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Kenya: One of East Africa's First Female Mountain Guides On 'Making It' and Starting a Business to Boot

Photo: Zoe Wanjiru/Akilah Net
Zoe Wanjiru, centre, with clients at one of the entrances to Mount Kilimanjaro. 

By Peter Musa


For Zoe Wanjiru, life is one continuous climb -- and she wouldn't have it any other way. For seven years, the Kenyan national has been guiding tourists up some of East Africa's most treacherous peaks, including Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya, and through some of the region's most scenic safari parks.

As one of the few women guides operating in East Africa, she's faced skepticism and downright discrimination. In many lodges, accommodation for women guides simply doesn't exist -- then there are the flirtatious guests and subordinates who don't take her seriously.

But over the years Wanjiru has hit her stride and knows how to deal with these challenges. She's struck deals with hotels to stay in guest quarters and has assembled a trustworthy and respectful team. She knows how to handle everything from feisty tourists to life-threatening accidents.

In August 2010, she launched travel company Bush and Events Africa, which she co-owns. Wanjiru continues to lead tours and doesn't plan to stop climbing any time soon. In fact, decades from now, she hopes to sumit Mt. Kilimanjaro at 60.

Mountains of Magical Kenya
Details on Mount Kenya and others to come

Mount Elgon

Mount Elgon is a large extinct volcano that straddles the border between Kenya and Uganda. Reaching a height of 4,320 meters and extending over 100 km in diameter, Mount Elgon is the largest, although not the highest of Kenya's mountains.

On the Kenyan side of the border, 340 square km of the mountain has been set aside as a National Park, preserving a wide range of natural vegetation in an otherwise intensively cultivated area. The mountain invites exploration, as you wind your way through a mixed forest of deciduous and evergreen trees, including magnificent specimens of the East African Cedar and the Podo, both reaching upwards of 30 meters. Branches are frequently festooned with lichen and a tangle of wild orchids.

With luck, you will observe black and white Colobus monkeys and the blue monkey, as well as the giant forest hog and red forest duiker. Many leopards, buffalo and waterbuck also inhabit the Park.

wide range of birds, including the rare forest francolin, make Mount Elgon a bird watcher's delight. The forest floor, where many rare species of flower may be found, is also interesting for botanists. Hiking to the peak of the mountain, visitors pass through the forests, leading into glades of montane bamboo, open woodlands and finally open moorlands to the craggy summit

The walk to the peak (no technical skills required) provides an exceptionally beautiful experience, offering views of giant groundsels and giant lobelias, survivors of a remote ice age, as well as endless vistas over the African landscape.

Mount Elgon is also well known for its four explorable caves, formed by the action of water on ancient volcanic ash. These caves play a vital and unique role in the lives of forest animals. Families, and sometimes entire villages of the El Gonyi, a Masai tribe, lived for centuries in the caves with their cattle.

The minerals contained in the rocks of the caves are vital to the well being of cattle and other grazing animals. High rainfall in this area has denuded the soil of natural salts and minerals; the caves provide the only source of salt. Elephant, buffalo, bushbuck, waterbuck, duiker, forest hogs, even the colobus and blue monkeys need a ration of salt; on Mount Elgon, they find it only in the caves.

A fascinating area, Mount Elgon National Park is one of the few parks where walking explorations are possible and where you can spot the webbed foot Sitatunga Antelope in the Saiwa Swamps. This rare little antelope is extremely shy and quiet tracking is required to find it. However, the sight of this elegant brown antelope 'running across water' is well worth it and simply magical.



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