The Flying Muzungu
I travelled to Kenya with some friends earlier this year, after my trip to Nepal. My last few trips have been closely linked to paragliding. The road from Nairobi to Iten, our destination, brought with it our first thrills – antelopes, zebras and baboons, to name a few. We stayed just near the cliff above the famous Kerio Valley that drew us here, close to the equator.
The first thing we noticed was the lack of any type of medical infrastructure in the area, which can be a huge problem when it comes to “extreme” sports. The first flight (a few tens of kilometers South and back) gave me the opportunity to admire the amazing landscape – a high, rocky plateau with waterfalls, and the savanna plains 1000 metres below stretching to other mountains in the distance. Some birds flew close to me, making me feel connected to nature again, and everything that surrounded me.
Even though it was early, the wind was pretty strong and it kept me alert. That was good, it was why I was there. Children were waiting for us when we landed (how are you is the only expression most know) along with a few adults on motorcycles who took you back to the village for a small fee.
Africans are sadly just kibitzers when it comes to paragliding – they don’t have flight schools or the means to buy equipment. We spent the next few days alternating between short flights (permanent winds from the plains and turbulences made me hold back) and relaxation, hiding in the shade with my Kindle.
We went to Baringo lake, in the valley – it was a lot hotter there, the temperature is upwards of 37 degrees. The lake is beautiful, but also has a few attractions which are too “touristy” – the masai fisherman offering fish to tourists from his fragile boat, the vultures used to receiving the fish. It was impressive because you got to see crocodiles and hippos up close, lazy monsters who dive underwater as soon as people approach them.
We knew what they were capable of so we were pretty careful when we went swimming in the middle of the lake.
Another flight ended with a landing on a football field, which made the whole village gather around even before I touched down – they don’t see white people very often and children were especially keen on seeing if my “paint” would come off when they touched my skin.
Along with my group we also went to see the last tropical rainforest in Kenya, which once stretched all the way to the shores of the Pacific Ocean (impressive because of its lush vegetation, its survival tactics and its overwhelming moisture which turns into daily rain), a few waterfalls on the plateau (amazing, peaceful oases), on a safari tracking elephants (the warning sounds coming from one of them we approached left a lasting impression on me) and to Nakuru national park (we discovered white and black rhinos, countless types of antelopes, giraffes and flamingos).
The “muzungu” (white people) are an attraction wherever you are, the locals (most of them friendly and open) always want to take pictures with you. I think it’s funny to think about the opinion the locals in Iten must have about us, because they only see paraglider pilots and marathon runners who go there to train.
The flights I undertook during my two-week stay in Iten were short and difficult. It is one of the rare areas where you can fly early in the morning that time of the year but, on the other hand, it is also the most turbulent area I have ever experienced. There were many accidents during our stay – four people from my group had to deploy their safety parachutes, but fortunately none of them were injured.
I was happy to find the strength to give up on some flights during some of the rougher days, despite the money I spent, the distance I travelled and the fact that it was winter at home – being careful is a guarantee you will live to fly another day.
We went to the ocean, to Mombasa, before going back to Nairobi – it was a different climate, extremely hot and humid, the water only went up to your ankles hundred of yards away from shore, and the enormous and quick tide would then cover the beach. We went on a ride with a sailboat and went snorkeling and enjoyed fresh fish and colorful lobsters aboard the boat, along with the magical display of the water lit up by microorganisms at night. We missed the sunrise because of clouds, but we made up for it watching another one at 11,000 metres in the air.
We saw the Sahara, Cairo, the Mediterranean and the first snow on top of the Turkish mountains.
Kenya wasn’t exactly the destination I dreamed of because of the harsh weather conditions and the lack of a medical infrastructure – I was happy with the way in which I managed to control my new wing though.
I would like to go back to Africa someday, with less luggage and look for the lions I did not have the pleasure of spotting this time around. Thank you iQuest for the support and I hope you enjoy the photos.