A long journey and a long day
16.09.2015 - 17.09.2015 23 °C
Day eight of our Journey to the Jade Sea with Undiscovered Destinations.
What a difference a cool room makes! I slept like a log last night! Yet again I have the alarm set early, this time so that I can catch the animals coming to the waterhole at dawn.
I don't have long to wait. Even before the sun is up they slowly and silently appear out of the bush, kicking up the dust as they go. Initially one by one, including little ones; then a large dazzle (yes, that is what a group of zebras are called) arrives, sauntering out of the woods as if they don't have a care in the world.
The early morning mist, the parading zebra, the dust swirling around their hooves: it's a magical scene. I feel very honoured to be part of this – what a fabulous way to spend my last morning in Kenya.
The zebra take their time filling their bellies with the cool water, keeping a constant eye out for predators.
Occasionally something spooks them.
Then the sun comes out and bathes the scene in a golden glow, transforming it from being magical to a truly extraordinary enchanted world! This change in light, however, signals the time for the zebra to once again return to the bush.
The sun also brings out a couple of vervet monkeys, a skittish jackal, a few impala and some guinea fowl.
Leaving Maralal Lodge, we are lucky enough to encounter more animals on our way through the sanctuary – eland, impala and some more zebra.
At Maralal Town we hit tarmac again for the first time in six days! Luxury!
The excitement is short-lived, however, a mere 200 metres or so before we are back on the usual gravel track.
After a while once again return to relative 'civilisation', as we pass several private ranches, run by white settlers who cater to the luxury market. Behind barbed wire fences we spot gazelles, giraffes, buffalo and zebra. This is the canned safari experience for rich westerners.
The baboons, though, are no snobs and come and go as they please.
Having forgotten to take our malaria tablets this morning, we swallow them with some water mid-morning in the car; an action I soon come to regret when my stomach starts bubbling. Ugh!
For some reason, today's journey does not seem so exciting as all the previous ones. It must be my mindset – I am expecting it to be boring and merely a way of getting back to the airport for our flight home. Our itinerary has nothing in it for today. Snap out of it girl!
The shadows created by wandering sheep on the road amuses me for a while. I know, I know: little things for little minds and all that. Just humour me will ya?
Suddenly something catches my eye. A motorcyclist has stopped in the road, gesticulating frantically towards the crops in the nearby field. Then I see the reason for his agitation: a large herd of 20+ wild elephants grazing happily by the side of the road.
He looks so cute and innocent doesn't he? You wouldn't believe the sort of destruction he and his family can, and do, cause.
Often elephants and people overlap in their use of habitats and thus come into conflicts, with negative consequences for both parties. Elephants, in their search for pastures and water, engage in extensive seasonal migrations often including moving through farmland causing large-scale damage. In this area where most people rely on subsistence farming, an elephant wiping out fences and crops is likely to have have devastating effects on the families and their livelihood.
The elephants are agitated and the motorcyclist is nervous. A Samburu herder is looking on from a safe distance on top of a nearby hill.
We daren't stop. Driving on slowly, we deliberately rev the engine loudly and sound the horn, in the hope that the elephants will move on.
Eventually the animals - at least thoseh nearest the road - retreat to a safer distance and we can cautiously pass, with the vulnerable motorcyclist using our vehicle as a shield between himself and the massive beasts.
After three hours' driving this morning we reach Rumuruti and a proper sealed road. For good this time, all the way to Nairobi. Welcome back to civilisation.
One of the first things we see is a prison, with the inmates milling around outside doing hard labour – or at least some gardening. We pass by way too quickly for me to even snap one of my 'famous' covert pictures from inside the car, but the scene is like something out of a cartoon, with the prisoners all wearing striped 'pyjamas' and matching hats - a bit like this:
From Rumuruti the road climbs the escarpment to a height of 2000m. This is where the police come to do their high altitude training and we see many police trucks and uniformed officers.
Continuing on to Nyahururu, we find it to be a 'proper' town, with shops, petrol station, banks and a traffic jam! Welcome back to civilisation.
