We stop here for our first of many roadside lunches, and Joseph, our ever-smiling chef and jack-of-all-trades puts out sandwiches, the perfect on-the-road food. I look around and see a mass of children gathering behind the truck. Cheeky grins, and timid dark eyes peep around the back of the truck as I climb on to get my camera and the soccer ball I had seen earlier. Always a hit with local kids, I’m glad there was one on board.
The game continues while Joseph and I start packing up the lunch things. He tells me some more of himself while we work. He is a deeply spiritual and caring man. He tells me is from a small town on the shores of Lake Victoria, and that he has a daughter who is now in school. He is proud to be able to provide for her. He doesn’t mention his wife, so I assume that she has either left the family (for whatever reason) or has passed away. This is a common enough occurrence in Africa, a lot of women die in childbirth, particularly in rural births. A majority of these births take place at home, and are therefore highly dangerous. A hospital stay is incredibly expensive though, and often the family simply cannot afford it.
Joseph tells me about growing up in rural Kenya and how it is different now, that kids have more opportunity for learning and their futures. Looking at the kids who have been playing with us for the last hour, I can’t see it. These kids are under-fed, under-loved and I desperately want to rescue them from the life I feel I know they’re destined for. Joseph tries to make me see that things in Kenya have improved, but I can’t see that a country which gives free education for all children, except orphans, is really all that “changed.”
We eventually arrive at the gates for Lake Nakuru, a vast wetland reserve known for its bird life, particularly for the population of pink flamingo. The Lake was made famous in the movie “Out of Africa” and I’m expecting picturesque lakes, with millions of flamingo standing quietly in the water, waiting for tourists to come and take photos. What I get is a tidal lake which is currently running on the low side making the banks squelchy,muddy, and above all, stinky. Mixed in with the mud is bird do-do, and I’m currently walking across it, camera in tow, setting myself up for the perfect picture of the lake, with all the birds on it. The sun will be gone soon, and along with it, the light. Thanks heavens for hiking boots.
As well as the population of flamingo, the area is also home to a migrating population of pelicans, eagles, secretary birds, cormorants and about 400 other different species of avian wildlife. I’m not normally a bird person- their eyes freak me -but for some reason, when I’m in Africa I’m transfixed by them. I’m particularly taken by the giant secretary birds, they’re bigger than any bird I’ve ever seen, and from this distance, look like they’re taller than me. This isn’t difficult as I’m quite short, but it’s still no mean feat for a bird.
Martin starts calling us back to the truck, and I don’t want to move. I’m afraid I’ll disturb the peaceful tranquility of the lake. The birds seem to be in their own world, close by, but distant from us. I’m standing in muck up to my knees almost, but I still don’t want to leave. Eventually I pull myself out of the bog, and trudge back to the truck with a heavy mind. I’m not sure what came over me at the lake, but while the others get excited over their first zebra, and a white rhino, I can only look out the window, back toward the lake, and ponder life.
Once we set camp, I wander over to help Joseph prepare dinner. While we work, he chats to me about what he calls the Great Provider, and how nothing we carry is carried alone. It’s the African version of the footprints in the sand Psalm. I think he’s trying to cheer me up, but I’m not sure what is wrong with me. Later I’m sitting in the truck with the lights on reading. I read about the feeling that affects some people upon viewing the lake for the first time. It sounds like a bunch of mumbo now, but I swear, I’ve never been this affected by a body of water. I get this feeling to a certain extent when I’m near the ocean as well, but this is the first time I’ve had it at a lake.
We eat and swap stories of home until one by one my fellow campers head for their tents. I stay up with Joseph and Martin talking about the changes Kenya has made, and what the future may hold for the country. These are two men who have worked together a long time, and I can sense the mutual respect for each other. It is a delight for me, to sit and listen to them discuss and bicker. For my sake they keep the conversation in English, for which I am grateful. I start falling asleep listening to the boys talk, and eventually I cave, and head off to my tent.
The next morning I am woken early by the calls of hundreds of birds. I lay for a while listening to their different squeals and squawks, trying to pick the sounds from the general hum of the park. I know this morning’s game drive will be good, I can feel it in my bones.
I’m excited, checking the batteries in my camera and giving it a quick clean. We head out after a very fast breakfast, all wrapped in scarves and jumpers. I don’t care what anyone says, Africa is freaking cold. There’s no escaping the bitter wind.
