We had originally planned a tour of the limestone caves for the first week of our expedition but couldn’t get hold of Peter, who’s land they were on. We tried again and again until finally, in week seven, we hold of him and went to go and see them. Cameron, Benji and I drove over to Peter’s house, only about ten minutes away, so that we could meet the man who would take us to see the caves. We got out of the car and were suddenly met by two very excited dogs.
“Hey there dog,” Cam said leaning down and scratching one of them behind the ears. We heard a voice call out brusquely from the house.
“Maggie. Soda. Come here!” A figure emerged, an older man dressed in khaki shorts and a blue polo shirt.
“Hi Peter,” Cameron called out. “How are you doing?”
“Very well thanks.” He replied walking over to us and shaking our hands. Another dog bounded into view. This one big and black, like a guard dog, and would have come across quite scarily if she didn’t have the face of an enormous puppy. “Nadi!” He chastised as she jumped up at me. She was pretty much my height but she was as playful as anything.
“Sorry about that,” he said, “Safari will be along any minute, he’ll take you to the caves,”
“Perfect,” I said, scratching Nadi behind the ears in the hope that it would prevent her from jumping again. Soon we saw a man walk over who introduced himself as Safari, speaking to Benji in Swahili that I, surprisingly, didn’t understand. Then we set off for the caves.
“See you later,” Peter called, trying to wave and restrain his giant dog at the same time. We walked out of the drive and into the surrounding forest. The trees and shrubs were low so we were bent double for most of the time, trying to avoid the branches that thwacked backwards from the person in front. We walked until the path stopped and disappeared down a rocky crevice while the wide mouth of a cave opened up before us. It was quite spectacular looking. The rocks above were a dark green colour and the air was musty. A string was hung across the entryway and onto it were tied strips of fabric of different colours. Safari turned around and said something to Benji in Swahili.
“The caves are now mostly used by local people who come and make offerings here.” Benji translated. “That’s what the flags are for.” I glanced down at the nearly empty bottles of Rose Sherry and thought that it probably not the only thing that happened here.
“A lot of witch doctor stuff here too. Sacrificing chickens and all that,” Cam added cheerfully as we began to scramble down the steep rock face. Safari offered his hand but I still managed to scrape myself. It was limestone with the same fossilised corals that we had seen at Vuma so the rocks were very sharp and you needed to be careful. Safari had made it look so easy. As we descended there was a very distinctive and quite unpleasant smell which turned out to be from the bats that lived down here. The first cave that we went into was like a wide tunnel and we could see the other end illuminated by a big hole in the cave roof. From where we were we could hear and just about see the bats that flitted in and out of the light. Their high-pitched calls echoed around the chamber, creating an eerie atmosphere which was only heightened by the solitary beam of Cameron’s torch. When Cam shone it directly above us we heard the disgruntled squeaking of two smaller bats, unhappy to have been woken from their sleep by our disturbances.
“Wow look at those little guys,” I said, angling myself to try and see them better without stepping onto the mud (I told myself it was mud even though from the number of bats around and the smell it was clear it wasn’t) that was alarmingly easy to sink into. We looked around for a bit longer before climbing back out into the daylight, our fingers fitting easily around the smooth grooves that had been worn away by what must have accumulated to be thousands of hands. It was amazing really, how smooth these patches of rock had become after all of this time. We reached the sort-of-path and continued along it to get to the next cave.
“So these caves, how were they formed?” I asked.
“Well this was once a reef.” Cam explained, “And then as sea levels fell the corals died and were fossilised and now here they are,” I waited for him to go on, but it was clear that that was all there was. I was hungry for more information about these awesome landforms.
“Do you know how long they’ve been around? Whether they’ve been inhabited by people?”
“No I don’t know actually. And I think they’ve never really been used by people,” Cam said. I nodded and had to content myself with this slightly limited knowledge. I wanted to know all the stories that these caves must hold. I wondered if indigenous people had ever used them to take shelter or for religious ceremonies or to trap animals. I wondered how old the rocks were and how long it had taken for the water to slowly wear away the limestone to form such massive caves and what species of coral were trapped inside the rocks. The caves were different to any I’d ever seen before, with stalactites that hung down in long strips rather than tapering points. The green coating on the rocks was new to me as well.
“Is the green colour on the rocks caused by a mineral or a plant?” I asked Benji as the next cave loomed into view.
“This is an algae,” he said. We walked down again, picking our way carefully between the rocks until we reached the bottom. Even though it was afternoon it was still very hot and I could feel the sweat dripping down my back and my arms were sticky with plant sap and dust from pushing away the branches.