All along the side of the road as we leave the town are stalls selling vegetables, and John fills a huge sack with a variety of greens ready to send to his family who live near Lake Victoria.
For lunch we stop at a service station near Naivasha, and not before time: my bubbling stomach has turned into a volcano and I rush off the find the 'facilities'. Much to my delight, there are western sit-down toilets in cubicles with locking doors, a seat on the toilet bowl, a sink with running water and even soap and toilet paper! Pure luxury! Welcome back to civilisation.
John recommends the Indian fast food restaurant in the complex, which suits us fine.
Chicken and chips, chicken jalfrezi, vegetable biriyani, vegetable thali
Much to David's delight - no, make that absolute ecstasy - they even sell South African cider! Welcome back to civilisation!
We see a number of white people here, the first we've seen since leaving Samburu six days ago. Most of them are white settlers, not tourists, as this is a favourite hang-out for ex-pats. Welcome back to civilisation.
John, knowing that we are interested in bird watching, asks if we would like to take a boat trip on Lake Naivasha and visit Crescent Island. It sure beats spending that time hanging about in the airport, so we gladly accept.
At the docks we wrangle with the boat operators to let Abdi come with us out on the lake. They insist only authorised guides are allowed to accompany tourists in the boats.
“He is not a guide, he is a tourist” I stand firm.
“But he has a Kenyan ID” they argue.
“He is a Kenyan tourist from North Horr” I protest, truthfully: Abdi's 'guiding' duties finished in Loiyangalani, but he decided to come with us to Nairobi anyway, and visit a friend there.
Eventually they relent. It is Abdi's first visit to Lake Naivasha and he is very nervous about the boat as he can't swim. As a strong swimmer myself, I promise to save him if he falls in. With that, we all go out to look for birds.
And birds we see! This is a true bird watcher's paradise - Naivasha is known as a world class birding destination with over 400 species of birds recorded.
Following years of drought and sinking water levels, in 2011 WWF got involved to help the fragile ecosystem around the lake recover and all the people it supports in terms of agriculture and fishing amongst other things. It seems they have been very successful, as the water level is now the highest it's been for a number of years, with evidence of many semi-submerged trees along the shore.
Before we even leave the shoreline, I spot a number of birds.
Great White Egret
Hadada Ibis and Glossy Ibis
African Black Kite - beautifully camouflaged
The Giant Kingfisher is of great excitement to us both!
The very ugly Marabou Stork
Pink Backed Pelican
As we make our way out onto the lake, we scatter huge flocks of Red Knobbed Coots – I have never seen so many coots in one place before.
There is even an albino coot in amongst all his black mates.
The submerged trees are home to a huge number of cormorants too.
They are mostly the Great Cormorant, but we also see a few Long Tailed Cormorants.
The high water level means large areas of flooded ground, rich with fish and shallow enough for wading. The fish community in the lake has been highly variable over the years, influenced by changes in climate, fishing effort and the introduction of invasive species. These days the carp, introduced to the lake in 2001, is by far the most common species caught. Fishing provides jobs and income as well as being an important source of protein for local communities.
I love these guys wearing tops made from cement bags!
Anyway, back to a few more bird pictures:
Yellow Billed Stork
Lake Naivasha is also home to a sizeable population of hippos, with some 1,000 of them estimated to live in the lake.
Although hippos may look cute and friendly, they are one animal you definitely do not want to cross: hippos are responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other large animal.
Although not bloodthirsty like big cat predators, hippos are easily frightened and can be extremely aggressive, especially males defending their territories as well as females protecting their babies.
Hippos can run at speeds of over 20 miles an hour and are built like tanks – you certainly wouldn't want to get in the way of one of these! Most deaths by hippo are caused by being trampled to death, although they also sometimes overturn boats, drowning their victims.
Hippos consume over 100 pounds of vegetation per day.
They seem to coexist with the fishermen when in water, and once they are on land, most of the lake is fenced in, so hippo deaths in and around Lake Naivasha are rare apparently.
