AFRICAN JOURNEY. On to the bamboo forests, jungle ravines and alpine heather of the Abedares
Mweiga, Central Kenya
IF you want to go see animals, go to the Masai Mara. Go to Tsavo. Even Nairobi. . . .'' said M.A. Rajab, an assistant warden of Abedare National Park. ``They have more animals.'' ``But if you want sheer beauty, tranquility, and fishing, you'll find it in these mountains. The Abedares are a park with a difference.''Skip to next paragraph
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I had, in fact, just driven up from the Masai Mara. A vast savannah of green hills and plains, it is the northernmost extension of the Serengeti and boasts some of East Africa's best game viewing. Indeed, camping on the edge of the Mara, I made daily excursions into the reserve to watch the massive migrations of wildebeest and zebra, lions tagging along in their wake. Mystical Abedares
But the Mara, Tsavo and others are the classic parks. Impressive as they are, they tend to loose some of their magic as onslaughts of striped safari vans criss-cross the grasslands in clouds of dust. In comparison, the Abedare Mountains, rising to over 13,000 ft. emerge as mystical and brooding. A Jules Verne lost world of bamboo forests, jungle ravines, swampy moorland and alpine heather.
As Mr. Rajab, who studied political science in the United States, told me, it is still a highly original park. ``There are some valleys here where humans have hardly ever been.''
Situated on the eastern fringe of the great Rift Valley and one of the highest game reserves in the world, the Abedares seem totally out of place in Africa.
On my first trip to this clustered mountain range, I approached by Land Rover from the Rift and the Kikuyu escarpment. At the top of the escarpment before reaching the mountains, I found a beautiful rolling plateau reminiscent of Switzerland or Germany.
At first used by the Masai for grazing, then taken over by European settlers as part of their fertile ``white highlands'' policy, this used to be a region of expansive wheat fields and fruit orchards. Much of the land has since been partitioned and distributed among Kikuyu farmers. Today, their neat peasant shambas, each with its own plot of maize, punctuate much of the landscape. Farmlands and forests
At the foot of the mountains, their peaks more often than not enveloped in cloud, the farmlands merge into forests of cedar and pine. The air is crisp and there is a smell of freshly cut wood from a nearby saw mill. As the road climbs, comamanding a spectacular view of the Rift Valley, Lake Naivasha, and the distant volcano of Longonot, the cedars are replaced by thickets of bamboo.
At a crest, I halt the vehicle and step out. The silence is overwhelming. But then there is a crunching among the bamboo. An enormous bull elephant appears, placidly grazing its way through the undergrowth several hundred yards away. Elephants at high altitudes
It is suprising to see elephant at this altitude and in such a steep, forested terrain. But there are some 1,000 in the Abedares. Their foraging has worn a network of red laterite trails up and down the gulleys and across the mountain sides. Unlike their brethren in the plains, the Abedare variety is a far larger animal. But its tusks are smaller as mineral deficiencies in the soil have slowed growth.
Covering some 300 square miles, the Abedares were gazetted in 1950 as a national park. But it was also during the '50s that the mountains befame an ideal base for independence guerrillas in their attacks against settlers and farms during the Mau Mau uprising. Many of the present day tracks weaving their way through the park were carved out by government troops in order to hunt down the rebels.
The Abedares do not lend themselves to easy animal viewing. Yet that is part of the exhilaration. Sometimes you might roam for miles without seeing anything. Then suddenly you turn a corner to encounter a huge cape buffalo, partly obscured by the trees. He glares menacingly, then, in complete disdain, wheels around and disappears into the bush.