5:15 am, we are all packed up and ready to go. Charles Mundia picks us on the road at precisely 5:17 am – it’s a Bubbles Restaurant hike, and Charles is the military master behind it. He always keeps time. Always.
It’s Susan’s first hike. It’s her birthday hike. She’s excited and terrified at the same time. But she’s excited – that’s the best recipe for a hike. We get to Bubbles, and every hiker is there, geared up and ready to leave for Elementaita. The plan is to hike Sleeping Warrior, Ugali, and Saucer; I will get to the names later.
I see Miriam, Cege, and Eric combine the trio with Charles; I already know I will be on the sweeping team. I have a first-time hiker in my care and a fallen warrior to resuscitate; the last thing I need is to hike with Team Subaru, let alone put Sue through that. I want her to love hiking, I need her to love hiking, so I need her to enjoy it. The only way she can do that is if she hikes slow. She’s a nature person, so I know that won’t be a problem. She’s my best friend, my support system, and I’m happy she’s doing this.
Soon enough, we are on the road. A Bubbles hike is always a Carpooling hike. We are nine coming from Thika, and two cars are enough. So we stick with the military master; we are five in the car. I’m seated at the back between Miriam and Sue, a few minutes of small talk, and they’ve drifted into slumberland.
Charles and his boss are going at it with conversations I would never understand. I’m pretty much left alone, sleepless, and bombarded by loud thoughts. My thoughts are loud….they’ve kept me sunken all week. I’m not one to go days without a run. I barely ran this week. I wanted to. I needed to. But I couldn’t. It’s been a tough week. I hope to rekindle my spirit with a hike. A walk would do, but I need a mountain. I find that conquering mountains can help you concur with real mountains in your personal life.
I take out my headphones and drift into the world of musical hugs where every song rings to an emotion I’m feeling. Music has a way of consolation. I’m determined to brave it out. My mental and physical health has been challenged; I need my warrior to stay afloat. I need her to keep going. I need her to keep fighting.
8:13 am we’re at the meeting point – Elementaita Viewpoint. The girls are awake. The men are ready. After a few minutes of waiting and the rest of the team is here. We get back into the cars and head down to the Cactus Hotel, where we park the vehicles. Barely two minutes of assembling to introduce our names. We’re 16. I barely remember everyone, but they all leave an impression on me by the end of the hike.
We start the hike. A slight stretch and Lake Elementaita is in view. Susan is elated. She’s excited. She’s like a small kid who just walked into a room of candy. For a first hike, she’s receptive. She’s ready. She’s happy before it begins. The lake is beautiful, and the Flamingos are pink. It’s a lot of Pink. It’s beautiful.
Our guide instructs us not to make noise so as not to distract the flamingos. Everyone is taking photos. It is the kind of view that demands a photo. So we get a team Pic! Everyone is happy.
Soon as the hike begins, the teams have been established. Eric is always the fastest in the group. I can’t keep up with him. Very few can. We already know who will be in team Subaru, Eric, Charles, Miriam, Josiah, Pauline, and pretty much the rest. The sweeping team is compromised of Carol, Sue, Amarula (the guide), Me, and Cege, who as expected, joins team Subaru later. Cege is always a good sport. I get to learn many deep cultural beliefs in my culture that I would never know otherwise.
From the lake, you can clearly see Sleeping Warrior. I understand why the mountain is called that; it looks pretty much like a warrior sleeping on his back. It reminds me of Te Fiti in Moana. I can see the warrior; I can see why the Maasai named it that. In Maasai land, the warrior never dies; he’s only asleep. It looks like an easy climb from afar….it starts to threaten your quads as you near it.
We pass four Maasai men seated on traditional stools; I appreciate the culture. From their red ash and Maasai shukas, it’s clear that these men thrive in their beliefs. I admire that. The land is dry and hot but very beautiful. The acacia trees, the shrubs, the rocks, the sand, and the hot sun all seem to thrive in one accomodating relationship. The conversations are enticing, but I mostly want silence and nature. I’m here to pour my pain and leave everything here. I’m doing exactly that. I’m starting to feel lighter.
We come across a plantation of mulberry trees. The guide tells us they’re meant to feed silkworms. At first, I have no idea what he means. I am still lost in my thoughts. I think of the people I’ve lost along the way. I miss them in different aspects. I wish life turned out different…but can we control life?
We spot Eric and the rest up the warrior. The climb looks daunting. Sue is terrified, and I’m not ready. Finally, we get to the butt of the warrior. Amarula singles me out as the weakest link. I understand why – it’s my weight. I catch no offense. I have no reason to. I am not in the mental space to. The climb is slightly steep. But it’s not a long ascend, so there is hope to be done in a few. Sue sets the pace. Cege aborts team sweepers once he sees the rest of the team disappearing past the warrior summit. Sue sets the pace, and everyone thinks she’s pro. She wants to be done with it. She’ll regret it later.
