I was certain I had made the right turn only to find myself deep in a forest with no option of turning back. I checked my phone and panic set in, no signal. It would be dark in a few hours. I had no idea where the forest path would lead us. Certainly not to our intended destination!
Down the path around Sasumua Dam
One Sunday afternoon, 3pm, two friends and I decided to do a quick road trip from Nairobi to the serene Sasumua dam, some 70kms away. Our intention was to drive around the dam starting at Kinamba side and ending at Njabini town, map below.
From Kinamba we drove along the dam for 6kms and made our first stop at the dam wall. We parked and walked up the steep wall curious to see what lay beyond. As I looked across the spillway, picture below, I wondered about the little house vaguely visible at the end of the pier. It was too foggy to see much. But I was certain we would drive by it. All we needed to do was find our way to that side of the dam wall. It was 4pm so there would be plenty of time to check it out and take photos before dark.
Wrong move – no warning
Done with the dam wall, we continued on our path to go around the dam. About 1km down the road one of us remarked how curios it was that we were no longer seeing the dam. Instead we were in a thick bamboo forest.
The path was no longer well-marked and had tall grass between the fading tyre tracks. Mmmmh, maybe just a little bit ahead we would see the dam again! But it was not to happen. By 3km we had all started to panick because it was apparent we could not turn around. The path was too narrow and the sides too steep. Someone asked, ‘Florence, you said you had seen a map on the internet showing a way around the dam?’ I replied with a faint ‘yes, I thought I did’, but started to doubt myself.
The secrets of Kieni forest
Fortunately for me no one pursued this interrogation because suddenly our attention turned to the sound of a waterfall, and then an unusual concrete bridge, below. We made our second stop to weigh our options. There was space to make a three-point turn and return to Kinamba.
Would we take this chance? We had already covered 5km inside the forest and Njabini should not be far from here, we figured. We decided to continue.
I was feeling jittery about driving over this bridge with no guard rails, especially after seeing the river plunging into the abyss a few feet downstream, picture below.
As I admired the beautiful scenery below I could not help note that the river seemed to be flowing towards the dam rather than from it. Very odd indeed. Disorientation had set in. We debated whether to walk to the waterfall but looking at the time, 4.30pm, we thought otherwise – an adventure for another day.
Panic triggers survival mode
Alas! 10km and one hour of driving deeper into the forest, another concrete bridge and no end in sight. By this time the merriment was all gone and survival mode had set in. It was now 5pm. Someone asked for water and we had none. How about fruit or snacks? None. Without knowing it, my driving had become frantic and my passengers increasingly nervous. But we had to get out of this forest and fast. Little did we know we were only halfway through our emerging ordeal. Adrenalin was flowing with all of us realizing that our phones were no longer useful. We started to wonder how anyone would find us in case we got stranded – this path was rarely used!
A terrified lot – time is against us
Our biggest worry now was time, 5.30pm. Another one hour and we would be in darkness and faced with an unpredictable night in the forest. I remembered I had washed my resident blanket and not put it back in the car. No torch either. One of us was asking all the right questions in this situation ‘What shall we do if we find an elephant in our path?’ Silence! And just then two of us announced we had to stop for nature’s call. Oh dear! Another 5kms on we crossed two streams this time on small wooden bridges, but still no end in sight.
A light in the tunnel – huskies & a private camp
And then, just as we were giving up we saw smoke. Yes! Freedom at last we thought. To our consternation 4 handsome dogs ran towards our car. No, not mongrels or even German Shepherd. To the best of my knowledge these had to be either Alaskan or Siberian Huskies, a rare sight in Kenya. But what on earth were they doing in the middle of a forest? Our answer came soon when a young man slipped into the road ahead of us evidently shaken by the unexpected visitors. His first words were ‘where are you coming from and how did you get here? This is a private camp’.
We explained that we got lost in the forest and were eager to get out before dark. We had two choices he said. We could either go straight on this path through Mataara Forest Block which would take us to Mataara village. Here we could cross the Chania River and drive on a nice tarmac road, in Muranga County, to Thika town. The second option was to take a right turn a few meters from the camp to get to the Thika-Naivasha road which obviously would take us to either Naivasha or Thika towns.
‘What?’, I asked. ‘We are going to Njabini not Thika!’
