Mt. Kenya Walk, 1st- 29 September 2016
The Second walk of the Walking Autism project started on the 1st of September 2016, but preparations for it started 3 months prior to that. We had to set up the crowd fundraising, plan the route, contact the various EARC (Early Assessment Resource Centers) Plan the camels, the supplies and various other logistics. I could not have done it without the help and support of the SEP (Special Educational Professionals) team, AAK (Autism Awareness Kenya) among various others.
On the morning of the 1st September 2016, 2 guides, 3 camels and me set off from Nanyuki on a 400 km walk round the base of Mt. Kenya.
I had arranged previously with some family friends who own a Camel walking safari business about renting some camels and taking 2 guides along with me on the walk, I had already been gifted a camel, whom I had named Balloo and had been training him prior to the walk, so him, and 2 two others named Tinga and Mbogo along with two guys named Hassan & Epikor, who were Samburu & Turkana respectively had walked from Rumaruti to Nanyuki with the camels, arriving in Nanyuki the day before we were to set off.. Giving us enough time on the day before the start to pack and get organized for the month ahead.
I had previously brought the bulk of what we would need, Unga (maize flour) Sugar, Tea, Coffee and various other Long lasting food items that would help us in times when we would camp without access to a duka (shop)
I had also brought things like extra ropes and tools to fix any thing that broke, as well as any extra medicine that we might need, and medication for the camels.
The day we started the journey, I was a bundle of nerves and feeling very unsure of everything. Could I do it? I had spent so long getting everything ready; but could I actually do it? Was I forgetting anything? Would I be able to finish the walk? What was I doing?
But with the camels loaded, a wave goodbye to everyone and my boot laces tied.. there was no turning back now!
Luckily for the first 5 kms to the main road in Nanyuki we were joined by some of the WA team who walked with us, calming my nerves and gradually I started to feel better about the whole thing.
After a lovely and small send off at the main road we were on our way..
Naturally, we make quite the roadside attraction! People, Cars and even donkeys stopped literally in their tracks and kids would run alongside us! Many people would just take a picture, but the times that people did ask me (or the guys) what we were doing, I’d tell them about the project, and was able to hand out some flyers that I had about Autism. There was a bit of interest and some just to watch us go by.
That first day we walked about 20kms and finally, as the sun was setting found our first campsite, by the river which gave us enough water for cooking and refueling our supply, and there was plenty of forage for the camels to graze on.
The camels naturally brought attention from many of the people, and by the time it was dark and we had made supper (Ugali & Sukuma or collard greens) we had quite an audience! I was able to chat with a few of the people, and explain to them about Autism and disabilities. Sadly, as in much of the country, persons with disabilities were not featured much in society, adults were either kept in homes or sent to group homes where they were often forgot about. Children, if they survived, were taken to ‘special schools’ and left there.. Sadly I was not able to meet with any of these children/adults.
I did speak with one woman who had known another woman from the area who had a child with Cerebral Palsy, but sadly due to non sufficient health care, the child had died aged 7.
Supper over, camels hobbled next to our tents and the day over, we sat around the fire and talked about the day and our plans for the next. Then headed to our tents for a well deserved sleep, still slightly unsure on my part.. Self-doubt still was my concern!
The day next, we were up at 5am and on the road by 7am. The next two days would see us on the path through Timau into Meru County.
With the help of Mt. Kenya Trust and Laikipia Wildlife forum, we were able to get permission to walk through the Mt. Kenya forest, For this section, we were accompanied by a guide because of possible encounters with Elephants and other wild animals in the forest.
It was a spectacular walk! The terrain would mix between forest and inhabited areas, which was good for meeting and talking with the people, mostly when we stopped for a quick break and rest our legs a bit.
That night we spent within the forest, amongst the trees, we were lucky we didn’t see any animals, but we did hear them, our camels seemed to kept them away.. Lucky for us! It was a very exciting night, round the fire and in the tent listening to the sounds of the forest.
Again up at 5am and walking by 7am, being so close to the mountain, the air was foggy and cold. We got to Meru the next day at around 2pm, after a long walk of about 17kms.
In Meru I had to get a letter from the county government, which was a copy of the previous one from Laikipia county, giving me and the team permission to walk through the county., I did that as soon as we got to Meru while the guys found a campsite. We were given permission to camp within the forest opposite to the KWS Meru station.
The next day was our Meru talk at a special school where some of the SEP (Special Education Professionals) and AAK (Autism Awareness Kenya) team would be joining me.
We spent the rest of the day washing clothes and ourselves, organizing and re-evaluating what supplies were needed, and enjoying some down time (camels included!)