We descended down into the next part of the cave where there was a pool of fresh water in which sat a rather impressive looking monitor lizard. He didn’t like the look of us though and scarpered off as soon as we came down. Above us the cavernous ceiling of the cave was covered in bats and when Cameron shone his torch on them they scattered. The noise was bizarre as they whirred around above us, casting fleeting shadows across the roof of the cave. There must have been hundreds of them and I could only imagine what it would look like to watch a cloud of them fly out to hunt after sunset.
We climbed back out and walked back along through the forest to reach the final cave that we could venture inside. I marvelled at Safari, who navigated his way through the rocks in only rubber flip-flops while I was barely managing to keep my balance in trainers (I was wearing socks and it felt truly horrific). We shimmied down the rocks into what felt like an open topped tunnel with tree roots hanging down from the surface soil.
It was really awesome to see how so many trees could survive on the thin surface layer of soil that lay over the touch rock. Some of the big baobab trees even had roots that penetrated all the way down through the rock into the caves themselves. These baobab trees could get to be north of two thousand years old and were easily ten metres in diameter. The idea that something could have lived so long was slightly unfathomable to me and I liked to imagine all the different things they would have seen over their lifetimes.
We continued on down into the darkness, brushing spiders webs off our faces and trying not to step on the little beetles that buried themselves under the light of the torch. This cave was definitely the largest and the rock opened up above us like the ceiling of a cathedral, cavernous and gigantic. Cam even spotted a little side cave that we agreed would have been a good place to put an organ. There weren’t any bats in this one so the smell was somewhat reduced but the damp underground air was still musty and dank. There was also a bizarre spot on the ground that Cameron pointed out which seemed almost hollow when you jumped on it because you could feel the ground shifting under your feet.
We walked back out the way we had come to look down into the cave from above, before making our way back to Peter’s house. He kindly invited us inside for a glass of water which we all readily accepted, having gotten very hot, sweaty and dirty during our walking and clambering. Although I think by the time that we left I was mostly clean, having had most of my legs licked by Peter’s lovely dog Maggie.
We thanked Peter and Safari for taking us into the caves and made our way back to the house. The sea was calling to me.
- Leave Shwari house to go to Watamu
- Drive with Chris and Jeanine Angell to Watamu
- Trip to the spa with Yael for a wax
- Relaxing at the house we were staying in
- Trip to Blue Marmalade supermarket to buy the supplies that we needed
- Trip to the beach with a snorkel (saw at least 15 stingrays)
- A fancy cocktail at a nice restaurant called Pilipan (had a passion fruit daiquiri and I don’t think anything has every tasted so delicious)
- Back to the house to play Cards Against Humanity with a couple of drinks
- Walk along the beach to try and find somewhere to go out
- Find somewhere playing some great tunes but the security outside refuse to let us in 😦
- Walk back to the house
- Meet Cameron’s friends in a dodgy karaoke bar called Savannah
- His friend Laura and I do a very epic rendition of Rolling in the Deep for a free shot
- I finally get to see other pasty British people!
- When the karaoke is finished we go to Klub Kalahari and are the only people there
- From there we go home to make toast and go to sleep
- Wake up reasonably punctually (around 9am) because checkout is at 10am
- Pack up our stuff and put it into our bags which the owner kindly lets us stash under the stairs in the house
- The owner also knows Yael so doesn’t mind that we actually end up staying in the house until 12pm
- We go to the beach
- Walking along the beach while calling home I see five baby black tip reef sharks and three guitarfish
- Go for a snorkel and see over 25 stingrays
- We go to a restaurant called Ocean Sports for lunch and stay there for a while
- Yael and I go for a snorkel but the visibility is crap so we just chat in the shallows
- Pick up our bags from the house
- Get a tuktuk to the main road to meet Tilda who is driving down from Malindi
- We wait at a dodgy petrol station for an hour because her plane is delayed, all still slightly out of it and laughing at absolutely anything
- Drive back to Shwari house
- Have dinner and then move back into the volunteer house to go to sleep
- Scuba dive first thing in the morning (alarm set at 5:45am)
- Went out towards Vuma cliffs
- We saw two cuttlefish and a crocodile fish
- Helping Yael paint the mural and a school of over 100 children came by
- We took lots of pictures with them and filmed them all shouting ‘Kuruwitu Conservation Area!’
- Tour of the limestone caves
- Swim in the sea
- Dinner and watching the first part of Catch Me If You Can
- Drink down at the beach bar (only fizzy water… not ready to go back to drinking after Watamu)