Monday, October 13, 2008

Into Africa - Part 1

This weekend, I finally got out of the city and went on my first safari. Not only was the actual safari a great time with lots of animals, but the planning, as well as the ride there were also quite an experience. Earlier in the week, I had dinner with my Pfizer colleague, Fiona. She had just arrived from Ireland and was already for an adventure. As I was leaving her apartment, we were chatting with Alex the Taxi Driver and he said he could arrange a trip to the wildlife park at Lake Nakuru, along with a boat ride on Lake Navaisha with one of his drivers.

On the surface, this sounded like a great idea, but upon further examination, we started to doubt whether he could pull it off. The trip was to be with one of his drivers, and our first concern was that his Nairobi guy would know where to go in the park to see the wild beasts. Then, we worried that we would be trekking in a beat-up Toyota Camry, instead of a 4-wheel drive Jeep with an open roof. And finally, Alex said he could get us a room, but what kind? “Hotels” that I’ve seen along the side of the road aren’t what we would consider a room. They advertise that they have water and cost about $2.50 per night (or maybe hour?)

After much debate, we decided to give Alex a chance and see what happened. We negotiated a price, which eventually had a stipulation that if we met up with two other people at the lodge, we would get $100 US back. Even that sounded skeptical, but we decided to take a flyer.

At the very respectable hour of 10:00 am, we started on the road with Michael, the driver. He had a ramshackle van which looked pretty ordinary, but as it turned out, its roof popped up for better camera shots. We headed northwest out of the city, with the first stop being a high escarpment overlooking the Great Rift Valley. It was a spectacular view, with the obligatory stop at a souvenir stand.

The Great Rift Valley

Along the way, Michael gave a running commentary about the land, the people and the animals. He travels the road often as his family lives in Nakuru and although he must live in Nairobi to earn a living, he tries to go home every few months to see his wife and eight children. We saw many Masai herding their cattle and goats, and he explained that the Masai consider the land on the west side of the road theirs and rarely cross to the other side. This time of year, the ground was quite dry and the tribesmen have to move their herds frequently to keep them fed. The short rainy season should start soon, so there will be more green grass shortly. As we traveled north, we also saw a relatively small Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camp. These tents have been made available to people who have been forced out of their homes primarily due to the tribally motivated political unrest earlier in the year. It’s a sad thing to see, as even the poorest of the poor seem better off. We also saw men (some women, but mostly men), just laying on the side of the road. There would be nothing in any direction - no buildings, no cattle, just a guy dozing on the road side. It was as if they were waiting for Godot, and nothing would ever happen, but they would return the next day.

We finally arrived at the Lake Nakuru Wildlife Park around 1 and ate our picnic lunch before entering the reserve. We experienced our first taste of “safari” on the ride to the lodge and spent a few hours looking at antelope, gazelle, zebras, white rhinos and buffalo. In the distance, we could see the lake, rimmed with pink from the thousands of flamingos who stand at its edge.
Cheeky Baboon
Blase Buffalo

We were pleasantly surprised when we got to the hotel as it was gorgeous. Clearly, this was a holdover from colonial times and the Brits sure knew how to pick a good property site. Lake Nakuru Lodge is perched high up on a cliff, overlooking the valley and the lake, with unobstructed views. It has beautifully landscaped grounds, and even a Masai warrior employed to shoo away the baboons and any other wildlife that attempted to enter. The rooms were clean and serviceable and most importantly, a great shower with plenty of hot water.

Lake Nakuru Lodge at Dawn

We took a brief rest by the pool and were told to meet Michael at 4 for a late afternoon game drive. When we got to the van, lo and behold, there were the two other people Alex had mentioned and a crisp $100 bill. Chalk up another point for Alex! Tammy and James work for a British consultancy and had been at the lodge all week facilitating a meeting. They decided to stay on a few extra days to enjoy the park before heading back to London. They were fun and easy to travel with, and we spent the rest of the time with them. The afternoon game drive immediately produced two female lions, however they were quite distance. Michael had expert eyes and was able to spot things that I couldn’t see even when we were practically upon them. He insisted it was because I was white and that black people have better vision. I think it’s because it’s time for a revision to my Lasik surgery.
Lioness in the Distance (really)
Ostriches and Rhinos

We then drove down by the lake were we were able to get out of the van and walk to the edge of the water. There were flamingos as far as the eye could see, creating a noisy, fluttery pink rim around the perimeter. There were also groups of white pelicans and the odd cormorant and crane. I’m told that Kenya, and particularly the lake regions, are great places for birders. I don’t pay that much attention to those sharp clawed and spiky beaked creatures, but I did notice that many of the birds had extremely vibrant colors.
Flamingos on the Shore of Lake Nakuru
White Pelicans
More Flamingos

As we headed back to the lodge, we saw got very close to a dozing rhino and a very alert hyenna. The buffalo gave us wary looks and the baboons just continued being their naughty selves. We had a tasty dinner and headed to our rooms with a reminder from Michael to be ready at 6:30 am to go out to find the King of the Animals - the lion!

Dozing White Rhino

Part 2 tomorrow…


The Life and Times of Donovan said...

These are beautiful photo's Marge. Really well done.

The Life and Times of Donovan said...

btw, Donovan enjoys naming the animals