The main drag through the Hell’s Gate National Park is like a mini-version of the Great Rift Valley, in which it sits. Steep cliffs rise up on either side of you, and it is possible to camp on the top of these cliffs, looking out towards Mount Longonot at dawn. There are no big predators here, so it’s possible to walk, rather than be caged in a car like most other parks in Kenya. It’s one of those places where you can hike, run, rock-climb, and mountain bike, and where you really feel in touch with the nature you’re paying to immerse yourself in.
The planet relies too much on fossil fuels—climates are changing, and we are beginning to see the effects of this in the weather systems around the world. Since I’ve lived in Kenya, I’ve heard a lot of talk about the rains not coming, or coming late, or coming erratically. As the continent demands more and more energy for its growing––and developing––population, green energy will be massively important in reducing the impact on the planet. Not least for the pastoralists and agriculturalists here who rely directly on the elements for their livelihoods.
Near where I live, there is a growing wind-farm, and here at Hell’s Gate, they’ve been developing geothermal power for a few decades. I first came here in 2010, and remember seeing the rise of steam in the distance from a venting well.
Coming back this year, however, I was surprised to see how much the park has turned into what looks like a massive industrial complex. A new tarmac road carves through one end of it, extensive pipelines criss-cross the landscape, and the number of these rising columns of steam has increased hugely. And with a nod to tourists, KenGen, the national energy provider, has created a spa from its heated waters, à la Iceland.
Whilst I see the importance of renewable energy, one can’t help but question the placement of this machinery. Throughout the region, resources are eating into what are supposed to be sanctuaries of natural beauty and wildlife. In Tanzania, the Selous Game Reserve’s borders were moved to make way for uranium mining. In eastern Congo, the Virunga park is battling to keep out oil developers.
As huge trucks and hard-hats roll through Hell’s Gate, I can’t help but wonder what precedent this sets for Kenya’s national parks.
* Note: all pictures were taken with an iPhone and processed using VSCOcam