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Kenya - Safari
28.01.98 - Safari!Today we drove into camp just outside of the Massai Mara National Park in Kenya. It was an interesting drive, first we stopped just outside Nairobi in the Rift Valley where we saw a satellite dish which turned out to be Kenya's sole telecommunications link with the outside world.
Then we drove for a bit more, refuelling at lunch-time in a small town before heading off on the final leg. We saw a few animals on the way into the camp - nothing special, but it was our first exposure to the African animals, so we took a few photos.
We arrived into 'camp' (if you consider cabins with an en-suite a tent) not long before dinner so we played cards until then. The people in our Safari group seem quite cool: a guy and girl from England and NZ respectively, and a French couple.
After dinner we watched some of the Massai people perform a dance which was quite interesting to watch - lots of chanting and jumping. After the dance one of the Massai explained the meaning of the dance which seemed to involve lots of circumcision and killing of lions, but none of us could follow his English so it was all a bit lost on us.
29.01.98 - Safari - Massai Mara National ParkWe started early this morning for a day that would turn out to be quite eventful. We left camp in our 'safari vehicle' and got bogged only a few minutes out. We all got out and pushed and shoved the van and got it unstuck a few times, but we never did make it past the section we had to go through to reach the park. Eventually our guide drove back the same way we had come and vowed to never try that shortcut again.
Once on the actual safari, we saw lots of the African wildlife, including elephants, giraffes and leopards - all of which you get surprisingly close to in the van. I think they must all be extremely use to having the tourists around them because they totally ignore the vans but our guides warned us if we stepped outside the van we would be attacked.
At one point we pulled up right next to a pair of cheetahs. We were all looking around when the guide stopped and just said 'cheetah'. We looked around for a second before looking practically straight down and saw them right next to the van. Of course we all took a lot of photos. The next time we saw a cheetah it was strolling across an open field. Our guide drove off the track straight after it, but unfortunately the field was very muddy and we slid all over the place before finally getting bogged completely. We all got out and pushed while the driver assured us the cheetah (which had since disappeared into the nearby bushes) was not interested in us.
Our driver is pretty cool, he really goes out of his way to show us what we came to see. When we hadn't seen any Lion after the first day on Safari, he drove around for hours searching for some for us. Eventually we came across one that seemed slightly lame or pregnant or something - whatever it was it wasn't in much of a mood for running.
"Africa is so cool. This is the kind of place that makes you want to become a nature photographer for the rest of your life. It's all so huge after Europe - the wide open spaces means that, in almost every photo, you just know its going to end up looking smaller than it really is." - mark.
I didn't take enough film with me today, I only had one roll and I used it too quickly for my liking - tomorrow I'm taking a LOT of film! Africa is just so photogenic we can't stop taking pictures - the NZ girl took 3 rolls of film just today!
30.01.98 - Second Day in Massai MaraAfter missing the single Lioness we saw yesterday on film, I was relieved to see a whole pride of lions in the park today. We had seen the aftermath of a kill early in the day* and we took photos of the hyenas and vultures cleaning up the aftermath, but no lions were in the area. We drove around for a while searching for the pride when suddenly Joe saw them lying under a tree not far from where we were driving.
* Later we met a cynical (though probably correct) guy who said the kills we saw in the park would have been set up by the guides to attract the animals so they could show them to their clients. Damn I wish I spoke swahili so I could understand what it was all the guides talked to each other about.
We were the first tour group to find the pride so we got the pick of the photo opportunities and we managed a lot of shots before the other groups showed up and started pissing the lions off. There was 6 or 7 females and a single (adult) male lion. At one point we stopped just in front of one lioness and it looked as though she was going to attack the van. I almost got it on film but the English guy next to me panicked and tried to pull be back from the window - dammit.
It has been an almost perfect day today, almost completely cloudless blue skies and a slight cool breeze. It's good to be in Africa in the warmth after the freezing cold of Europe! Trying my hardest to not get sunburnt. We had lunch back at the camp which was nice -- I even liked the fish! (although Brad got food poisoning). We don't have anything more to do today but a 'nature walk' at 3pm so I figured I might as well do some washing and let the perfect drying conditions do their thang.
The nature walk was kind of dull. A Massai turned up in the camp around 3pm and led us out with no explanation at all of what we were to be doing. I thought the guides (there turned out to be three of them - only one of which seemed to speak English) would be showing us the native plants and animals around the camp and telling us about them. This did not happen.
The only signs of wildlife we saw were a few Impala (which bolted as soon as they heard us coming) and a cave in which they explained (when pressed) that cattle and sheep were sometimes kept, though I have no idea why... The only cool part was when we climbed into a small cave where vampire bats lived and the guide 'prompted' the bats to leave the cave and tried to hit 'em as they flew past.
Other than that the walk was hot and only occasionally did it even offer a scenic view to look at. I guess we can put it down to training for Mt. Kili. in a few days time!
