I travelled to Paradise Lost on Mashujaa Day. The October 20th national holiday has replaced Kenyatta Day to honour Kenyan freedom fighters who fought for the country’s independence. I spent the day exploring the attractions of Paradise Lost – a waterfall, cave, boat rides, horse and camel riding, and ostrich feeding park that caters to Nairobians looking for respite not far from the city’s core.
John Milton did not take me to the park gates, but rather the Route 100 matatu (apparently Route 120 also goes there). After walking around downtown Nairobi for 40 minutes asking matatu conductor after matatu conductor where to find Route 100, I gestured frantically when I saw a matatu passing, the conductor waving a white place card, 100 in bold type, out the window. My friends and I boarded and a 20 minute ride later we were in Kiambu District and hopping on bodabodas (motorcycle taxis) to the private park’s entrance. I hadn’t been on a bodaboda, my favourite means of transport, since Rwanda, and I delighted in the wind in my face and the view of passing coffee plantations.
We paid the entrance fee (Ksh 300 for local residents, USD $10 for non-residents) and immediately found the lake for a picnic lunch. The park was filled with families and groups, taking advantage of the lake and paddling in small boats, playing soccer in the afternoon sun, eating and drinking in the shade of pavilions set up. There is no food for sale within the park, so you eat what you bring. Some people were bbqing and making fresh ugali, while others were eating sandwiches and drinking fantas.
After lunch (complete with passion fruits, my absolute favourite, which we bought for the picnic) we went to find the waterfall.
Following the muddy path behind the falls, we entered a cave. My online browsing tells me the cave was formally discovered in 1996. Archaeologists found 8,000 to 12,000 year old remains there as well as artefacts dating from the Late Stone Age. It was also determined that a militant group fighting for independence used the cave as a hideout in the 1960s. The Mau Mau was an African group trying to rid Kenya of British rule and Europeans settlers. It seemed quite appropriate that I was visiting the cave on this holiday celebrating Freedom Fighters. The caves are located behind the waterfall. Park-goers are able to easily walk behind the falls and then must duck substantially to enter the cave. The inside was warm and muggy, and keeping my head low, I made my way to the back room with a high ceiling and I stretched before crouching down again to find my way out. Tracing my fingers along the stone, damp from the water flowing above, I couldn’t help but think about the different circumstances in which people have also traced their hands along these walls and found this piece of paradise lost.