This winter, as the full team was home (which is Robert, Adi and Iulian), we had decided to accomplish an old plan of ours – that of going in Kenya to fly. We knew that in January Kenya is about the only place in the world where you can fly long distances. It didn’t take much thinking and we started planning, packing and vaccinations. We joined other Romanian, Austrians paragliders going the same place and hit the road. Ana joined us as a copilot/ passenger. Without any training in paragliding, Ana wished to come with us in this adventure and we were nothing but happy to share our joy.
We have decided for a flight from Salzburg, which meant driving from Brasov to Salzburg (at least for some of us, while for others meant napping all the way). The flight to Nairobi via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines was a pleasure, hence we warmly recommend this airline services. We got the Kenya visa at the arrival in Nairobi, in exchange of 50 bucks.
Once in Nairobi, we were ready for the first part of our adventure, as we had to get to Iten in search for accommodation. After some hesitations (based on previous experiences with the Nepal taxi drivers – or shall we say taxi drivers in general) we took a taxi to the city, which proved to be absolutely fine. After that we took a matatu (local bus) to El Doret. And this was not like any bus, but one with metal detectors, as Kenya also was, unfortunately, subject to some bomb attacks. The most recent happened in September, around the time we were starting making plans for this trip. We had some concerns back then which quickly went away when the thrill of the flight took over. The 6 hours to El Doret did not seem that long, maybe because of our childish curiosity at the sight of everything around us – reservations with zebras all over, the short stop at Nakuru where we had our first “traditional” meal with everything Kenya has best to offer – mango, bananas, chocolate and probably the best avocado we will ever taste.
At the arrival in Iten, looking for a place to stay, we could not believe our luck when the first door we knocked was Lornah Kiplagat’s residence – the famous Dutch athlete of Kenyan origin. Lornah has here a training center for athletes – and here was the second surprise – the Romanian athletics team was here in training. Iten (2200 m altitude) has won the reputation of being the city of the best athletes, due to the thin altitude air, which works wonders for whoever trains here. Without too much debate we have decided there was no better place to stay, first of all because we trusted the food prepared here especially for athletes – what could’ve been safer? Plus we had sauna and swimming pool on the side .
Happy to see one more problem solved, we just had to wait for the morning. We must say that it was very important to be at the take off place (Kerio Rift Vally) at 7.30 a.m. the latest. That was because due to the wind conditions here that would have made almost impossible the take off later than this time, especially if you intended to fly distance. Our goal was to reach 8 hours/ 200km in one flight. Those of us who had a passenger/ non professional pilot had to get as close to this target as possible, of course maintaining the absolute safety at all times.
The next morning’s joy and eagerness were a little shadowed at the sight of the flight conditions. Kenya is a spectacular, absolutely amazing place for paragliders, but this is no place for beginners. On the contrary, you have to be a very good pilot, with at least 2 years experience in various flying conditions, to be able to fly here safely. The temperatures vary between 25 – 30 degrees Celsius, but the flying conditions are quite tough.
As we said earlier, the flight day was supposed to start at 7.30 a.m. If at 8 o’clock you were not in the air, the chances to takeoff were close to zero. Every day we fought to beat the previous record, some of us managed to fly 87 km from the first day. Each flight was difficult, some of us took risks, we had a few minor accidents, happily nothing bad, but many of us had to use the back up parachute. There were also some very difficult parts for the tandem pilots – one of them was passing over the Torok waterfall (100 m). For this many of us had to find an alternate take off point.
At landing we were waited for motorcycles and negotiated the price for transportation (between 2500 – 3000 shillings). If there were no motorcycles there was the school bus – lots of curiosity, noisy kids, equal joy. This way we were forgetting the struggle with ourselves and our wings only few hours before.
Most of the times we were followed way before landing by numerous locals, especially kids – innocents and curious. At landing there was the whole village waiting for us, greeting us with “hou ai iu?” and ”gimme candy/ gimme something”. One day, Adi landed in the schoolyard, of course the whole school was there, and he ended up giving a paragliding lesson to the small students of Kenya .
But while the people in Southern Kenya are friendly, curious but shy, well behaved, the ones in Northern Kenya are little different – some of them had never seen a white person before, lots of kids busted into tears at seeing us.
At the end of each flying day we were mentally exhausted and felt the need to relax, to do something else than flying – which never happened before when we travelled for flying. So we were flying one day, and the next was dedicated to sightseeing, relax, than the next day flying again, and so on.
The days we did not fly we enjoyed the Kakamega rain forest , the many waterfalls (lots of them over 150m), the Baringo lake, crocodiles and hypos, we ate exotic fruits that tasted so real, white corn polenta, we greeted numerous athletes wannabe running the streets of Iten at early hours. And we’ve learned that a wife costs 10 cows!!
Out of 21 days we flight ….. The longest distance in one flight was 197 km with the solo wing and close to 8 hours. Ana, our passenger co-pilot joined us at each flight, accomplishing a total of 26 hours in 13 flights. The longest tandem flight was about 4 hours and 100 km.
Kenya was an experience that we most certainly needed. It is the ideal destination for paragliders who want to achieve performances, but it is not a place for beginners, or for flying for the pleasure of it, because it is not at all easy.