My mind waffles between my decision to go on a long safari and whether it might have been better for a shorter journey. When I see the animals, I am glad to be on this long trip. But when I experience the draining heat, eat the never-ending dust, deal with the insects, and experience the discomfort of my face slathered in sunscreen and DEET and frosted with dust, well... Moving to a cooler climate, as we did today, made me feel much better. As we drove, I did a quick mental inventory of all the things, through the years, I have ever wanted to see in Africa. On a shorter trip, I might have forgotten about these must sees until arriving home. I look around and still must remind myself that I am in Africa and these are not animals in an open zoo. As I write this passage, I am looking out my Mountain Lodge window, seeing Bushbuck at night drinking so quietly at a watering hole next to a pack of six elephants. I hear the elephants give a brief trumpeting after they have drunk their fill.
Our 7am wake-up knock came at 7:20am at the Mbweha Camp Lodge. We were mostly packed, so we moved quickly. I had a good night’s sleep despite my wife’s insistence to keep her flashlight on all night. We had a brief breakfast, settled our bill for the few drinks we had, left tips, and climbed into our vehicle. I was glad to be out of there. I liked Lake Nakuru Park but did not like the Mbweha Camp Lodge at all. We drove over a dusty road to a bumpy road, then to a very good road. Just as we approached the town of Nakuru, we turned and headed northward. We slowly climbed into the green, forested highlands. We passed farms of corn, coffee, tea, cabbage, and flowers. We passed herds of cattle. We were now in Kukuyu, the largest tribe in Kenya, country. Everyone we saw was dressed in Western clothing, and this being Sunday, they were coming and going to church in their Sunday best: women in nice dresses with umbrellas to shield against the sun, men in business suits, and children in uniform. But most were dressed in ordinary clothes. We passed more well-groomed farms, worker’s thatched huts, and lots of churches, missionary schools, and hospitals (very small, primitive, and staffed by missionaries). It is very clear that Christian missionaries have had an extremely strong influence on this country. Most of the people are Christian with Christian names. It seems that the very infrastructure of the country is supported by a missionary system. The towns we pass begin with a gas station, tiny grocery store, barber shop, butcher shop, and hardware store. Streets are dirt. Stores and houses are cinder block with metal roofs. The air was very cool, clean, and refreshing as we varied between 6,500 and 7,000 feet elevation. The road meandered northward and began to crisscross over and under the zero latitude mark at the equator. We did not stop for pictures, as Uticus said that we would cross again tomorrow at a better spot. We finally turn left onto a dirt road, climbing even higher. We passed through forests and pastureland and even saw those peculiar cacti we found at lower altitudes. We climbed higher and veered onto yet another road. Finally we were on a narrow one-way road climbing ever higher. We came to a fence and guard station. A little farther we stopped to photograph a couple of silvery cheeked hornbills. We finally reached the entrance of the Mountain Lodge (Serena Hotel) of Mount Kenya.
Situated in a very tall, thick forest, Mountain Lodge is very unique. Constructed on pillars, with an exterior of wooden slats, it is designed to blend into the forest as if it were a large hunter’s blind. The rooms are rather small and rectangular and actually looked liked shoe boxes. The sides are all wood paneled and bathrooms are adequate. All rooms face an open watering hole. Each room has a very large window with two cushioned chairs to sit and watch game. We saw elephants, buffalo, waterbuck, grants gazelle, and storks. Incredible! It was amazing that the larger animals exist in such a thick forest. Most travelers spend only 1 night here, so there were lots of people arriving and departing.
At 3pm we joined a hike ($20/person) in the forest. The park staff escorted us, carrying automatic weapons to protect us from the animals. This is the only way one can hike in the parks of Kenya, and it was our first exercise of any kind since our arrival in Africa, so it felt good. The guide spoke about the native trees and medicinals gathered by local people. He showed us lines of dangerous ants. We saw several colobus monkeys in the trees. They looked like skunks with monkey faces and very long, furry tails. There was a lot of very exotic insect and bird sounds. Every so often a loud scream of hornbills came from far above but got lost in the trees. It was cool, a little humid and a little buggy, but there were few, if any, mosquitoes. We walked to a small clearing to see Mt. Kenya, but it was clouded in. In another clearing, some lodge staff had prepared coffee, tea, and cakes. We were encouraged to sit on logs while the guide discussed more about the forest. He noted that we were sitting on a certain type of leaf that prevented ants from crawling near. Moments later most of us sprang to our feet when we found ants crawling all over us. These, fortunately, were not stinging ants. At the end of the hike, the guide showed us some rusting bomb parts from British air raids during the Mau Mau uprising in the early 1950s that lead to Kenyan independence.
We came back to the lodge, stopped in the gift shop, and found some great African carvings at very reasonable prices. While waiting for my wife to complete her shopping, I found a computer and finally got a chance to send out several emails to my friends. During dinner, a staff member came to our table with a clipboard to ask if there were any animals we wanted to be awakened to see at the watering hole. At 9pm, there was a 45-minute slide show on the area. Back at the room we continued to watch the slightly floodlit watering hole. We saw a genet (kind of like a large ring-tailed cat). There were several hyenas circling the pond. It was actually getting extremely cold, but the room was comfortable and there was even a hot water bottle placed to warm the beds.