The next day I went alone to our workshop, The camels I think were glad to have a day off as well! It was great seeing the Team again, by then I had accumulated enough stories for some time!
Our talk was well attended and well received, with talks from the EARC officials, as well as from the school, ourselves and of course myself. There were a few questions afterwards, which was nice.
Then the team and I had lunch before me going off to the campsite and the team heading back to Nairobi.
By that time I was starting to feel a little more in control of my feelings, and myself although the nagging was still there, I was able to relax more than I had done before.
Re-stocked, Re-vitalized and with well-fed camels we then moved onwards to Chuka/Chogoria. The landscape in this area was very beautiful, and very hilly! Which meant the camels and us were putting our leg muscles to work in ways we hadn’t done before!
Our next town/County was Embu which was still some way, but we were keeping good time, we occasionally stopped for refueling ourselves with mandazi (Swahili Bun or Swahili Coconut Doughnut, is a form of fried bread) and chai, with each stop we were able to chat to curious people who would come to talk with us.
I met a few mothers who had children with disabilities, if we were near to their homes, they would bring them to meet me, which was always nice. I met children of varying disabilities, from the profoundly disabled where they could not walk or talk, to the kids who were ‘getting by’ but due to their location had not received any therapy, services or support.
I was able to help as best I could and was able to give them the number of the EARC’s in that particular county. It felt good to help in whatever ways I could.
Along this part of the route, camels were a novelty, much less 3 of them! In this part of the country, people don’t tend to keep camels, so we’d get more attention than we would have liked.
Since there were not many back roads in some places, we had to walk through the little towns, which was nerve- racking as the camels were not used to cars. Although some drivers were courteous and slowed down, there were the few that would drive to fast, too close and hoot their horns which made the camels even more jittery and difficult to manage for us.
I was also getting used to, and managing the people who yelled out to me, the laughs, the constant being stared at as well as well as the other comments I got.. I was able to laugh back and crack the occasional joke.
Whenever we got to busy towns, like Chuka, and the back roads were difficult to find, walking along the main road was our only option. Among the noise of the cars, people, and sometimes construction, it would get all very confusing, but my only priority was to get the camels quickly through! On the other side of a town we could relax and take a break.
Further into our walk, the camels gradually became better at dealing with towns, which made it all so much easier.
If ever we got to a town in the early evening, we would walk through and look for a camping spot with ideally water and enough forage for the camels, they were mostly in someone’s shamba (farm) or on public lands.
In Chuka, as we were heading into town we met, and walked with the Imman of the Mosque who kindly invited us to stay and camp within the Mosque grounds.
We graciously accepted his offer and as we walked into the area, everyone ran outside to see us, with some running away.
With it being the Celebrations of Eid al-Adha, it was a public holiday so I had to wait to the next day to get the paperwork from the county.
This gave us plenty of time to unpack, set up camp, let the camels graze and for me to have a much needed bucket bath and dress appropriately (covering my head, arms and legs)
While the guys went into town, I stayed behind, keeping an eye on the camels and chatting with the women and children, which gave me lots of time to explain what I was doing and why. Many of the mothers were very interested and almost everyone knew someone with a disabled family member.
We were also invited to join the evening meal which was delicious, and a welcome change to having to cook after a long day.
The next morning, up with the Adhan, we were packed and ready to leave by 7. I left a little earlier in order to get the papers from the county governor’s office which I had no problem getting, then we said our thanks and goodbyes and were on our way to Embu.
The temperature from Chuka to Embu was really hot! it was very dry and humid, so our walk was not the nicest in terms of temperature.
I had another one of our workshops in Embu, where I would be meeting some more of the team who had come up from Nairobi.
Getting to Embu was our mid-break. We had walked 200kms with 200kms to go. It also meant 2 nights in a hotel for me, until the team arrived – a much needed luxury break! By that stage I had developed a pain in my left leg, walking was painful and painkillers only did so much! So a few days rest was enough to keep us moving! Eventually we got to Embu where we found a campsite good for the camels, I got the letter from the county government and then went to the hotel where I took full advantage of a hot shower and to sleep in a bed while I waited for the team to arrive.
The team arriving was wonderful! I really enjoyed being with them, yet at the same time missed the road desperately. By that stage I had become more confident in what I was doing, was better prepared for what the road presented and was really enjoying being on the road, even the usual commentary we got didn’t phase me, nor the camels it seemed. They would just walk on and were so much better in the towns with the cars.
Lucky for me, one of the team members who came up from Nairobi is a Physiotherapist who was able to see what i’d done to my leg, luckily only a pulled muscle nothing worse, but with a few leg exercises and painkillers I would be ok until I finished the walk.
