A Day to Remember at Mt. Suswa

It's been a while since we've done any traveling within Kenya.  Feeling our restlessness mounting, we decided to take a day trip to Mt. Suswa this past Saturday.  The idea of Mt. Suswa was first planted many months ago at a dinner party where we learned of its scenic views and solitude from tourists.  With the internet searches and guidebook research that followed, the seed of Mt. Suswa steadily grew into a fantastical Rift Valley paradise.  With expectations soaring, I was worried about the inevitable disappointment that tends to follow but was pleasantly surprised to find that the Mt. Suswa of my imagination paled in comparison to the real deal.  

So on Saturday morning, we embarked as early as I could manage without being dangerously homicidal (did I ever mention I'm not a morning person??).  With plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen in tow, we scooted down Waiyaki Way through uncharacteristically light traffic.  We then turned off onto route B3 from which we enjoyed some stunning views while descending into the Rift Valley.  When we arrived at a small town called Mai Mahiu, we turned left and into a gas station to wait for our guide.  In the course of his internet research on Mt. Suswa, T came across a blog strongly recommending Daniel, a local Maasai guide, native, and resident of Mt. Suswa.  After a couple last second phone calls, we made arrangements for him to guide us for the day.   Our wait for him at the gas station was only but a pause however, as Daniel quickly arrived, wearing brightly colored kangas and a warm smile.

We continued along the road towards Mt. Suswa conservatory, then turned onto a rough road at possibly the first and last sign for Mt. Suswa we saw all day.  As we neared the mountain, the road became less and less obvious, making Daniel's guidance increasingly more invaluable.  At times it was comical how he would suddenly tell us to turn left or right at a seemingly arbitrary place within a wild landscape.    

In time, we reached the house of Daniel's father, who we learned was the first person to settle in the Mt. Suswa valley.  We parked our car beneath a tree by his home before embarking on our hike up the mountain.  Despite it being around noon, we braved the trek under the high and piercing African sun.  As it turns out, Mt. Suswa is very unique in that it is a crater within a crater.  The outer crater spans across about 10km in diameter and it is within it's valley that Daniel was born and raised among his Maasai community.  What we climbed that afternoon was in fact, the inner volcano who's crater spans 5 km and is home to a lush and pristine forest.  From the summit of our hike, we could see the walls of the outer crater in the distance while looking into the inner crater valley (above).    


As we turned to descend back down the slopes of the inner crater, we could admire views of the outer crater valley and walls.  I often wonder if I will ever grow accustomed to the African landscape.  Each and every time I come to gaze upon it's wild countryside, it seems other worldly.  The Rift Valley often looks like a perfectly manicured lawn dotted with trees and shrubs which somehow makes the whole landscape seem unreal, like something out of a computer generated Jurassic Park.  

We returned to Daniel's father's home, hot and thirsty from the hike.  A perfect time to go burrowing into a nice cool cave.  What was not obvious to me at first was that Suswa is also home to a vast network of interconnected volcanic caves.  

Once again, Daniel's guidance proved invaluable as he led us from one cave to another.  As far as I could tell, none of the caves were marked therefore there was no way of telling what cave led to what.  The first cave we entered actually rested above another cave and where it ended, there was a large gaping hole in the floor opening into the cave below.  Had it not been for Daniel, I'm convinced I would have met a tragic end right then and there.  

The last cavern in the string of caves we ventured through was that of the famous "Baboon Parliament" (check out this great BBC video about it if you haven't already).  Named for it's nocturnal inhabitants, it was certainly the most expansive and picturesque of the caves we had visited.  While we didn't have any close encounters with any baboons, unfortunately there was plenty of fecal evidence to suggest that they had been around... a lot... for a long time.   

Daniel led us into the baboon's cave where monkey dung steadily shifted to bat guano.  At some point, he paused and noted a change in the air.  As if hitting a wall, the air suddenly became noticeably warmer and humid, making the stench of ammonia from the bat guano much more apparent.  As we crept deeper into the cave, we could hear the chatter of bats becoming louder and feel the air becoming thick with flying insects.  T accidentally took the photo above while in the cave and afterwards, realized that the little specks of light were not dust particles but rather flying bugs!

Between the guano and the flying insects, it was becoming increasingly impossible to breathe.  Just when I felt as though I couldn't go any further without being suffocated, Daniel paused and spanned the walls of the cave with his flashlight.  It was hard to make out at first.  It looked as though some brown moss had taken over the walls... and then suddenly it hit me, we were in the presence of literally millions of bats.  I could tell from the fading light of my flashlight that the bat covered walls of the cave continued much further into the darkness.  While we may have only begun to experience the tip of the iceberg, it was a plenty large dose of adventure for us and we decided to head back.

On our way out, Daniel pointed out a few cave drawings on the wall.  It's anyone's guess how old or authentic they are but they still added to the mysticism and excitement we felt from discovering the hidden underworld of Mt. Suswa.

I'd highly recommend Mt. Suswa to anyone looking to have an amazing "off the beaten path" experience.  If you plan to go, I also highly recommend that you take along a guide.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time with Daniel and owe him much credit for making the trip so successful.  You can learn more about him and how to contact him at his webpage.    


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