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November 2014 travel news 27
Mount Kenya and the National Park that surrounds it is notable for many reasons
apart from the fact that it gave the country its name when the East Africa Protectorate
was renamed Kenya on 23rd July 1920 by the British Parliament. For here are to be
found any number of birds, plants and animals that are unique to an area of just 588
square kms, a tiny space ecologically speaking. The Mount Kenya National Park was
gazetted in 1949 in recognition of the important habitat it provided and which needed
to be saved from human predation, a threat even in those far-off days. More recently,
Serena Mountain Lodge, situated as it is overlooking a permanent waterhole, affords
an opportunity to see at first hand the many animals and birds that inhabit a pristine
African rainforest with Mount Kenya’s twin peaks towering above.
The mountain has always inspired a mixture of awe and respect in all who see it, and
its very name, derived from the language of the wa-Kamba tribe who live far to the
south-east, has an interesting derivation. Being one of only three African mountains
to be permanently blanketed with a mantle of snow-the others are Kilimanjaro and the
Ruwenzori range, led them to ponder that the bare black rock around the twin summits
of Nelion and Batian and the white snow and glaciers below were the signature colours
of the male ostrich (nyaa) and thus they called it kii nyaa which in English translates
into ‘the place of the (male) ostrich’. All very logical.
The mountain, at once so dominant and imposing, has been revered by the indigenous
people living around its perimeter since time immemorial, the peaks themselves
taking the names of Maasai elders or Laiban. Jomo Kenyatta, long before he was to
become Kenya’s founding president at Uhuru (freedom/independence) in 1963, wrote
a celebrated book titled Facing Mount Kenya essentially about the Kikuyu people, their
traditions, legends and aspirations.
Mount Kenya remained unknown to the western world until well after explorers mainly
from Europe took an interest in the interior of East Africa in the early 19th century,
originally in search of the source of the Nile that evolved into Christian missionary
zeal and the elimination of the slave trade which for centuries had ravaged the region.
The first explorers looking for the source or sources of the Nile invariably started their
journeys into the interior from Zanzibar and Bagamoyo with the express purpose of
avoiding the warlike Maasai and Nandi tribes who inhabited the vast grassland plains to
the north and west, and so it is probable that the first white man to gaze at Mount Kenya
was a German, namely The Reverend. Johann Krapf, in 1849. He had established a
mission close to Mombasa for the Church Missionary Society and set about translating
the Bible into ki-Swahili, but when both his wife and child succumbed to malaria within
a few months of arrival, he decided to explore the interior.
Others followed, notably Count Samuel Teleki von Szek, a Rumanian and his companion
Ludwig von Hőhnel in 1886, sponsored by Crown Prince Rudolf, son of the Emperor
of Austria, Franz-Josef I. These adventurers while exploring the arid region of what is
today northern Kenya must have marvelled at the existence of a snow covered mountain
virtually astride the equator. Small wonder that they were treated with derision when
they first reported the fact to their respective geographical societies back in Europe.
Mount Kenya is a very ancient volcano and what we see nowadays are the reduced
remnants of what was once a much higher structure of perhaps 7,000 or even
8,000 metres higher. Its slopes and foothills comprise rich rainforest, a bamboo belt,
marshland, high alpine moorland, glaciers and bare rock faces millions of years old. In
fact so weathered are the topmost peaks that it is difficult to believe that Mount Kenya
was ever a volcano at all.
Serena Mountain Lodge room with a view & the view...
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