Africa Stories and Tips

Safari Day 9: Pressing on to Lake Nakuru (elev 5900 feet)

Baby White Rhino, Lake Nakuru National Park Photo,

A land of contrasts. Parched, arid savanna, serene chill of mountain air. City dwellers, primitive peoples. Wild animals, domestic cattle. Tall Acacia of varied shapes, and giant cactus. And moving about the land are endless numbers of minivans and SUVs filled with travelers in a sterile metal bubble gawking at the sights, people and animals.

Up about 8am. Jet lag is over and I am feeling 100%. Our driver and escort were waiting at the hotel lobby. A quick breakfast then on the road. Bad traffic jam heading into Nairobi. Another terrible traffic accident. Where I come from we certainly have fatal accidents. I suppose it is the way they drive that makes me wonder if all drivers here have a death wish. We headed northwest out of town through a nice, forested suburb. Passed many embassies including the US Embassy (moved to the outskirts of town after the bombing). Passed several British colonial style estates as well as very nice looking shopping centers. All were behind guarded, high walls.

As we traveled, the green became greener, and the forest became thicker. Soon we were in mountainous pasture lands of vast farms of tea, flowers and vegetables. It seemed that every few meters were colorful vegetable stands. We climbed in altitude reaching 8,500 feet. The air was crisp, clean, the sky blue with billowy clouds. It was a beautiful place and not something I expected in the tropics. The road was remarkably good. We passed small, outdoor markets with colorfully dressed people selling everything from clothing to produce. This is the land of the Kikuyu tribe (of which our driver, Uticus, is a member). They dress in western style clothing. We stopped at a turnoff for a view into the great Rift Valley. We were immediately descended upon by locals selling souvenirs. It was a little hazy in the valley, but we could see that it was large, barren and surrounded by dormant volcanoes.

As we continued, we dropped in elevation. It was now hot, dry and the plant life was no longer lush but scrubby. The Acacias gave way to tall cacti of a kind I have not seen before in the desert I come from in the U.S. These cacti are as large as an Oak tree, with long arms reaching upward to heights of about 10 meters. Very unusual, very picturesque. We drove along the dry valley floor occasionally passing herds of zebra. Along the road were dirty looking troops of babboon covered in dust from passing cars they were watching. Looking like bums, some were fumbling with discarded beer cans, food wrappings, and cigarette butts. The locals ignore them but I was fascinated. We were slowed by the many pot holes and rough road as well as many slow trucks. We turned west off the main highway heading in the direction of Lake Nakuru. The road went from bad to dirt. It was hot and dusty but, despite being in the tropics, at least not humid and muggy. The landscape was dry, mostly flat but some hills, and wide open fields of tall, golden weeds. We turned into a guarded, dirt road. We drove a few miles along the perimeter of a cattle ranch. On the barbed wire fence, along the road, sat a number of very colorful birds.

We came to the Mbweha Camp Lodge. My impression was neither one of being pleased nor disappointed. The lounge was an open fire pit in the center of a thatched roof rotunda opened to the outside along its sides. Adjoining was a bar. Gravel pathways connected the lounge with the nine cabins. There were large cactus on the perimeter of the very dry and warm grounds. The restaurant was simple, small, semi open air rondoval connected to the lounge. The cabins were rondovals with stone sides for about 8 feet up met by a very peaked thatched roof. Outside the entry was a pleasant covered veranda with a few padded chairs. Inside were mosquito netted queen and double beds. No chairs, closet, or fans. The bathroom had a drape for a door. It was spacious with a rather unique open, stone shower. There was plenty of hot water. There were large gaps around the heavy wooden doorway and also some of the windows. Otherwise, the room was adequate and spotless but hardly luxurious. Lighting was inadequate and there were NO electrical outlets (outlets for camera recharging are at the bar). Electricity was solar-generated, as was the hot water. The staff were few but friendly.

We had lunch, but as usual, were very picky with what we ate. Uticus took us for an afternoon game drive. The lodge was about 8 miles from Lake Nakuru national park. We entered the park and crossed a hilly, dry, dusty savanna. We spotted animals in plenty including; Zebra, many Buffalo, birds of the most magnificent coloring, Rothschild Giraffes. We saw no Elephants, nor Wildebeest. Standing up through our roof ports we entered a very thick, tall forest of Acacia. Despite the warm temperatures, dust, lots of nasty flying insects it was a tremendous thrill driving through this wilderness. The trees were filled with curious Velvet Monkeys. Along the forest roads were large troops of Baboon. Some groomed one another, some with babies seemingly shooting the breeze with another mother babboon. Some furiously attacking others. As we approached, all scurry back into the dense undergrowth.

We emerged from the forest onto a savanna leading down to a salt flat and Lake Nakuru. From a distance the lake had an orange cast along the shoreline. I thought it was a reflection of the sky color as we neared dusk. However, as we approached I could see the color was from thousands of Pink Flamingo! Just as I became excited over this curiosity, we stopped and we saw our first Rhinoceros. We were not more than 5 meters away from a mother, father and baby grazing. Huge, dark, lumbering but seemingly docile. The adults had white Egrets on their backs (as did Buffalo). These were white rhinos, so-named because the Dutch of South Africa misunderstood the English word "wide" which describes the animals mouth (Black Rhino have a hooked front lip). We drove to the shore of the lake where I stepped out and watched the Flamingos with amazement. What a sight, and with the colorful reflection of the African sunset. Every so often, a large group of these colorful birds took flight, their images reflected in the shallow, salt lake below. I could have stood there forever, but it was time to head out.

In the Acacia forest, there were a number of minivans lined up along the roadside. Uticus deftly maneuvered our large vehicle in the best spot. There, in the distance, we saw our first Leopard. He was resting on a dead tree about 30 meters away in a forest clearing. He was beautiful and I must have taken another 100 photos of him. He just sat there and barely moved. Time was running out (park closes at 6:30pm) so we drove off. Shortly before leaving the park we spotted another group of minivans and Uticus joined them. There was a huge male lion sleeping on a small hill about 20 meters off the road. I could only see his back and some of his main. Just as I was deciding whether to take this photo he raised his large head and turned toward us. I fired off two shots before he went back to sleep. He was magnificent!

We drove back to the lodge watching the sunset all the way. We sat around the smoky fireplace, drinking coffee and talking about the day’s adventures. We ate lightly at dinner being, again, cautious with what we ate. The last of the sunset disappeared as the generator kicked in and the lodge lights flickered on. The restaurant was buggy and the lights blinked so much that it might have been better if they used candlelight. After dinner we started to walk to our room but were stopped and told that guests must have an armed escort at night. So a Maasai armed with a spear walked us by kerosene lantern. There was absolutely no entertainment, and it was only about 8pm, so I decided to read a book, but the light so dim I gave up. I sprayed the mosquito nets with permethrin and sprayed insecticide around the door and window frames. The bed was comfortable but the pillows were of the magical type that look large, but when ones head hits it they turn into tiny pads that wrap around the face. All night were the sounds of exotic birds. I slept well but occasionally was awakened from the heavy foot sounds of the Maasai guard that patrolled the rondoval’s perimeter with a lantern every hour.

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