Written by Ess Opiyo.
A story is told of the migration of Bantus. As they looked for land for settlement in the coast, some people were more or less scouts. So they were moving around the coastal area and when they found a good spot to chill, they told some people to stick around the region as the rest surveyed the other areas. The plan was to signal the ones they left behind when they found something promising. Loosely said, they would be called (‘tawaita). “Ita” is Swahili for call. Hence, the name of the settlers in the region “Wataita”- the ones to be called.
That’s where this story began. At the highest point of the coastal area. They call it Vuria Hill and it is 2208 meters above sea level. The drive to Vuria from Mombasa took 5 hours. It seems like a lot but I would put it at about average. It was quite the scenic drive passing through the disappearing hills and bare gneiss rocks which are a major characteristic of Taita. Gneiss rocks look like they have ribbons running through them. I’m sure you’ve seen those. The lowlands are characterized by inselbergs. That’s those rocks that just seem to rise abruptly. Like they were put there on purpose.
The journey to Vuria peak begins at Mwatate town, the central junction point linking Wundanyi, Voi and Taveta. As we headed to the base of our starting point, you notice how the road winds up the escarpment, giving you a bird’s eye view of the surrounding environment. I barely noticed human traffic through the route we used. I assume it is the hilly terrain that dictates the number of people you encounter per minute around the area.
Getting to the top took about 2 hours. I think it would have taken less considering the moments we had to stop for pictures and chit chat. Amazing views are offered, to say the least. The terrain is a constant climb as you head towards the peak. The only way is up! The reverse is true for the descent. I don’t think you can ever be ready for any terrain. Before this hike, I was on an exercise challenge for 30 days. I just spent a bunch of mornings running up and down a flight of stairs. 57 steps. 8 times. A pair makes one. Do the math. I felt quite fit and ready. Honestly, this is the most I had ever done before a hike. I was not necessarily prepping for the Vuria Hike; it was more like a happy accident.
However, 30 minutes into the hike, I remember asking myself “are these hikes very necessary?’’ My legs were killing me. The kind of mental and physical battle that happens during hikes is something I am yet to wrap my head around. One moment you are super excited, the next you are full of regret and finally you circle back to feeling accomplished. You can’t even complain properly because I don’t like to be the wuss on the hike that slightly kills the vibe by not making it to the top. Can’t be me. The elevation was no joke.
Great company always does the trick in hikes. Lucky for me, this was not one of those silent hikes where the veterans are way ahead and we slow hikers slack behind. Our pace was relatively the same. We jammed to music and had a number of bonding sessions. I’ve often felt the pressure to prove a point to myself. That didn’t happen this time; it was a no pressure hike. Along the terrain you enjoy the clean and crisp air, exotic forest cover and even a natural spring of water. Drinking from the flow was quite refreshing! Try it out!
By the time I was getting my second wind, I noticed the billowing of the white mist from the hill. This apparently indicates that you’ve reached the peak. I can honestly say that for a moment it was underwhelming. I was like “is this it?” Like biting into a chocolate square and finding out its brown soap. Probably because I had very high expectations of what the hill had to offer. It felt bare, with a surrounding of ancient trees.
A few minutes in, the cold kicked in and you realize why this has to be the highest point in the coastal region. Please carry with you your jacket as you go up even if you end up just tying it to your waist. How does that saying go again? Better to have it and not need it than need it and have to blow warm air into your hands to try and get some warmth. I think that’s what they say.
From there, we were led to the spot where we got to appreciate the views of Taita region. It was so beautiful. A lot of the “meh” left me. I finally felt like I’d gotten to a “peak”. You literally see God up there, as it is with other summits I have done before. I wonder if this is how Moses felt at the burning bush, if Moses had been 5’ 8” and black. And a girl. I kept waiting for my own call like “Ess, Ess, I am who I am. You are standing on Holy ground; stroke that rock three times, to unlock your next destination’’ That would have been cool.
Our descent took about 45 minutes. To quote the great philosopher Flo Rider, it’s going down for real. What a slope. From here we set out for lunch and swimming at Vacani Resort, in Voi town. The food was great and the service was excellent. I recommend swimming after a hike; it is always a great stretch for the muscles.
A number of unfortunate accidents have been recorded along the slope from Vuria- Mwatate town. A buddy narrated to me a wholesome story about his last trip to Vuria Hill. Apparently on their drive down, the driver put the car in neutral and at some point lost control. They did manage to get to the bottom of the hill fast but only because their car dropped off the bluff and rolled all the way down. How many times did they roll? I mean who can really keep count during a time like that. That story brought me chills for real. I honestly don’t know if I would have climbed the place if I had known about it before we made our way up. Talk about a near life experience.
That was two years ago. He hiked Vuria again to try and get over that time. That’s a long time to carry something like that around. I write this with their consent and as a call to anyone who might want to organize this hike in the near future to notify their driver to be keen on having their car on Drive and go easy with the brakes.
Going back home, I was filled with so much joy at having stepped out. I noticed that my attitude in the subsequent weeks became more positive. I lit up and was ready to take on the upcoming days. I was more motivated to keep crafting in this travel canvas of ours. I hate clichés but watch this space.
In my bag:
2. Hand sanitizer
3. Wet wipes
4. Warm clothing
5. Reusable water bottle
6. Swimming costume
7. A change of clothes
8. Extra shoes. Charges: Ksh. 3900 Inclusive of pick up and drop off, lunch and swimming at Vacani Resort.
It’s not like the whole day was smooth sailing and to that I leave you with a quote from Jillian Michaels who said that “It’s not about perfect. It’s about effort. And when you implement that effort into your life, every single day, that’s where transformation happens. That’s how change occurs. Keep going. Remember why you started.”
Keep hiking my dears!