The Marafa Depression in Kenya’s Kilifi County, popularly known as Hell’s Kitchen, is a series of sun-scorched gorges and tall chimney-like structures, some rising up to 30 meters high , perfectly formed by water and wind erosion over the decades.
Located about 30 km from the tourist paradise of Malindi on the north coast, Hell’s Kitchen attracts hikers and wonder-seekers who walk its breadth and breadth in awe.
The depression gets its name from the high temperatures recorded during the day, which range between 35 and 50 degrees Celsius. For this reason, it is best to do the tours early in the morning or early evening.
But the gorges are now threatened by accelerated erosion.
Over the years, rapid climate change has caused intensified erosion of the sandstone, forcing the natural attraction’s custodians to relocate viewpoints and access roads more than four times in the past decade for reasons of security.
“Climate change is widening the ravines and we have been forced to make adjustments to secure viewpoints and change tour routes.
“When this happens, we consider it a blessing because it now takes longer to get around, which means more income for us,” said Kazungu Tuva, a tour guide.
As the ravines, called Nyari by the locals, stretch through erosion, they expose layers of sandstone in sparkling whites, pinks, oranges and deep purples, creating magical imagery of the throats.
Tuva said the erosion has nonetheless added beauty to the gorge, especially at sunset when the light changes and falls from different angles into the gorge.
Guides charge around $3 for domestic visitors and between $5 and $10 per person for foreigners for a guided walk, spiced with folklore and natural history narration at the site.
“We use the play of light and the shimmering beauty of the gorges to market the place and sell tours.
“We are getting more and more tourists, especially in the evenings, who want to see and capture the spectacle of jagged outcrops of hard rock,” Tuva said.
Steeped in myth
While scientists say Hell’s Kitchen is the result of geological formations, the local community attributes it to divine wrath.
The myth is that a wealthy and extravagant family who lived in Marafa indulged in a bath in precious cow’s milk. God, furious at their excesses, punishes them by opening up the ground under their house.
“What we do know is that it was a punishment from God and the symbolically milky white and blood red sandstone of Hell’s Kitchen serves as a reminder against waste and exorbitance,” said resident James Kalu.
He said the gorge is also used as a prayer site where Kaya (shrine) elders make offerings to God.