August 4, 2011

Longonot and Naivasha

photo: Kalense the Kid

My family and I spent the month of July in Kenya, where I grew up. One of the things I wanted to do (besides eat murg makhanwala and nyama choma!) was climb Mt. Longonot, a dormant volcano, with my kids.

I went to high school at Rift Valley Academy, which is on the side of the escarpment. Longonot dominated the landscape, and I used to draw it constantly. Its slumbering form has inhabited my dreams.

Longonot, which last erupted in 1863, is a classic caldera. It took about two hours to climb with the kids (aged five and eight). My son basically had to be dragged up the steeper sections, and a couple times I didn't think he was going to make it. But it was all worth it for the stunning experience of reaching the top and peering over the rim, which is only a couple paces across. The floor, several hundred meters below, is carpeted in bush. Sulfuric steam rises from a fissure in the wall. On the outer slopes, one can see very clearly where the lava spilled over the edge and pooled.

photo: Tambako the Jaguar

From the top of Longonot, we could look over at Lake Naivasha, which is just an hour and a half from Nairobi, and used to be a favorite vacation spot when I was a kid. The lake is now surrounded by huge greenhouse-type structures, where flowers are grown for export to Europe. Planeloads fly out daily. This generates a lot of cash, but growing flowers requires a huge amount of water, and the lake is rapidly shrinking. When I was young, we used to take boats to Crescent Island. As you can see in the satellite photos below, the island became a peninsula about ten years ago (though, amusingly, it's still called "Crescent Island").

But now the open end has almost closed up, creating another, smaller lake. One effect of this shrinking is that there is now about a mile of new, pristine parkland beside the lake, where giraffe, impala, zebra, and waterbuck gambol. It's lovely to stroll there in the late afternoons. But in a few years, unless some sort of action is taken, Lake Naivasha will be no more.

photo: mckaysavage


  1. I'm reading your second book and I always get curious about authors. I grew up hearing about Rift Valley Academy from missionary families my church supported. My family always had these families in and out of our home when they wer on furlough, and my mother wonders why we all ended up with wanderlust!

  2. If you have wanderlust, Jenny, you could do worse than visit Kenya's Rift. Stunning landscape.

    I hope you enjoy The Book on Fire!