Sunday, 29 September 2013

Kenya- Nairobi and Lake Nakuru

I recently went on my first ever safari trip, to East Africa.  First stop: Kenya.

Nairobi and Lake Nakuru

Landing in Nairobi airport was a unique experience in itself, going through customs in a gazeebo, due to the fire that devastated the airport a few weeks prior, was certainly a first.  Having said that, I was expecting chaos and huge queues, but was pleasantly surprised, and my immigration experience was probably one of the quickest and smoothest I have experienced!

I walked outside and found a man holding a sign with my name, and he explained that he would take me to the company van, where I would wait for two other travelers from my group who had not yet landed. Bewildered, tired and dehydrated, I nodded along and off we went.

He went off to get the van and wrestle it through the never ending line of safari company jeeps and vans, leaving me alone in the middle of a busy airport carpark under the scorching midday sun.  We then drove to a different carpark, where I was left locked in the van while he went in search of the others.  Only after he was out of earshot and sight did I realise that everytime I moved a muscle, the car alarm went off and deafened everybody within a few metres (and me!).
After what seemed like 5 hours (in reality it was 2 and a half....but I was feeling dramatic) and feeling enormously dehydrated and tired, I saw three glorious sillhouettes come around the corner!  Saved at last! And off we went to our camp for the night and to meet the rest of the group.
It was a 30km drive from the airport to our camp, which in Nairobi, can take anything from half an hour, to three hours.  On this occasion, as it was rush hour, it took us about two.  It was fascinating to take in the atmosphere and new smells of this densely populated city.  When we arrived, I guzzled two bottles of water as quickly as I could, and began to feel human again.
We met the group, had some dinner, and flopped into bed, ready for our drive to Lake Nakuru!


Our beloved orange truck
With the alarm set for 6 (I soon learned that 7 am is a lengthy lie-in on a safari), I got up, took my malaria pill on an empty stomach like my pharmacist had instructed me, took a shower and went to meet everybody for breakfast.  Within minutes of sitting down at the table I felt queasy, and within moments my malaria pill came back up again!  At this point, I did not put two and two together as I had simply followed the instructions given to me, and was terrified about having to get on our big rickety safari truck in this state.  However I soon learned the reason after speaking to other people who had had a similar experience on Doxycycline, and luckily after ten minutes all was fine, and we set off to Lake Nakuru!
Our truck which was to be our mobile home for the next 10 days was huge and orange.  It seated about 32 people, but we were 16, so had plenty of space to stretch out and nap on the long drives!  We had a driver, a cook and a tour guide- all native Kenyans.

We battled the Nairobi traffic for a few hours, stopped off to buy some supplies of (mostly) unhealthy snacks to keep us going, and by 2pm we had arrived at the national park.

Lake Nakuru is approximately 140km north west of Nairobi and 45km squared, and is famous for its huge population of flamingos.  The lake was overflowing due to a lot of rain, and was surrounded by greenery, which gave it a marshy feel.  As the water was deep at this time of year, there were only a few hundred flamingos rather than the tens of thousands that are there during other seasons.

We started unloading our food to make lunch.


We spotted some Vervet Monkeys and Baboons, probably attracted by the rustling of food, coming to get a closer look.  These were obviously the first animals we had seen, and extremely close.  So, being a tourist, I climbed back on to the bus to find my camera.  Here, we learned one of the most important rules to follow whilst being on safari- ALWAYS close the truck windows when you get off!  As I looked for my bag, I heard a little rustle on the opposite side of the table, and looked up to see a Vervet Monkey rooting through my friend's bag.  I don't know who was more surprised to see who.  It grabbed her doughnut that she had bought herself earlier for a birthday treat, and briskly climbed back out of the window, onto the ledge overlooking our lunch table, and proceeded to eat the doughnut in front of the birthday girl.  Talk about rubbing salt in the wound!  Anyway.... we gave her some birthday Pringles instead.

