Kenyan athletes, the likes of the legendary Kipchoge Keino and Henry Rono, decades ago set the bar high and established the country’s prowess as an athletics powerhouse.
Ever since, Kenya has become a gold mine for world beating champion athletes and runners.
In an age when Kenyan long distance running stars have turned the international circuit into a national fiefdom, it is no longer difficult to find Kenya on the world map.
This fertile ground for the development of world beating athletes has created an international phenomenon, as many runners across the world seek to come and discover the source of Kenya’s athletic prowess.
Several high altitude training camps in the Great Rift Valley and Central Kenya attract many international athletes, yearning to share in a little of that which builds Kenya’s runners.
Britain’s Paula Radcliffe and Mo Farah are some of the big names that have set camp in Iten, Kenya in preparation for major athletic meets such as the Olympics.
Image Courtesy – http://www.lornah.com/
High Altitude Training Camps
Sitting at the heart of the Great Rift Valley, just a few kilometers from Eldoret town and considered the Mecca of athletics is the Kipchoge Keino High performance Training camp.
It is located on a farm owned by legendary Kenyan track star and is designated as an approved high altitude training facility by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Numerous international athletes troop there to train in an annual ritual, which Keino says has benefited the country’s image abroad.
Some of the top athletes who have trained here in the past include South Africa’s Ezekiel Sepeng, Olympic 3000m gold medalist Ezekiel Kemboi and top 1500m runner, Daniel Komen (junior).
What started off as a modest facility is now well known within the annals of the IOC, and the international athletic community.
In total close to 100 athletes from different countries and backgrounds train at this facility annually in the full glare of both the local and international media.
The state of the art camp provides everything an athlete needs for training. Quality accommodation, conference facilities, a modern gymnasium, a good training ground, a library and a well managed diet are all at the disposal of the athletes.
Many champion Kenyan athletes give back to the sport and set up training camps where they help develop up and coming athletes and share their talents.
Lornah Kiplagat dons Dutch colours but she is a common figure in Iten where she owns and runs a camp. Her camp, which specializes in training women athletes, has become highly valued, churning out runners who end up as international champions. The gym here is state of the art, equipped with the latest machines including a sauna.
At St Patrick’s Iten, it is the same story. The simplicity of the camp may draw hesitation from less seasoned athletes, but the story behind it is simply amazing.
The camp has produced a mass of talent among them the world 800m record holder, Wilson Kipketer (Denmark), Bernard Lagat (USA), former Olympic 3000m champion Mathews Birir, former Commonwealth 800m champion Japheth Kimutai, the Chirchir brothers—Cornelius and William, former world 3000m steeplechase record holder and champion, Boit Kipketer, former world 10,000m champion, Sally Barsosio and former Olympic 1500m champion Peter Rono are all products of this camp.
But why would foreign athletes want to train in Iten? The high altitude makes the area malaria free, hence attracting many foreigners keen on training in the country. The serenity and good terrain also makes Iten a perfect training ground.
Kaptagat about 30km from Eldoret is another home of training camps. Here there are five odd training camps belonging to various sports shoe manufacturers. Like the facilities in Iten, camps here offer more than just training and the results have been impressive.
Sports and especially athletics is key in the promotion of tourism. This is a role Kenyan athletes have played and continue to play perfectly.
Magical Kenya (Magicalkenya.com has been designed to let one explore Kenya and discover the untold wealth of destinations and experiences available to the visitor).
- Magical Kenya (2012). Explore Western Kenya. Accessed on 2012 June 27 from http://www.magicalkenya.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1131&Itemid=194
One has got only one mum and one father… But more precisely they have got one life to live and no matter who they are, they can go around the whole world, but there will be one thing that will always be consistent, ‘every city/town/village has its dawn’.
Furthermore everybody has one place where they will always call home and mine is Elgeyo + Marakwet, a place so warm, wild and free… a place that will always stay with me in my heart.
Elgeyo + Marakwet is My HOME, right from its highlands down to its deep valleys (Great Rift-Valley: Kerio Valley)
Finally, everyone has one childhood and with it memories that shape their dreams… memories that you relive over and over again when you see the trees you climbed and the river you swam in… and all the other precious things, especially the friends one had – the images that will always withstand time.
My Home was – is – and always will be Elgeyo + Marakwet
Roger Whittaker (born 22 March 1936) is an Anglo-Kenyan singer-songwriter and musician.