The workshop/talk in Embu went well, there was a good turnout, about 100 people attended, comprised mostly of teachers and parents. After that it was one last meal together before I headed back to the road and the team to Nairobi.
I had begun to miss that life, so was looking forward to getting back out there.
After an early breakfast and a quick restock of supplies. I got back to the camels and we carried onto Kirinyaga, Kirinyaga was only a short day’s walk, but it was still very hot, so walking required twice the effort!
We camped that night a little off the road, where there was a river which was nice.. Although the temperature was still very hot.
After my usual visit to the county governors offices in the morning, we were on our way to Karatina.
The rest had done us all well – camels included. We had a nice long walk that day, speaking to many people on the road, and people would come up to me and mention they had heard what I was doing and could I help them. It felt great to be back on the road helping where I could.
The camels were great, and also as glad to be back on the road. We
would rotate them round every so often so they all had a chance to lead the line, the camels were tied together to stop them wandering off. They each seemed to have their own unique personality. Balloo was the baby of the group who was happy to follow the others, Tinga was the stubborn boy who when he wanted to stop and sit down, would literally do that no matter where we were. A 5 minute break
was usually what it took to get him moving again, and Mbogo was the strong, but temperamental boy able to walk fast and for long distances without a rest, but was known for trying to bite.
The walk to Karatina was beautiful, walking through the tea plantations, where many of the mama’s picking tea were so excited to have visitors they made us stop and have some chai with them.
We got to Karatina around 5pm just as my leg had started to really hurt, so we found a campsite and got prepared for the evening before heading onto Nyeri.
Next day was another hot day, but my leg was feeling much better so we had another long walk, we had turned off the main road and for a while followed the old train tracks through some stunning areas and landscapes it felt like being on the set of ‘Out of Africa’
When we got closer to Nyeri, we found a camp and I then went onto Nyeri for the letter & our talk/workshop.
Our talk went well with good questions from the audience, the team from Nairobi joined us again and afterwards, we had another great lunch before going back to the camels. That evening a woman with a child with quite severe cerebral palsy came to see us, she’d heard about what I was doing and was looking for help for her child. As best as I could, I was able to do what I could, little tips that she could do with her child and the number of the Nyeri EARC.
By now we had less than 3 days to get back to Nanyuki, and I really didn’t want the walk to end, I was enjoying it so much.
Through Naro Moro and to just past the town was where we made camp that night. We had invited a Mzee who had walked with us from just past Nyeri to eat with us, so it was nice to have some company for the evening.
We left early and had another good long walk to outside Nanyuki town where we made camp just as the first big rains we had had on the trip happened. Lucky for us we were under shelter, but the camels loved it!
That night was a restless one for me, it would be the last time I slept in my tent on this walk, and as much as there had been the negatives, there had also been so many positive experiences as well. I had really enjoyed it, and most of all had been able to help people; that was why I was doing this project.
We cooked a big meal that night, knowing it was our last night as a team on this walk, so as well as sadness there was excitement as well. We had just walked around Mt. Kenya!! While we had our dinner, with the camels happily hobbled and munching around us, we spent time talking and reminiscing over the past month round the fire. These guys had become my brothers, and the camels my friends. The sky had cleared up by nightfall and the stars were incredible! We eventually got to bed around 11pm
Walking through the town was no problem at all, the camels didn’t even flinch at the trucks that we walked past , we had become quite used to holding up traffic by now, so the walk through was now easy going.
Walking the 5 km’s back home was slightly déjà vu thinking back to the first day of the walk and how nervous and unsure of everything I was doing. And now it was the complete opposite.
Once home we untied the camels and sent them off to graze, which they did happily. Then we unpacked everything, the cleaning could come later and all went off for a sleep – or a bath in my case, which seemed the best one I ever had!
The team came up the next day for our last talk of the walk, meanwhile the guys and I spent the day sorting through the gear and cleaning what needed to be cleaned. It did feel weird not to be walking.
Our last talk went well, we had it at the Likii disabled school in Nanyuki and as well as few guests members of the Laikipia EARC, the county government, and various others also attended.
After a big home cooked meal that evening with the team and friends who had come, we all sat around talking and telling stories of our adventures.
The guys and camels left the next day and it was sad to see them go. We’d had an incredible walk together and it was a strange feeling watching them go without me …
This had been an incredible walk, and I realized how much I love being on the road, there’s a sense of peace I get that I don’t find anywhere else. Walking has always been my own way of dealing with things, when I walk I feel calm and able to deal with certain aspects in my life.
When I can walk and help others, it makes it even better. On average we spoke with about 70-100 people a day, not including the people at the events. And I like to think they all took something away, apart from “the crazy lady with camels” bit