I spent much of my childhood in the Kenyan Rift Valley, one of the geographical wonders of the world. Back then, I didn’t realize the significance of growing up within a geographical phenomenon that I also got to learn about in school.
The Great Rift Valley is a massive rift or fault on the surface of the earth that runs from northern Syria in the Middle East all the way down to central Mozambique in southeastern Africa. In Africa, the rift splits into two: the Eastern Rift Valley and the Western Rift Valley.
The Eastern Rift Valley runs through Kenya from Lake Turkana in the north and beyond Lake Magadi in the South. It is the home to breathtakingly unique geographical features, including geysers, extinct volcanoes, gorges, escarpments, the Aberdare Range and numerous lakes. Some of the oldest human fossils have been found here.
My favorite memories are of driving up and down steep, winding roads in different sections of the Rift Valley and stopping to take in the views of the valleys from the high points. On the drive from Nairobi, the capital city, to Nakuru in the Rift Valley, there are a number of scenic overlooks along the way, where the ground suddenly drops away from the road into a steep valley that expands several thousand miles in every direction.
Further west are the rich, fertile highlands which comprise what is known as the bread basket of Kenya. Whenever I traveled west from Nakuru, the greenness of the tea plantations in Kericho never ceased to amaze me. The endless fields of maize and wheat in Njoro, Molo and other farming communities along the way had a calming effect on me. It was very serene.
I once took a trip to the Kerio River Valley and didn’t want to leave, once I got there. I stopped by Kessup Girls’ Secondary School near Kabarnet. The school is nestled into the side of a steep hill and is surrounded by cliffs, ancient forests and waterfalls on the west side, the back of the school. On the East side, the front, the ground steeply drops away into a valley surrounded by unbelievably lovely hills. I repeatedly asked the girls how they could concentrate on their studies when every glimpse outside the classroom window was of beautiful waterfalls cascading down the cliffs. On the morning I watched the sun rise over the Kerio Valley, I wanted to stay forever. The ethereal mists rising up around the hills looked like something from a movie.
Within the Rift Valley, some of the popular parks are Mt. Longonot National Park and Hell’s Gate National Park. I vaguely remember a visit to Mt. Longonot National Park and a hike up to the rim of the crater. Immediately I peered into it, scenes from Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days came to mind. Hell’s Gate National Park is known for its hot springs and geysers, unusual rock formations and obsidian deposits from extinct volcanoes.
If you’re the outdoorsy type, these two parks are fun places to visit. They are the only ones in Kenya where you’re allowed to hike, bike and go rock climbing. They are also popular camping sites for locals and tourists alike. Lots of different kinds of game and birds can be viewed at both parks and at the nearby Lake Naivasha, a beautiful green haven.
If you ever find yourself in Kenya, give yourself some time to explore and enjoy the Rift Valley. You won’t be disappointed.