- Whittaker. R. (2012). My Land Is Kenya: Lyrics. Accessed 2012 June 25th from http://www.lyricsbox.com/roger-whittaker-lyrics-my-land-is-kenya-kpmzh5r.html
Kapsowar from Kipkunur (Cherengany Hills)
It is a high altitude region that has for decades served as a training ground for many local and international athletes.
Monthly, Elgeyo/Marakwet County hosts up to 1,000 athletes who jog around its plains with their eyes fixed on the ultimate prize, the gold medal.The athletes come from all over the world to train in preparation for athletics competitions.
They come from as far as Europe, the United States of America, Qatar and other African nations.
Athletic camps dot the County, which has produced renowned athletes, among them, the current International Athletic Association Federation athlete of the year, David Rudisha.
St Patrick’s High School Iten, St Francis Kimuron, Singore Girls and Kapkenda schools are institutions renowned in the County for producing the world beating athletes.
TOP: Tourists prepare to jump off Kerio view escarpment to paraglide. BOTTOM: A tourist paraglides in skies of Kerio[PHOTOS: EDWIN CHESEREK/STANDARD]
Rudisha is an alumnus of St Francis Kimuron in Keiyo North constituency where he horned his athletic skills.
Apart from the athletes, the region also attracts international tourists who travel from as far as Asia, Europe and American continents for various adventures.
The tourists come to explore the unique geographical landmarks.
One of them is the breathtaking Kerio Valley escarpment, venue for paragliding activities.
The sky surfing lovers jump from the edge of a cliff at the escarpment and ride in the air before landing at the Kamariny showground.
The Cheploch Gorge, which acts as a natural boundary between the county and Baringo County and Rimoi Game Reserve in Tambach Division of Keiyo North are other tourist attractions.
Cheploch Gorge was voted one of the best gorges in tourism circles and East African Breweries Limited and other companies have filmed their advertisements here.
Safaricom also shot one of its commercials on the winding road that leads to the gorge from Iten on the way to Kabarnet.
Rimoi Game Reserve is home to one of the biggest elephants and other wildlife.
The fascinating features of the area have led to the development of hospitality facilities, which tap income from tourists.
Most tourist hotels are located in scenic areas and visitors enjoy a mix of traditional dishes and cultural performances of local residents.
Elgeyo/Marakwet falls under the North region, classified as the country’s food basket.
Agricultural activities include dairy farming, horticulture and cereals production that accounts for 85 per cent of the county’s economy.
The area produces mangoes, tomatoes, potatoes and other crops, which are supplied to leading regional markets.
Poor state of the roads, coupled with lack of communication networks in most parts of the county, has conspired to deprive the residents of good earnings.
Perishable commodities from the lower Kerio Valley go to waste due to difficulties in accessing markets in major towns such as Eldoret, Nakuru and even neighbouring Uganda.
The only tarmacked roads in the entire county are those linking it to major towns — the Iten-Eldoret highway and the Iten-Kabarnet road. As a result of this, farmers are forced to dispose of their produce at throwaway prices due to inability to access to markets.
Although the insecurity issues have been tackled, its economic scar is yet to be erased. Cattle rustling and banditry, which had been rampant especially in Marakwet led to the collapse of various irrigation projects that were initiated by Kerio Valley Development Authority.
The Elgeyo Saw Mills, which came into operation in early 1930s, which had more 3,000 labourers, collapsed when the Government banned tree harvesting from all forests in 1999.
|Athletes in training near Iten town. Accomplished Kenyan runners who trained in county include Moses Kiptanui, David Rudisha, Brimin Kipruto, Ezekiel Kemboi, Kenyan born Qatar international Saif Shaheen . [PHOTOS: EDWIN CHESEREK/STANDARD]]|
Iten town, which is the headquarters of the county, is located along the Iten-Kapsowar, Iten-Kabarnet and Iten-Eldoret highway.
Dairy and beef farming are also widely practiced. Milk is supplied to the New Kenya Co-operative Creameries, and animals sold taken to the Eldoret abattoir.
The county also has unexploited marble at Koitilial in Marakwet District that was extracted in early 1990s. It was used to construct the Kerio Valley Development Authority head offices in Eldoret town. No efforts have been made to find an investor to extract the marble.
Fluorspar mining company, which is privately run, exports flourspar to Europe for the production of fluoride.
The lowland areas of the county have drought resistant acacia trees, and bee keeping is practiced. Currently, there is a honey refinery in Rokocho in Keiyo District run by Kerio Valley Development Authority.
The current demand for honey is 300 metric tonnes in major markets like China, but production is only 100 metric tonnes annually.
Major health facilities are the Iten district, Tot sub-district and the privately run Kapsowar Mission hospital.