The young man’s revelation was shocking. It was then that it downed on me that all this time we had been driving away from Njambini and into Kieni Forest Block. No wonder the disorientation – remember the river that flowed in the wrong direction? But how could that have happenned? Was there no way to drive around the dam? None of us had the answer, all we knew was we needed to get out of this forest chap chap (soonest).
The last stretch – a near miss
As we left the young man, he called out to inform us that we had 10km more to go. Our hearts sank. How would we ever make it before dark? It was not possible. Instinctively I bore hard on the petrol pedal but had to slow down almost immediately. We were driving into a deep valley and the road was suddenly muddy and slippery. The car slipped into deep tractor tyre tracks. It would be a disaster if we got stuck here.
We began to hear a waterfall meaning we were about to cross another river – my heart sank an inch further. I just hoped it had a wider concrete bridge and not those little wooden ones. And indeed the little wooden bridge was there at the bottom of the valley, but this time worse than those before. It was precariously placed at a sharp corner. Picture this – a muddy surface, a sharp corner leading to a tiny little wooden bridge, and a roaring water fall a couple of meters downstream.
Despite our desperation to get out of the forest and paranoia that an elephant would emerge from the bushes, we had no choice but get out of the car. We needed to strategize how best to approach the bridge and who would take up this do or die feat.
So in our wisdom we decided that everyone, except of course the driver, would cross on foot. Because in case of anything they could walk back to the camp or ahead to the tar road for help. And who would drive? My friends argued that the same person who had been driving was best placed because she had gained considerable experience. Ha! My heart was pumping loudly in my ears as I went back to the car. I prayed and slowly made my way to the corner – I just let the car slid down, giving as little fuel as was possible. I looked at the bridge and ignored the fact that the car was just a wee bit off the centre. There was no turning back.
At last – corner C
Past that bridge we were all silently listening to some strange sound that seemed to be coming from one of the front wheels. I just hoped it was some vegetation trapped in the wheel cap. I was not going to stop because the car needed its momentum to climb out of the valley. Luckily the path was not as muddy except for the deep tyre tracks. Darkness was crawling. Now it was my driving skills and the car to get us out of here. I had no choice but push the poor machine ruthlessly.
We made two other ascends and then to our utter joy and disbelieve we suddenly saw something like a tarmac road. What a pleasant surprise! The young man had definitely over-estimated the distance from the camp by 3kms. We made it! Hurrah! 20kms of forest in 2 hours. We stopped to relish the moment, catch our breath and plan where we’d head to celebrate this victory. The obvious choice was to drive straight to ‘Flyover’, about 25kms for refreshments. Here we could have great Pizza at the Kobil petrol station or get roast meat and cold drinks at Longovasha Pub and Restaurant across the road.
The grand finale – off to Thika town to celebrate
My friends thought we should turn left on the tarmac but I was adamant we needed to turn right to go to Naivasha. No one was in the mood to argue so we went by my choice. After 2km of driving I could clearly make out the smart tea estate in the dusky light. We were headed for Thika, 60kms away, and not Naivasha. I owned up and was quickly forgiven. My friends empathized with my disorientation and nerves following the mad driving stunt I had pulled off. We decided to continue and explore what Thika town had to offer. One hour later we were merrily recounting our adventure at Metro Pub and Restaurant which incidentally is also housed by a petrol station. The boiled chicken was good and the live band played late.
Would you want to take this trip?
So would I do it again? Indeed I intend to go back and explore the many waterfalls and hopefully take some great pictures. This time it will not be by accident. Given the condition of the road, its remoteness and that it cuts across a gazetted forest, I will definitely consult with the Kenya Forest Service. I would recommend this trip for adventure and to those in need of a thrill. The driver needs to be 100% sober. Will you come with me?
Travel tips & Lessons learned
This trip made me realize the importance of keeping in my car: a torch, wooden planks, GPS, map, battery packs, rope, food, water, matches and warm clothes even for mundane road trips as this was expected to be.
Like and share this story – do leave a comment
If you have enjoyed this story, please click the like button below and share with your friends. Do go to my home page and subscribe by leaving your name and address. This way, you will get an email alert whenever I post a new story. I would love to hear from you so kindly leave a comment below.
For your information, I did go back to Sasumua to investigate if one could actually go around the dam – read the story on this site. Thanks for reading, Florence