I think it's amazing how people just go about their daily life as if these were just sheep grazing, not Africa's greatest killers!
We cruise out to Crescent Island, which is a private game park and is said to have the country's highest concentration of animals per acre, with wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, gazelle, impala and waterbuck.
By now my stomach is like a cauldron, and I dare not risk leaving the boat at the island, so I let David and Abdi go off with the local guide, also called David, while I do some more bird watching.
Great White Pelican
Red Billed Teal
Spur Winged Lapwing
Black Winged Stilt
We pick up the boys from the island and Abdi comes back quite excited about his short walking safari. David is a little more nonchalant: “There was nothing much there that we haven't seen elsewhere” he reflects.
Anyway, this is what I missed:
Before we return to the jetty, we spend some time watching fish eagles doing what fish eagles do best: fishing.
This sees the end of our sightseeing program in Kenya – for this time. Now all that remains is the final stages of our long journey home.
First we have to climb up the Mau Escarpment to make our way to Nairobi. Due to resurfacing roadworks, it's a long, slow slog, but the views over the Great Rift valley are not bad, despite the mist.
At the best viewpoints the ubiquitous souvenir stalls have sprung up, selling sheepskin hats of all things.
On the outskirts of Nairobi we pass the infamous Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, and the largest urban slum in Africa, with an estimated population of over one million people.
This is the depressing info on Kibera according to Wikipedia:
Most of Kibera slum residents live in extreme poverty, earning less than $1.00 per day. Unemployment rates are high. Persons living with HIV in the slum are many, as are AIDS cases. Cases of assault and rape are common. There are few schools, and most people cannot afford an education for their children. Clean water is scarce and therefore diseases caused by related poor hygiene are prevalent. A great majority of people living in the slum lack access to medical care.
Check out more facts about Kibera here.
By now I am getting quite desperate for a toilet again, and am not happy to see another traffic jam! I am, however, very impressed with the local agent that Undiscovered Destinations have used on this trip. The Africa Journeys' manager, Wycliffe, who picked us up at the airport (which seems like weeks ago but it has only in fact been eight days) joins us for the last few miles before the airport to ensure we are happy with the trip and answer any queries or complaints. I am delighted to assure him that we cannot fault any aspect of the trip whatsoever! The journey, the sights, the people, the safari, the food, the accommodation... it has all exceeded our expectations. We'll be back!
The flight is full, including a huge crowd of Somalian refugees on their way to a new home in the US, sponsored by IOM. Many are understandably frightened, and they are very subdued as we all gather in the gate lounge.
Still suffering with an upset tummy, I am feeling decidedly ill by this time, so much so that I am contemplating requesting a wheelchair to board the plane. Somehow I manage to make it to my aircraft seat before I throw up. David rings the bell for assistance from the crew, and gets a very curt reply when he asks for a glass of water: “You can get it yourself from the back”. Noticing that I have my eyes closed and am leaning back in the chair, she continues acerbically: “but I see you are somewhat stuck, so I will get it for you. This time” When she returns with the water, I am in the midst of emptying the contents of my stomach into the sick bag. Her attitude completely changes: “Oh dear.... are you OK? If you need anything else just press the button a couple of times, that way we'll know it's urgent”. I am just about to answer: "How about you learn the meaning of customer service instead" but (probably fortunately) I started heaving again at that very moment.
Having endured three screaming kids on the way out, we are rather concerned to see at least a dozen young children among the refugees, but not a sound is heard from them all through the eight hour night flight. I wish the same could be said for the American group. They really hit the pinnacle of stereotypicalness (a new word to add to 'Grete's Dictionary') when one girl exclaims as we are exiting the plane in Brussels: “Do they speak Spanish here?”
By the time we open our front door, it has been 34 hours since we left Maralal Lodge. It's been a loooong day!
Purely for medicinal reasons: to settle my upset tummy (believe that and you believe anything), I pour myself a Captain and Coke.
Cheers and welcome home