Tambach Teachers College and Iten and Chepkorio Polytechnics are the only public higher learning institutions.
The Chebara dam is the main supplier of water to Eldoret town in neighbouring Uasin Gishu County.
However, the provision of water from the dam has been rocked by controversies over the share of the revenue it generates.
Locals in Marakwet have accused the Eldoret Water and Sanitation of not allocating them a fair share of the revenue from dam.
Interestingly, the pipes conveying water from Chebara dam to Eldoret, in Uasin Gishu County pass through Iten town, which is the headquarters of Elgeyo/Marakwet County yet, the town lacks sufficient water.
Edwin Cheserek (Standard-Media Journalist)
- Cheserek, E. (2012). Home of Spectacular views, Booming Agriculture, and World Beating Athletes. Accessed 2012 June 23 from http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/?id=2000024486&cid=4&articleID=2000024486
This truly spectacular region is one of Kenya’s best kept secrets. The highlands and escarpement of the North Rift Valley provide some of the country’s most awe-inspiring views, across the broad and beautiful Kerio Valley.
The scenic vistas around the Elgeyo escarpement are truly stunning, especially from the ‘World’s End’ viewpoint at Nyaru. Waterfalls flow down the face of these escarpements, and at Chebloch, on the valley floor water runs through a deep and narrow gorge with sheer rock walls.
Unlike most of Kenya’s mountains and ranges, the rolling Cherangani Hills are not volcanic in origin. The hills are centred upon a forested escarpment and surrounded on three sides by sheer cliff faces. They are criss-crossed by walking paths, and ease of direction and undemanding slopes make this excellent country for relaxing hill walking.
The paths cross open farmland, pass through sheltered valleys and wind their way up to forested peaks. This is a birding mecca, and whether you are a serious ornithologist or a hobby birder, you should not miss the Cheranganis. There are excellent bird guides available locally.
Wildlife enthusiasts can also visit the nearby Saiwa Swamp National Park. This is one of the few parks that permits walking, and is an ideal place for a days hike. This wild country is home to many and varied species, the best known being the very rare Sitatunga. This semi-amphibious antelope lives in the depths of these swamps. Rimoi National Reserve, in the Kerio Valley, is an important area for elephant migration.
The Western Highlands have become a major draw for sporting tourists. This is the home of many of Kenya’s world famous runners. This is probably the finest place on earth for high altitide athletic training, and many international athletes visit training camps around Iten and Kaptagat.
But the real beauty of these Highlands lies in the solitude, peace, and isolation to be found in the hills.
Magical Kenya (Magicalkenya.com has been designed to let one explore Kenya and discover the untold wealth of destinations and experiences available to the visitor).
Tambach Museum is located in Tambach Town, Elgeiyo/Marakwet County, approximately 42 kilometres from Eldoret Town.
Tambach lies at an altitude of 6,500 feet at the top of the Elgeiyo Escarpment. It has a spectacular view of the Kerio Valley, the Tugen Hills, and the Kerio River.
Tambach is one of the oldest towns in Kenya. It was established in 1920s as a British colonial center of administering Elgeiyo and Marakwet people
For much of the colonial period, the town grew from a tiny village to a busy urban center. By the end of 1950s, Tambach developed into a very pretty little town.
British colonialists constructed a number of buildings that included; administrative offices, the prestigious Government African School, A church, detention camp and hospital.
Today, the historical buildings and the cultural landscape are treasured monuments and form part of the heritage of the Elgeiyo/Marakwet County.
Currently, Tambach and Iten form Iten-Tambach Town Council, a local authority in greater Elgeiyo/Marakwet County.
The idea of establishing a museum at Tambach was conceived by the National Museums of Kenya in 2002.
The museum was established to safeguard the Tambach heritage site and the culture of the Keiyo and Marakwet people.
Tambach has a rich cultural heritage. It is famous for the Sirikwa Holes constructed by the Sirikwa people in the 17th & 18th centuries. It also has a rich colonial history.
In 2003, NMK renovated the former District Commissioner’s residence, a seven roomed bungalow to create an exhibition space for ethnographic and archaeological collections of the Elgeiyo/Marakwet County.
Tambach Heritage Town Exhibition is the premier exhibition for this Museum and was funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Kenya through the efforts by AFRICOM (International Council of African Museums).
It is the first museum exhibition in the entire county and is anticipated to promote heritage activities and form part of the North Rift Circuit as a major tourist attraction in this area.
This exhibition highlights the development of Tambach town during the colonial and independence period and factors which influenced its growth and decline and now renewed growth.