Birthday Doughnut Thief

Throughout lunch we had various tomatoes, lettuces and apples stolen by other monkeys with sticky fingers.
Afterwards we set off on what was (supposed) to be our first game drive......

We drove through the national park for about 30 seconds before the rain started coming down heavily.  The track went through some thick bush and became very muddy....but we soldiered on!  We saw a heard of buffalo on one side, staring at us through the rain and mist.
After a few minutes we came to a crossroad which had been recently dug out, and the muddy track was very uneven.  The moment we tried to cross it we all knew what would happen....... BOGGED.
Our huge, bulky truck was stuck.
Looking behind us, there was a line of smaller, svelte (in comparison) jeeps, waiting patiently for us to get ourselves out of our predicament.  Looking left, more came.  Eventually we had a queue of about 10 vehicles in both directions, all blocked by our big orange heffalump of a truck in the middle.
We revved the engine, rolled a few inches here and there, but it became apparent pretty early on that we were completely stuck.
One by one the jeeps started to attempt 3 point turns, only to get stuck themselves in side ditches.  The drivers and guides all got out, losing their shoes in the thick mud, trying to free each car one by one.  After about an hour of pushing and revving each car / jeep/ truck, a medium-sized truck arrived with a towing rope.  Our savior! ...... No.  It turns out you need more strength than that to pull our sorry orange derriรจre out of the mud.  It slowly, but surely, saved each jeep behind and to the left of us.  This took about 2 hours, and darkness started to fall.
By this point, some members of the group started to need the loo.... and were given permission to venture a few metres from the truck to hide behind a bush, away from the many tourists surrounding  in various vehicles!  But, within seconds of descending the stairs and making their way off the road, a local man came running up to them, 'THERE IS A MALE LION COMING THIS WAY, 200 METRES AWAY, GET BACK ON THE BUS!'.  He did not need to tell them twice!
And so we remained on the truck, in the darkness, with big cats roaming around outside (out of sight...fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you want to look at it) for 3 and a half hours in total, until finally a tractor with huge wheels came rolling in, like a knight in shining armor, and released us! Ahhh, freedom!
Having said that, the whole experience was a good team bonding session.

One of the other vans attempting a 3 point turn
Needless to say, we had not reached our intended final destination that evening, and slept in a random field just outside the National Park, which was quite disconcerting, as there were some unidentifiable noises coming from the bushes, and we could not see where we were putting up our tents.  This was improvisation by our guide and driver, who were incredibly calm and professional during the entire bogging incident.
We set up our tents in the dark, had some dinner, and settled down for the night.

In the middle of the night there were some footsteps, some grunts, and then a HUGE loud crash!  Every member of our group was sat bolt upright, sleepy and flustered!  There have been a few theories as to what on earth it was....most likely a gun shot at a buffalo.... but that will forever remain the Mystery of Nakuru.  

A buffalo bathing in the lake
We awoke to actually see our surroundings, and they were BEAUTIFUL to say the least.  We were perched on a slope overlooking Lake Nakuru, and it was a crispy cold, clear morning.  We had a brisk breakfast (well.....brisk in Africa terms anyway), and set off on round 2 of our Nakuru game drive!  The mud had mostly solidified overnight, so the day went without hitches.
This was my first real experience of African wildlife (excluding the doughnut incident) and it took my breath away.  The vast expanse of land with herds of animals scattered in every direction was beautiful.  Among a big group of zebras and buffalo, we spotted two rhinos, one stood up and one lying down basking in the sun.  This was a wonderful creature to see on our first drive, being so rare and endangered.  We slowly made our way around the park, spotting Thomson gazelles, pelicans, a tawny eagle, and drove up to Baboon Point (and we promptly closed all the truck windows before getting off, and hid all doughnuts from sight), which is a lookout point over the lake.  Here you can take in the fantastic reflections of the trees in the lake.  The water is so still it creates a mirror effect, which reminded me of the mirror lakes on New Zealand's South Island.

Lake Nakuru 

Taken from Baboon Point