After a while we spot a black rhino, and I’m taken back to that transfixed sense I had at the lake yesterday. I’ve never seen a black rhino in the wild before; they’re so rare, I’m so happy I’m staring like an idiot. Martin taps me on the shoulder and I snap out of my stupor and start shooting. Black rhino are so anti-social it’s hard to capture them, and I flick back through my photos in wonder.
We head up toward the higher ground, and find hundreds of green baboons. The males sit and play with their genitals, while giving the girls in our group the stare down. It’s almost like being assaulted by a baboon. It’s creepy, and I decide quickly I really don’t like them. They’re bigger than I thought too, which adds to the intimidation that I feel.
We’re standing on a look out though, and it’s beautiful. The sun is just about level over the lake, and it’s creating a double-sun phenomenon. I take a multitude of shots, but I know deep down I’ll never recreate it. It’d be impossible.
The next day we head south, toward Lake Naivasha, home of a huge population of hippo. I hire a flat-bottomed boat to head out on the water to see them. After about ten minutes of skimming the surface of the water, we finally see a family. There is any number of adults hiding under the surface of the water, and our skipper tells us not to put our hands in the water, just in case. Hippos kill more people every year than any other animal in Africa. I am more terrified of hippo than I am of great whites, and I live in Western Australia, where more people die from shark attacks than anywhere else in the world.
Hippo will remain a hopelessly hilarious animal for me though. I first spotted a hippo in Botswana. Clumsy, overbearing animals they seem. But even out of water, out of their comfort zone, they have an uncanny ability to move. Fast as lightening, quick as an eagle, they are alarmingly agile creatures.
I am less impressed with this lake than with Nakuru. The bird life here is limited in comparison, and the water level is higher. We exit the boat at Crescent Island, the setting for the movie “Born Free. We wander from the boat dock through the small island, as our skipper explains to us that there are no carnivorous animals on the island, only a small population of zebra,and an even smaller family of Masai giraffe. It’s hot and the sun is strong. We don’t stay long.
The next morning, I have organized a trek through near by Hells Gate National Park. You can ride a bicycle through the populations of herbivores until you get to the gorge but today is incredibly hot, so my guide arrives in a car. He says he will drive me to the gorge, and we will walk from there.
The drive is sensational – Hells Gate is home to strange rock formations, cliff faces, all red in color. There are overwhelming and spectacular. There are a few people at the entrance to the gorge. I pay for my permit, and also for my guide, and we start descending.
I should have done more research.
The gorge is steep, and there is still a river running through. I’m wearing thongs (flip flops) and a denim skirt of all things. Not really trekking type clothing, and I’m conscious of my idiocy. My guide is very good though, he tells me about this plant and that, and which can be eaten and which are poisonous, and about this medicinal herb, and that leaf.
We wind through the gorge, and I feel the ground start to incline upward again, until we reach a cliff. I stand looking at the cliff, and my guide points to the top. We need to get up there, he tells me in his mixed English and Swahili. I shudder – I’m not wonderful with heights, and I hope he doesn’t mean that we’re going to climb the side of the cliff.
He takes me around to the side a little more, and I see a well-beaten pathway, running up to the top. My guide is laughing, slapping his knees. He thinks he’s pulled one over on me, and he’s right. Jerk, he could have just told me when I was gazing up at the top earlier!
We start the long slog upwards. This path isn’t great, as it’s all soft sand and mud, so my thongs frequently get stuck. I end up taking them off, and putting them in my guide’s pockets. We finally make it to the top, and I realize I feel like I’m going to die. It’s breathtaking, or it would be if I had any breath left to take.
Once I recover, we leave the lookout point. The rest of the path is flat, and leads us back to where we started. Back in the car, I sink against the seat and grin. This has been a fabulous day.
On the way out we spot a few giraffe at a man-made watering hole and I get some of my best shots of these amazing, awkward yet graceful animals.
Tomorrow, I start my journey further south, toward the incredible Masai Mara. I feel as though nothing could give me more than my experiences of the last few days.
I should know better by now, Africa just keeps on giving.
(Photo via, edited)
Back at the end of 2002, Emily found her wanderlust moving to the other side of the world, from sunny Australia, to dreary London. Three years of exploring Europe and the Middle East later, and Emily came back to Australia – losing her passport along the way. Today, she continues to travel the world, collecting one stamp at a time. Almost ten years later, she has nearly accomplished her goal of entering fifty different countries prior to her 30th birthday. You can follow her adventures and misadventures on innocentnomad.com