Amarula keeps pushing me to keep up. I don’t want to. I just want to climb slow, feel the exhaustion, feel the challenge, breath hard but breathe out my woes. This was my plan. I don’t care about speed. I care about why I’m here. I get to the top anywhere.
It looks like paradise. The crater looks like a stadium. The view of the lake and the hills is breathtaking. You can spot gazelles at the bottom of the crater. I’m tired but energized. We can see Ugali, the next climb. Sue is not ready. Her joint and knee cap is giving her hell. There is nothing to do about it – she who ascends must descend.
As we descend the warrior, we come across a silk production farm. I remember the Mulberry trees. Now it makes sense. It is decided we’re not doing Saucer. So why not explore the farm? The guys are kind enough to let us explore and ask questions. I am fascinated. I am embarrassed, too, for I never actually knew of how silk is made.
Nephat Maina is gracious enough to take us through the process. He tells us that Silkworm farming is lucrative in Kenya, and the returns are monthly. We see white cotton balls spread out in the sun. They’re not cotton balls, silk cocoons. He explains how they feed the mulberry leaves to the worms while they’re in the lava stage. This helps them graduate to the pupa stage, where they’re already in the cocoon stage. They are set up in some wooden structure where they spin the silk. They are then dried in the sun to suffocate the pupa before they can morph into butterflies. Once they are dried up, they’re ready for silk production.
According to Nephat, silk is either exported to India, US .. or sold to Local research bodies in Kenya, e.g., KALRO. He tells us 1 acre of land can produce 80-120kg of silk cocoons per cycle. There are about 4- 5 rearing cycles in a year. So 1kg of silk cocoon goes for about $25 if selling to local research. If exporting, it goes for about $40. The climatic conditions here are favorable. It is not tedious, neither is it labor-intensive, and the returns in investment are monthly. So it was a good detour.
We are alerted of a hiker who is stuck between warrior and Ugali. We have to get to him. It’s Peter. His feet are driving him nuts, and like Sue, he wants to Tap out. Carol and I do an incredible job of encouraging them not to give up. It is decided that we all do Ugali then head out. Ugali looks precisely like Ugali made by a Luhya. The name makes sense. It’s also not as steep as a warrior. Here, we are starting to meet Maasai children who only want biscuits and water from us. At some point, we are out of water, but the end seems near.
We get to the Manyattas. Other than the fact that these people struggle to get water, I envy their simple lives. Their worries are little, and fields of nature surround them. Although Amarula is quick to point out that the hyenas terrorize these people, they seem happy here. I love that. I wish I had that.
The stretch back is never-ending. I wore the wrong shoes, and my feet are burning. My feet are killing me. I can’t tap out, not yet. It feels like I am walking on fire. I’m the last on the team—the ultimate sweeper. I think of what I have been going through the previous two weeks, it’s sad, but I appreciate my tenacity. I understand that I am not of frail spirit. I recognize that I should strive to maintain the spirit of the warrior within. The warrior is awakened.
We get to the acacia trees. I spot a dead acacia tree that’s dead but not really dead. It’s still standing. It’s ash grey and looks artistic. I think of how life is fragile. How small and big things appear to be indifferent seasons.
My feet are on fire. I’m tired. I’m ready to tap out. But it is here that I make peace with life as it is. It is here I accept that love is a terrifying thing. It’s not safe. Because when you love someone, you have to face the fact that you could lose them. Sometimes life throws an unexpected wrench in your way. It might be that you are in jeopardy of losing your career, your freedom, or worst of all, you might even find out that a loved one just died. These things make me realize how extraordinary life is and how special the people I care about are to me. I am not oblivious of how I will miss important people who graced my life. Love is not lost. Love always remains.
Amarula keeps telling us we’re close. Peter is the most affected, but we’re determined. We shall persevere. And we do. Luckily, the hotel allows us to shower for $1. I can’t wait to get off my shoes most of all. After a relaxing shower, I realize that I feel much, much lighter. The warrior is energized. A girl is ready to keep pacing on. A girl feels appreciative.
The Thika team heads back. Like last time, we gather at Bubbles Restaurant. Same culprits, Charle, Cege, Eric, Miriam, Sue and I. A little food, a little laughter, a little drinks, we all go home satisfied. A girl is happy. A girl has accepted life as it is. A girl is ready to forge on. But before a girl takes her leave, I would like to wish all the Bubbles men hikers and friends a Happy Father’s Day!