There’s something different about your footsteps up on the Chyulu Hills at ol Donyo. It’s takes a little while to realize what it is. Each step has a soft, muffled boom to it – as if you were walking across a giant drum.
In fact you basically are. This is a volcanic area and looking out over the plains it’s clear to see where the streams of molten lava once flowed. Now covered in thick vegetation, these mineral-rich seams dissect the grassy plains and are a haven for a myriad of animal species.
Your booming footsteps come from air-filled pumice stone and the fact is that you are walking on a network of underground tunnels. When the lava flowed downhill, the outer layer cooled and formed a shell. The inner molten magma continued its downward flow and the lava tubes were formed.
The very word ‘volcano’ conjures up images of adventure to me so whilst staying at ol Donyo Lodge, we felt we had to explore this unique safari.Just before the scramble down into the beginning of the tubes we found leopard scat – right out in the open – an advertisement to the perfect habitat this is for these reclusive cats. It was also a sign that warranted our gun bearer. Descending into darkness where our eyes cannot easily see and our feet slip on loose rocks, it is wise to take precautions against a sure-footed predator with excellent night vision. There is a primal part of the brain that wakes up at this point and tells you that as a human, it’s really not a good idea to be heading into these midnight tubes, but there’s another obtuse part that really wants to see what’s on the other side.You’re again reminded of this early on in the lava tubes when you find that you’re walking upon old white bones – the remains of a hapless animal dragged down into the darkness to become a secluded meal.Our head torches showed us the way as we scrambled across rocks in near-darkness. The walls are stained in places with droppings from owls and occasional bats fluttered away from the light from our torches.
This time the bats are the only animals disturbed, and we emerged from the lava tubes into daylight after a series of caves. Perhaps it is because it is such an unusual thing to do, perhaps it’s your body congratulating you for getting back into the daylight, but it is a thrilling feeling.Scrambling across all those rocks certainly warms you up as well, so walking back to the car in the breeze, the promise of a cool drink at hand, adds to the rush of feeling like Indiana Jones out in the middle of wild Kenyan bush.