It is a good thing I am writing this blog. Even if no-one reads it, I will need it when I get home – we are packing so much into every day, it is going to be a blur by the end of this trip. It feels like we have been here for a month already, and yet I know the end will come all too soon. But there is no doubt this has already been a life-changing experience, and a trip we will never forget.
When I last wrote, we were headed for the reptile farm. We were a small party as most of the group had gone to see the flamingos on Lake Bogoria. Chris, Max & I had done that the day before, so we had the afternoon off. So with Frank, our guide, and David the chef (and Frank’s brother-in-law) we went for a little excursion. Frank had arranged for a few of the snakes to be taken out of their enclosures so we could get good photos. Chris reminded me to bring my macro lens – yeah, right! As if I wanted to get that close to a snake!! First they brought out a big boa constrictor which was very sluggish in the heat of the day, and you would have been surprised to see me on the ground trying to get an eye level view of the snake! The second snake they brought out was also a boa but was much more aggressive. They assured us it was not venomous – but I have no desire to get bitten by a snake, even if it is not fatal! So I kept a very safe distance. We also got to watch some crocodiles get fed, and spot some different African birds. We met some nice young men from a village youth group, who are running various programs to help the local youth find employment. It was an interesting insight into the culture.
Every Kenyan we have met has been very friendly, and very eager to make conversation. To us most of the country looks very poor and life seems very hard. But they speak with great pride about their country and are very eager to show it off. One word we have learned in Swahili is Karibu, which means welcome. Some of them are too friendly, those trying to sell us something (which is usually whenever we stop moving) and they really do not take no for an answer. You have to have very strong willed to resist (and especially since the stuff they are selling – beads, curios, carvings etc.) are very attractive and not expensive. All of us have succumbed at least once. And I am sure we have paid more than we should – but at least we have done our bit to help the local economy. The village near where we stayed has no running water, you can see women filling & carrying huge water containers from the river, and washing themselves & their clothes in the lake.
After another delicious dinner we all headed for bed. These 5am starts means we are all dropping off by 9.30pm – no late night partying for this crew!
This morning we took another early morning lake cruise. We didn’t have as many fish to attract the eagles this time – we tried to buy some from a fisherman, but the catch was too meagre. They fish from tiny rafts made from balsawood logs lashed together, which they sit in & paddle by hand. But we still saw a number of different birds, and got quite close to a family of hippos. We are getting quite expert at identifying the local birdlife. We were all given a book of animals & birds of East Africa, we carry our books everywhere & check off each sighting as we go. There are a lot of x’s in my book already.
We had quite a long drive today to our next abode. Driving through towns, villages & countryside , although not exactly comfortable in a bumpy old (non-air-conditioned) jeep on potholed roads, is a fascinating insight into Kenyan life, away from the game parks and tourist attractions. For one thing, there are people everywhere, walking, sitting, drinking tea. Every little village has stalls all along the main road, selling everything – fruits & vegetables, honey, clothes, trinkets and who knows what else. The stalls are made of corrugated iron & hessian bags, or scraps of timber with dirt floors. They look very ramshackle & are in various states of disrepair, but there is a strong sense of community, with people sitting & chatting, children playing (and working), goats & chickens & the odd donkey wandering freely. Bizarrely, every town also has a store selling phone cards & internet access. And there is mobile phone coverage in the remotest of places.
We stopped for lunch at a pretty waterfall. At the lookout were a couple of men with some little chameleons. We were able to hold them & photograph them (for a fee!) – they were so cute & very gentle. I also had my photo taken with a group of Kikuyu in traditional dress – for another fee of course.
We arrived at Rhino Watch, where we will stay for 4 nights, at dusk. Frank, who has been our guide so far, owns Rhino Watch Safari Camp, and has upgraded us all from tents to chalets. We are in the height of luxury! Each chalet is a little African styled building with a large bedroom & bathroom. They are beautifully furnished with animal themed fabrics & knick knacks, and very comfortable 4 poster beds. Oh, and did I mention an impressive view of Mt Kenya, and all this set in a huge garden of local and exotic flowers that is a riot of colour. The food is excellent and we even found a chocolate on our pillows – and a hot water bottle in the bed when we came up after dinner. But the best thing about this place is that it is 2500m above sea level, so firstly, not hot and more importantly no malaria – so we don’t need to cover ourselves in insecticide every day.
… and now it is in fact not day 6 but day 7, so I might as well combine two posts in one. Today was the first day that was a little disappointing – it had to happen I suppose. It was still good, just not as good as we have come to expect. After watching the sun come up over Mt Kenya, and another delicious breakfast of tropical fruits, exotic juices (we had avocado juice one day), a variety of home baked goodies and eggs cooked to order, we piled in the jeep & headed for Aberdare National Park for a whole day game drive. Aberdare is very different to our previous game drives in Amboseli. There it was flat, dry & very open and you could see a herd of elephants a mile away. In Aberdare it is mountainous, and forested, so spotting our ‘prey’ is rather difficult. There were long stretches of driving on rough roads without an animal in sight. However the forest was lovely and the countryside & views worth the drive in themselves. We were hoping to spot a leopard in particular (one of the so-called ‘Big 5’ that we haven’t seen yet), and we did manage a brief glimpse, but didn’t get a single photo. But we did see warthogs, cape buffalo, monkeys, some new birds, and most exciting, a group of Colobus monkeys (including a tiny baby) which we are told are quite elusive. We also did a short but steep hike to a striking waterfall. And we still managed to take 901 photos between us!!
Tonight’s dinner was an African extravaganza. The tables were decorated, the food was beautifully presented in earthenware vessels & open coal fire. There was an amazing dish with rice and enormous prawns & other seafood, various stews, and BBQ goat. As is usual (it seems) we overate but enjoyed it very much. After dinner we were treated to some music and dancing from some local Kikuyu people. A lot of fun.
Keith, by the way, is feeling quite well again, he just had one bad day, thankfully.
Tomorrow we get to sleep in – breakfast is not till 6.30 – luxury!!