The exhibition also explores the culture (past and present) of its inhabitants-the Keiyo and the Marakwet. It looks at their lifestyle, livelihoods and traditions in the context of the surrounding- the Keiyo Valley.
The museum plans to engage in the collection, documentation, research, education and exhibition of the cultural heritage of the local community.
The museum was officially opened on 31st March, 2012.
Magical Kenya (Magicalkenya.com has been designed to let you explore Kenya and discover the untold wealth of destinations and experiences available to the visitor).
WORLD’S FINEST ATHLETES
Kenya’s Western Highlands are the home to some of the world’s finest sportsmen.
The secret of this success lies in these highlands. The average altitude in this area is well over 2000m, and these rarified conditions are ideal training conditions for runners.
Two local schools, St. Patrick’s at Iten and Sing’ore Girls near Eldoret have produced most of Kenya’s Olympic Superstars. Altitude training can assist with development of both endurance levels and technique. Five separate highly specialized training camps for athletes have been established in the Iten and Kabarnet area, for both local and International athletes. These are ideal for athletes looking to gain a high altitude advantage.
The highlands and escarpment of the North Rift Valley provide some of the country’s most awe-inspiring views, across the broad and beautiful Kerio Valley.
The scenic vistas around the Elgeyo escarpment are truly stunning, especially from the ‘World’s End’ viewpoint at Nyaru. Waterfalls flow down the face of these escarpments, and at Chebloch, on the valley floor water runs through a deep and narrow gorge with sheer rock walls towards the plains of little explored Rimoi reserve, an important area for elephant migration. Kenya invites you to come and experience the wild, wonderful and welcoming West…
- Magical Kenya (2012). Explore Western Kenya. Accessed on 2012 June 23 from http://www.magicalkenya.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=179&Itemid=194
|A lonely man satnding over the Rift Valley, Kenya|
‘Welcome home’ Jean Paul Fourier, warmly greets me moment after I had just stepped out of the car and into the neatly mown lawn at the Kerio view point, the pint, any visitor will attest is the best to have a glimpse of the breathtaking Iten landscape.
I couldn’t help but notice that Jean had put a slight stress on the word ‘home’. I had called him a day before and informed him of my interest in having a look at the Iten landscapes, famed for its stunning mountainous scenery and he assured me he was more that ready to show me around.
The short ride from Eldoret town to Iten was uneventful. Either side of the road farmers tilling on the farms, a clear sign that the timeless rhythm of the agricultural life which has been associated with the residents of the ‘bread basket of Kenya’ has not lost a thing.
As we take the final bend and into the valley, a group of athletes on practice zoom past us, a reminder once again that I am at the home of some of the countries best athletes. The driver, following my gaze promptly informs me, his voice filed with both mirth and pride that before me lay the former Jelimo’s and Tergat of this country.
Inside the valley, I take the opportunity to fill my lung with the fresh air, slightly scented with wildflowers but extremely refreshing.
My view inevitably shifts to the valley, which the area has been fro along time famed for. For five second or so I am lost in my own world.
The valley, about 2000 feet away is just breathtaking. From the colorful landscape, golden rock surrounding it and covered by the blue skies, its just fascinating to stand and look at it.
‘I felt the same when I came here, and I still feel the same whenever I see it’ Jean tells me following my gaze, his voice bringing me back as we move towards the edge of the cliff.
Our first stop is at a rock standing just on the edge of the cliff. This rock, he informs me is referred to as the ‘Robert’s Rock.
Robert Creten, he explains to me is a Belgian who used to like reading at the rock when he stayed there in 1997 although he has since gone back to Belgium.
‘Whenever anyone wanted him they only had to come here’ He explains adding that from here, Robert could then watch the agama lizards and the behaviors of monkeys deep inside the forest.
I muster just enough courage to sit on the edge of the rock but flatly decline the request to state down the cliff despite several pleas from the other couple who had just joined us.
On the other side, not too far away a group, definitely braver than me are engrossed into their hiking.
Going by the between the valley, 1300 meters above the sea level to the escarpment forest at 2400 meters and eventually to the cold heights of Cherangani at 3500, I have to admit the area will give any experience hiker a run for his money.
‘People are always coming here to test their hiking and biking abilities’ Jean says adding that given its terrains, its the bets place fro the hikers.
Monkeys can be heard chattering as we leave the rock and head for the other side of the view. On our way, more athletes are passing by and I ask Jean if they have a training facility at the valley.
High Altitude training.
