04 September 2009

Stranded in Hell(’s Gate National Park)

From Mt. Longonot, sorry for the delay on this part of the story, we drove for about forty five minutes into Hell’s Gate National Park.  Still feeling the euphoria of the volcano and run down the slope, I remained alert as we entered the park in our car.  Being that we have no money and are cheap, we got the cheapest car possible.  A tiny Camery-type car, we made our first mistake nearly twenty four hours before entering the park.

Being that it is a large expanse with numerous wild animals, it is advised to drive.  With tired legs from our climb, the ride was a welcome rest.  We made our second mistake by opting to drive in a game park with our small car.  The third occurred concurrently as we did not take a cell number from the people at the gate.  I think that our excitement and exhaustion prevented us from thinking clearly.

Driving forward, we found ourselves surrounded by Thompson’s Gazelles.  We stopped to watch and take pictures and continued.  This continued as we went to see a 25m free standing volcanic phallus and moving on to some obsidian caves.  Plenty of animals filled the ride in between with more gazelle, warthogs, judging zebras and various birds.  Happy to have had the car taking us about, we made the decision to turn left out of the obsidian caves.  I did not think it to be a wise choice for no real reason.  I just thought right was a better option from there.  Not wanting to back track, we took the road less traveled and paid for it dearly.

That was mistake number four.  Number five came as we tried to press forward in a road of sand.  The car got stuck and forced Michael and I to help push it out.  Freed, the car had to be turned around so as not to have to descend a hill in reverse.  We found an area to turn and Sue shot around to return to the road.  The final mistake was trying to return to the road at too straight of an angle.  At once the car lodged itself upon the ground and the front right wheel found itself in loose sand.  With nothing to grip, the car as stuck.  

As if we were not dirty enough, digging in the sand made things worse.  We started with sticks and found no results.  Michael felt that we should try to feed rocks in and build a base.  After an hour of trying with moderate gains we rested.  Finding larger rocks, Michael and I alternated kicking them in to create greater traction for the wheel.  Moments of grip were fleeting as the wheel wore down on the abrasive rocks. 

The jack was then brought out.  Since we were under sand, the probability of a successful jacking of the care seemed low.  The impossibility was sealed by a terrible jack.  Unable to go higher than an inch, the jack was useless.  Knowing that this would not have been a likely solution, we did no realize the importance of this defective device at the time.

With dead animals abound, it seemed natural to try smooth bones.  No such luck.  In the meantime, we called the warden of the park.  With two numbers from the flyer we figured that it was be an easy thing to do.  What kind of park would list phone numbers that do not work?  We learned that we were in fact within a park that did that.  With a stuck car, no way of contact, 10km from the gate and darkness about two hours away, we started to worry.  Fortunately, with Sue at the phone-helm, she forced the KWS to contact the park through other means.  With it being 4pm, we knew that it was time to walk if there was to be no help.

While walking and desperate for water, we found a half filled bottle of water.  Wasting no time, Michael snapped it up and enjoyed every drop of water it had to provide.  Questioning his sanity, we pressed forth.  Not five minutes later, Sue’s phone rang with news that a car was on the way.  We turned about and walked back.  No more than ten minutes after we had arrived back at the car, a monster KWS truck arrived to pull us out.  Two friendly gentlemen towed us out and helped us get back onto the road.  After being stuck for two to three hours we were ready to head back.  So we drove out of the park, onto the tarmac and drove back to Nairobi.

That would have been a nice ending if our tire did not go flat.  Just a few miles out of the park with thoughts of hot showers a palpable reality, a matatu flashed its lights at us.  I told Sue to pull over and he stopped alongside of us.  “You have a flat tire,” were the words that reminded us that the ordeal was not over.  Remember the defective jack?  It was not the sand that caused it problems.  It did not work.  However, our luck turned as another matatu passed by and offered help.  We accepted and the conductor and driver proceeded to change our tire.  Not wanting to step in, we allowed them to work.  With few turns, many thanks and the passing of some currency, we returned to the road.

With darkness falling, finding our way back became a bit of a challenge.  Requiring a single stop to get directions, we returned back to the retreat center at 8pm.  A 12+ hour day ended with a long hot shower.  Running water is a blessing.  Thus ended our day and ordeal.  Despite the whole getting stuck part, I enjoyed our adventure.

Now I am relaxing in Nairobi, waiting for my parents and brother to arrive at 9pm (2pm EST).  Tomorrow we travel to the coast so that they can experience the Swahili culture and the Indian Ocean.  Monday will bring us to Maasai Mara and back to Nairobi on Thursday before they travel home late Friday night.  It will be a busy week of travel and I shall to my best to keep up.  Be sure to expect even more pictures.