Errors have to be paid for. And we made one very early. We didn’t respect the basic rule described in all guides - always check and agree in advance the price of whatever service. In the evening after the walk we went to the hotel restaurant to have a tea and to book breakfast. We wanted to enjoy luxuries of civilization for the last time before leaving for the mountains. On this occasion we decided to settle the bill.
"Your bill, here we go. 7300 shillings, please."
We are flabbergasted. Impossible! Unbelievable! This simply can not be "our" bill.
"How much is the accommodation itself, please?"
"The guide, however, writes that it should be only 3000."
"You have requested a room for two, which is 1800, and an extra bed for one, which is 2000."
I'm totally confused.
"How is that possible, please, that an extra bed costs more than the double room itself? And the sum of the amounts you’ve just said is only 3800, not 4800!"
Corpulent lady nervously shuffles her feet, turns on the bill and writes the two figures one above the other. Surprisingly, the result is 3800!
"Can you please explain how it happens that an extra bed is more expensive than a whole room?"
"Extra bed means extra work."
"So you say that the accommodation for four people in your hotel is cheaper than that for two persons with one extra bed!?"
"No. An extra bed comes for 1100."
It is still a bit much, but we are willing to pay the 3100 KSH. Accommodation is sorted out. Let’s move to the restaurant.
"Can you bring the menu, please?"
After some heated debate and another exercise in high mathematics at the back of the original bill we manage to cut the final amount by a third.
"Here you are 4800 shillings and breakfast at 6:30, please."
"Sure. Thank you and good night. "
The lady did not hesitate and walked out with elegance of her 150-kg body. We were a little bit afraid of breakfast, but we were excited in the end. Actually not all of us. Lada wanted to prepare his breakfast himself. It turned out that the Camping Gaz cartridge filling was a bit of homecraft. The stove blasted lightly several times and started to hiss almost inaudibly. The small flame was not able to warm Lada´s breakfast. Fortunately, the threaded Primus cylinders worked fine until the end of the trip.
Norbert is introducing Japhet to us, the head of a three-member group of carriers, with whom we were meant to share our problems. We pay the remainder of the agreed price (12000 KSH) and get into a decrepit Land Rover, whose "on-board computer" does not display a single sign of life.
Chogoria Route is described as by far the most interesting and most scenic journey through forests, wetlands and wilderness of Mount Kenya National Park, even though the views of the main peaks of Mt. Kenya are quite limited.
Entrance point is Chogoria village (1500m) on the east side of the mountains. The lead-guide, carriers, as well as a jeep can be arranged either in the Transit Motel or maybe even better at Marimebu Lodge. Marimebu Lodge can be found around one km from the entrance gate to the park, known as Forest Gate (1700m). We also made a stop here to take a third carrier on board. As the written guides say – literally whole village is involved in the national park business - you can address virtually anyone.
Time spent in the National Park Mt. Kenya is counted from the moment of passage through the lower gate - Forest Gate Station. But our jeep did not even slow down here. Registration and payment took place at the gate close to the Meru Mount Kenya Lodge.
Most groups cut those about 20km by taking a jeep. You can even have a full route drive, but then you cannot enjoy a beautiful hike through easy terrain and diverse jungle. The path has even a certain touch of adventure as one can encounter an elephant or a herd of buffalos.
The upper gate of the Park is located on an open plateau. Just a short walk to the right there’s a group of huts called bandas - Meru Mount Kenya Lodge. One can take a shower, there are kitchen facilities and bedrooms for a price of roughly $ 15. For a small extra fee there’s gas for cooking.
To the north and east of the bandas there are two small lakes where you can observe wildlife, ideally early in the morning or in the evening.
This stage can be divided in two legs. Although it is not usual, the first 7 km can still be done in jeep! This is of course no real business, only cripples afraid of blisters do that.
The first 7 km is of a very mild profile. You pass through the remainder of forests, pass by beautiful trees and later enter high moor. The breakpoint comes at a place where signs warn trekkers that there’s no water from there on up to Minto's Hut. Here it is abundant. Just half a kilometer to the left downhill there are beautiful waterfalls of Nithi, which are definitely worth seeing.
