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Youths dive into business at historic gorge

Wednesday, June 8th, 2022 00:03 | By
Ambrose Cheruitich takes a deep dive into River Kerio. PD/KepHER otieno

For physically challenged diver Ambrose Cheruitich, 28, life is about courage and resilience. 

Cheruitich has been diving into deep waters for 12 years in crocodile infested River Kerio, in Cheploch Gorge in Kerio Valley, in Elgeyo Marakwet.

He can dive from distances of more than  50 metres into the lake or river and swim his way back to the shore lines or river bank at ease, without using crutches. 

Although the young man was involved in an accident while diving in the historic Cheploch Gorge in River Kerio at the border of Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet counties two years ago, he is not held back by his physical condition.

Even with one leg chopped off, each day, he treks more than two kilometres from his Biretwo home in Elgeyo Marakwet to the rocky and scary gorge. The gorge is located on the busy Iten - Kabarnet road and lies on the border of Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet counties.

“By 7am every morning, he is at the site already warming up for the pop-up tourists diving show, just to eke out a living from what others describe as scary and daredevil trade,” he says.

Cultural sport

Yet that is his daily hustle. Hundreds of tourists who visit the area are attracted to the site by huge crowds on the roadside watching the diving sport.

For Cheruitich, the diving has been turned into a cultural sport to attract more pilgrims and provide daily income to the jobless divers of Kerio.

“Here, we make money every five minutes. But it depends on the clients we receive per hour per day. We charge Sh500 per diving session,’’ he explains. On a good day, he reveals that they can make up to Sh5,000, each because they are many and all of them have to get at least a few minutes to entertain guests.

There are about 14 divers stationed at the sidelines of the deep rocky gorge on the high cliffs of Kerio River, who jump into the gorge daily. 

When the business is low, they can make up to Sh1,000, each per day or at worse Sh500.

For the first time visitors, the site is scary given the deep hollows and the deep waters infested by crocodiles. Yet for them, it’s a normal tradition and business. Cheruitich told People Daily that when he got an accident two years ago, many thought he would quit.

“My peers thought I would quit the trade. But after my left leg was amputated, I returned to the trade. I dive and swim easily back to the river bank,’’ he says

He is called ‘master’ by his fellow divers. This is because, despite the physical challenge, he can still dive his way into money every day at the gorge.

“For me when I wake up each day, I pray and take off to the site,’’ he reveals. Last year, one of the divers slipped off between the rocks and died.

But that has never held them back. They report to the site daily and sit in a group, where they swim in turns of two pairs earning Sh1,000 for a session.

His colleague, Nicholas Sirma, 24, who has dived for the last six years, says they learnt swimming skills from the ‘master’. 

When the master changes into his swimming costumes to dive they cheer him up as he drops his walking sticks. Master! Master! As he angles to jump into water.

The divers jump over the iron bridge straddling the gorge to the bottom of the river, from the surface and run up the steep rock-faced wall in seconds. It’s scary.

But they are used to it. This is because they practice diving skills daily.

Rescue missions

Sirma, dropped out of school in Form Two and is now one of the divers relied on by the fellow cohorts to speak to foreign tourists because he can speak fluent English.  He says they are well trained and today, even the county governments of Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet relies on their natural diving skills to rescue those who drown in the local rivers or Lake Baringo. The divers have formed an association led by Chairman Nicholas Kiplimo, where they also save part of their daily proceeds for their welfare to support each other.

Sirma explains that there are different types of diving skills they use to entertain guests in the Kerio river where they also harvest tilapia, Nile perch and elephant fish

 “We perform heads fast diving, forward summersault and backflips. We charge Sh500 for the package,’’ he explains. 

When visitors and pilgrims are not there, they don’t just idle. They combine the trade with selling fish and fruits to motorists plying the route. 

The fruit business is meant to pull motorists to break, then as they make a stopover, they are lured into seeing the diving sport.

For that reason, this misconception needs to be dealt with with thorough enlightenment that diving sport does not limit one in exploring all avenues especially where entrepreneurship is concerned, Kiplimo says.

Indeed, there are a plethora of factors that enable Kerio Valley divers to engage in business. 

In fact, the sky is the limit as they say because the only thing that needs to be supported is diver’s entrepreneurship.

“We need to be trained further by the Kenya Navy and redeployed to work in counties with large water mass to be on standby as rescue missions,’’ says Sirma

Elgeyo Marakwet where they run the business winds its way up to Iten, the home of champions who have dominated the stage of world-class runners.

This is where celebrated athletics legends such as David Rudisha, Asbel Kiprop, Ednah Kiplagat grew up and harnessed their running skills. 

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