‘We accommodate a number of athletes here during their training’ he explains adding that the athletes however train by themselves at the valley.
|Athletes training in the high altitude in Iten town|
The place, I am told has also been frequented by a number of international athletes who are eager to learn the reasons behind Kenyan’s dominance in the middle and long distance running.
The likes of Saed Shaheen, formerly Stephen Cherono who is the former world 1500 meters champion is one of the athletes who have used the facility and I promise to come back late and use it for preparation for my Standard Chattered marathon debut.
We leave and on the way, we pass the Elnino hut, a special place for barbeque on the valley. Set above the steepest cliff on the view, Jean explains to me that it was named Elnino after the rains of 1998 when a digger load machine which was being used to make it slid and stuck on the edged of the cliff.
‘It was quite an incident, very scary’ Robert say, his mind visibly still on the incident which happened about a decade ago. He later informs me the place is mainly used for bird watching and also watching the colobus monkeys below.
A few meters away, a family is having their lunch at a nearby traditional hut while three children are clearly enjoying the swinging game. They invite me and for a second I am tempted to join them before deciding against it; there is still a lot of the Iten to view.
We move to what is referred to as the pajero point, the largest view point in the area.
Down, I can see beaters and hornbills slowly going about their businesses. On top of us are the hovering buzzards and the lanner falcons and Jean informs me that there are occasional high altitude eagles.
As we walk away from the scene, he explains to me why the area was named ‘Pajero point’
‘Unoccupied Pajero once took off from packing and crash-landed here’ He explains adding that the pajero wasn’t damaged and is still on the road.
We pass the monkey house, a barbeque hut with one of the finest views of the valley below and here, another couple is having their meals. True to is name, I can see several monkeys just behind it and he informs me they come to look for fresh fruits and leaves everyday.
On our way to the dining room, Jean decides to show me around the Furier room. A conference room partially underground, the room equipped with a television has got capacity of about thirty people.
Just above the door is a stationed glass which I am informed has got a history dating back to 1939.
‘It was a sign in front of a hardware shop in Belgium’ Jean says in matter-of-fact manner. The shop was owned by Eugene, Jean Paul’s father and his three uncles.
It’s almost time to leave the view as I inform Jean I still have to go over to Tambach. As we settle down for a bottle of cock, Jean makes yet another revelation to me.
|A tourist paragliding over Kerio Valley|
‘Care to paraglide?’ He inquires. He then goes ahead and explains to me that a number of Para gliders come over to the view each year to have the opportunity of paragliding into the valley and fly over the Kerio view.
‘Most of them are Germans’ He explains and goes head to take me to the room fully equipped with parachutes and other equipments.
‘I wish you could try it. It’s real fun’ He explains after I had decided to put off my maiden paragliding to rush over to Tambach. On our way to the gate, he explains to me the regular patrons they host at the view.
‘Former President Moi was here just last weekend’ he explains adding that Prime Minister Raila Odinga is another visitor they had hoisted recently. He is however quick to add that the view was just to ensure people had the perfect view of the valley.
He bides me a heavily accented ‘Kwa heri’ and soon I am on my way to Tambach, on the other side of the view.
On either side of the road lie beautiful hills illuminating the sun, the hills forming steps from the road. Occasionally the driver has to sop to let the cattle cross over and I have to admit the way the road has formed zigzag on the floor of the view is simply amazing.
We are soon in Tambach and I realize that just like Iten, it is on the valley.
‘This is the last frontier at the valley’ the driver Tambach informs me as we walk to the edge of a cliff.
Hundreds of meter below, people are going about their normal businesses as usual although one can hardly make them up from this far.
I decide to ask been, the driver it is true the myth I heard in college that the locals used to bring up old people on top of the cliff and throw them down in time of wars to stop them from being captured.
‘I have heard the same myth, nothing true about it anyway’ He replies laughing as we walk around the stiff cliff. He informs me paragliders also come here but that the place is best known for hiking.
We decide to go down the view and have a feel at what it feels like to be in there. Three or four monkeys quickly disappear from the road when they see us and on our way, three groups of athletes trying to get accustomed to the high altitude passes us.
The air is just fresh. And save for the chattering o the monkeys here and there and bird cries, its dead quiet inside the valley. Both sides are surrounded by hills and for the next one hour, I have my maiden hike, Ben having turned into very able teacher.
It’s getting late and we join a group of ten athletes into a warm up before leaving for Kerio valley.
Okoth Oluoch (a travel blogger and writer with The Standard in Kenya).
- Oluoch, O. (2012, February 8). Travel: Out and deep into the Rift Valley. Accessed 2012 June 23 from http://theburningsplint.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/travel-out-and-deep-into-rift-valleyby.html