Published: Saturday magazine, Nation newspaper 3 March 2018
Above: Chebara dam, 34 kilometers from Iten, it was opened in 1999 by the then president – Moi.
From Iten in Elgeyo Marakwet in western Kenya, the itinerary is set for Rimoi National Reserve along the new route that’s been chiselled down the Cherangani Hills. We have the option to turn right for Arror or left for Rimoi or Kamnarok national reserves.
Stopping en route at Chebara dam, 34 kilometers from Iten, it was opened in 1999 by the then president – Moi. The water flows 64 kilometers by gravity to the taps of Eldoret. Samson Makokha at the dam guides us into the power house with the turbines. I peer down the 75-meter deep tunnel winding its way to the connecting underground passage to surface some meters away. It’s a steep, vertical climb down.
Outside again, yellow-billed ducks line the spillway. “That’s Kipkunur hill and the water for the dam is from Moiben River,” continues Makokha. At this point, l’m really interested because Moiben is fed by the 22,000-hectare -Embobut Forest in the Cherangani Hills. The forest is the source of major rivers like Turkwel flowing into Turkana while Moiben and Chepkaitit drain into Victoria. Yet it’s a forest in dispute with population increase over the decades leading to degradation in this important water tower.
After lunch at Chebara centre in the local hoteli, we drive past the wheat fields of Uasin Gishu and back into Elgeyo Marakwet County to turn in along a dust road through a strip of indigenous forest on the Cherangani Hills. It’s too beautiful to ignore.
Parking by the side of the road Micah Kiptoo and l step on crinkling leaves through towering trees. I’m told the forest is called Matira in the larger Sangurur but that’s all. A few meters in it shows signs of logging and charcoal. With no guide to accompany us, we turn back.
Then the fun begins.It needs a local to manoeuvre the sharp hairpin bends and turns on the rough road down. At points Laban Kipkore at the wheel has to stop and negotiate the bends. At one point a freshly-killed boomslang snake, a meter-long has been abruptly killed while trying to swallow its little meal. It’s a casualty of ignorance as its best to leave reptiles in the wild alone.
A group of kids wave to us at the top of the escarpment. It’s unbelievable but the same kids catch up with us at the bottom having run in a straight line down the escarpment carrying their sacks. No wonder we get all our best runners from these sides.
Having reached the bottom, we’re turn for Rimoi to camp for the night with a stop at Kabulwo centre for tea.
It’s dry on the plains. Inside Rimoi, we try our luck to look for crocodiles at the new dam but don’t see any
The reserve is famous for its elephants from as far as Nasalot in the north and is reputed to be a breeding ground for the elephants. Recently a herd of Rothschild giraffes from Kruger (not the South African park but the one in Eldoret) was moved to the reserve with plans of bringing other herbivores to stock it up. The Rothschild giraffe is one of the most endangered giraffe with 167 estimated in the wild in 2016. Historically they were in the area until a century ago when all were poached or suffered the decline of natural browsing spaces.
On the banks of Kerio River the camp is set. The river is almost dry with cattle coming to drink in the puddles and people digging for water.
The following morning crossing it into Kamnarok to the ox-bow lake, it’s got water in it but increasingly being carpeted by the infamous invasive water hyacinth and other weeds.
Nevertheless it’s an interesting hour spent with the local fishers digging for earth-bound crickets to use as bait and birding.
Back into Rimoi, by the towering termite mounds of rich red earth, the young ranger fills us in with exciting news.
“At night, especially during moonlight, the pangolins come out to dig for the termites. You can hear them walk around because the scales make noise,” she tells.
Today, the pangolin is the world’s most trafficked mammal hunted for its meat and scales. Since 2016, all commercial trade in pangolin has been banned by the Conventions on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
I make a mental note to do a night walk with the ranger next time. Then she points to the greater kudu horn – once also plentiful in the area. The horn, locally called riambut was blown by Kalenjin elders to announce occasions like births and marriages.
Nairobi to Rimoi on Kenya’s west side is 346 kilometers – from Nairobi, take the Nakuru-Baringo road and turn left on C51 – if you don’t, Lake Baringo it 40kms away. L. Bogoria is close.
Lots of places to stay in Iten: Kerio View, High Altitude Training Centre Iten , AIC Cheptebo Rural Development Centre (in the valley) or camp in the beautiful campsite in Rimoi. There are tents available.