In its second and much more difficult part the trail crosses a stream and steadily climbs up the southwest ridge. To the left of the trail there are steep cliffs and views down into a large ravine – panoramas dominated by views of Vivienne Falls with more than 500m high rock flanks …
The goal of the route is Minto's Hut campground by the lake Hall Tarn. In Minto's Hut there’s only one metal shack reserved for carriers. Tourists have to use their tents.
From Minto's Hut campground the vast majority of groups continue to the Austrian Hut, even though there is abundance of other and often much more interesting options.
The trail continues west to the place called the Temple Fields. This is an area where the Chogoria trail connects to the circuit paths around the massif of Mt. Kenya itself called The Summit Circuit Path. Basically there are two options. In the southwest direction you can go over the Tooth Col to Austrian Hut, or head north to the Simba Col (Lion col) and then descend to Shipton camp.
However, there are always other options. For example, get up to the lake Harris Tarn and then set off along the northern ridge to the summit of Point Lenana (4985m) or descend from the lake Harris Tarn in a northwesterly direction to the camp Kami (4425m) by the lake Kami Tarn.
Usually, everyone goes for the painless option - to the Austrian Hut and then early morning attack of Point Lenana (4985m), which does not take more than half an hour.
Not far from the hotel we turn left - the sign "Chorogia Gate 26KMS " - and after a few kilometers to the right - the sign "Chogoria Gate 22KMS”. From this point onwards there are no more markings. We pass the so-called Forest Gate, a post with a crew of park rangers. Time of entry in the NP is counted right from this place. It is an important figure, since one hour difference can eventually cost you another 55 dollars!
Going by Land Rover is great. Wheels sink deep into the mud, the engine roars, but we always scramble out miraculously. One side of the car leans against a rock side and yet once again we get around it. Our hands hold tight, almost convulsively, the tubes that prop up the frame of the forty years old car. Here and then I try to film at least a bit of this mad ride, but I doubt any usable image will come out of this.
Unexpectedly, we meet two local trekkers descending on foot. Quite an unusual style of transfer. Immediately, we see why. Their car got stuck. They left it there and go to the village to look for help. Fortunately enough, they got stuck well ahead, so it does not jeopardize our plan to get halfway in jeep. After 12 km it’s over. We pay the agreed KSH 3500. We put on our backpacks and tread on. The altitude is 2250m and it’s 14 km hike to the park gate.
"Kimya Kimya! Tembo!"
Carriers stopped suddenly, stopped speaking in English and whisper. We don’t understand, but it looks like nothing nice is happening.
Japhet turns to us.
"Come quickly, but quietly. The boys spotted elephants. They are close to us on the left."
Through the dense jungle we can’t see anything that would resemble an elephant but we can hear the cracking of branches and watch the branches of smaller trees moving. None of us can think of anything smarter than immediately grabbing a camera. That would be something to take a picture of wild elephants in the jungle! So far we have photographed only large piles of crap that elephants left behind when crossing the road. We can also see tunnels leading into the jungle on both sides of the road. A picture of an elephant right from the trek, that would be a true blockbuster!
Danger is gone, we didn’t take a picture of anything and after an hour of walking Japhet says that elephants normally do not go up to this altitude.
Above the zone of dense bamboo the jungle gets thinner. After four hours of easy march we are in front of the gate to the national park. A sign says 2950 meters. We pick our tent right here. About 500 meters to the right there’s beautifully groomed camp with lots of equipped huts - Meru Mt. Kenya Lodge (3017m). But right at the gate we’ve got everything we need, including tap water. We filter it - to be safe.
Whole afternoon, we are just hanging around. There’s even a GSM network spot some 1.5 km on the way back. Japhet comes to see us in the evening, before six o'clock, just as we are having our TravelLunch. Carriers stay in one of the huts of Meru Mt. Kenya Lodge.
"Guys, come quickly, I have something for you. Take your cameras and binoculars."
We leave the food and go. Only a few hundred meters from the gate there’s a lagoon, to which the animals tent to come by evening. Hidden in tall grass, we observe a herd of buffalos. Later come the antelopes and other animals that Japhet names for us. Amazing.
And a treat for the end! In all that hassle and confusion back at the airport in Prague, I forgot to remove from my backpack the pickets belonging to the other tent – so now, our tent is stretched out as it should be ... :-)