m getting really excited about these caves and the trekking safari. There have been blind scorpions recently discovered in them and bats that are now becoming more endangered in them, besides tons of undiscovered stuff. I can’t wait to organize a longer trekking safari and explore more of the Chyulu lava tunnels with a powerful torch and, of course, a speleologist.

Where to stay
There is a wonderful trekking safari campsite near the headquarters complete with a shaded banda and plenty of trees to hang your hammocks on. Water is available at the camp HQ. The basic of camping is being smart. The Chyulu Hills National Park is a heaven for people who love walking. Alternatively, you can stay at Umani springs camp, a tented affair in the heart of Kibwezi forest. Its affordable with a range of nature walks around the forest and the second largest collection of natural springs after the Mzima, percolate through the Chyulu Hills. Your tour operator will arrange for transportation and accommodation as well as other exotic sites.

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About the Author: Robert is a tour consultant in Kenya and has planned business and vacation safaris for over 10,000 tourists in the East African region. He is a tour operation- major and involved in National tourism policy development in Kenya.

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