31.01.98 - Last Day in Massai MaraI set my alarm for 6am to pack but discovered it was still too dark to see and the solar-powered lights were drained so I decided it would be better to go back to bed. I slept for a bit longer and was mostly packed by 6:30am for breakfast, finishing afterwards. We then packed the van and went hunting for Leopard.
We tracked a 'big cat' along the road for a long time and eventually we spotted another van in the grass a fair distance from where we were. We caught up with it and found them looking at a cheetah in the bushes finishing off its kill - an impala.
Apparently the other tour group had seen the whole kill taking place in front of them - the cheetah stalking the Impala from the bushes before pouncing on it from only 10m or so away. I would have loved to have seen a kill. The cheetah was very tense while eating as it was watching for other predators, but it paid no attention to us whatsoever as we all took our photos from only about 7m away. We never caught up with Leopard on our safari - apparently they're very hard to spot (no pun intended).
We visited a Massai village on our way out of the Massai Mara. We paid our 500KSh and went into the village which was a depressing little collection of mud (dung and straw) huts and women and children (the men were all busy being warriors). I bought a hand-carved Massai club but didn't barter too hard because it was just too easy - the woman I was bargaining with was hopeless at it and I felt stupid fighting over a $2 purchase.
We went inside one of the huts which was very hot because of the cooking fire inside it and no chimney. They keep animals inside the hut too, so it stank from them (and the building material itself) - I don't know how anyone could live in these things. By the time we were about to leave the villagers had set up all their wares in the middle of the village and we were obliged to check it all out. All in all we payed 500KSh (about $10) to check out more touristy crap.
Our safari has changed - we cannot go to the Sambura National Park as planned because the roads were washed out (El Nino!). So we ended up going to Lake Nakuru National Park for two nights instead of one. We are staying in 'tents' which, again, are more like cabins - the showers are still cold but that's about the only 'roughing it' that we're doing here.
The drive to Lake Nakuru was very rough - half of Kenya's roads appear to be under reconstruction. We blew a tire for the second time on the safari so now we have no spares :-/ . There was no chance of me sleeping on this journey, though Joe seemed to manage it somehow. I kept banging my head on the van's ceiling as we hit bump after bump.
Brad has a stomach bug, not surprising considering the food we've been eating (bit of a change from Europe). I have a slight stomach cramp but nothing serious. It would be bad to get sick right before climbing Mt. Kili! I was reading our TLP and discovered Zanzibar (we really hadn't researched our Africa trip very much at all) and decided it would be a cool place to go after Kili. It sounds pretty cool - nice old town, sandy beaches and plenty to see and do, might be worth cutting a few days out of Mombassa to go there.
01.02.98 Lake NakuruToday we checked out two of the lakes just north of Lake Nakuru, the first we took a boat tour around the lake, the second we just walked.
The boat tour kinda sucked - it took us hours to drive there and then we had to wait for our boat to come for us. Eventually we all piled into the canoe and headed off across the lake. We came across some Hippos, which was cool since we hadn't seen any up until then, although they kept diving straight underwater all the time (they can stay submerged for up to 5 minutes). One of the hippos charged us at one point but, fortunately, our guide wasn't completely stupid.
After that we putted across the lake towards the island in the middle which seemed to take forever to reach. I could just feel myself burning up in the midday sun, exposed in the open canoe in the middle of the lake. As we reached the island we saw some Massai fishermen in their little balsa canoes which looked very interesting (I guess they hope they're not in the water long enough for the balsa to get waterlogged).
Our guide bought a fish from a local girl and the boatman coaxed out an Eagle to fly down from its nest to snatch the fish from the water. (we had to pay extra for this bit of excitement - to pay for the fish, of course). That was pretty much it for the cruise - other than the monitor lizard we saw sitting on a sunken canoe on the way out at the start of the tour.
On the way back in at the end of the cruise we found out why we had been going so slowly the whole time - the outboard motor was running out of petrol. The motor stopped only about 100m from our end-point and we had to sit and wait while the guide yelled at his friend on-shore to bring us out some more fuel. The NZ girl with us got impatient and elected to go back to shore with the rescue crew (a guy in one of the balsa canoes) which must have been memorable for her - she got completely soaked.
We had lunch and headed for the next lake in our itinerary. We were allowed to walk around the next lake on foot because there was no dangerous animals around. We saw a whole heap of flamingo in the Lake. I took quite a few photos of the flamingo and then we headed off to the natural hot springs that appeared around the lake. Apparently the hot springs promote algal growth which is what makes it such a popular spot for the birds.
After our day in the sun we all died pretty early that night.
02.02.98 - Lake Nakuru National ParkToday we headed to Lake Nakura in the morning and drove around, first seeing more bloody flamingos - our guide couldn't understand why we weren't taking photos. He eventually got the hint and we headed away from the flamingos and soon found some black rhinos a couple of hundred meters from the side of the road. They quickly saw/smelled us and bolted into the bushes - pretty timid considering their size and strength.
We then drove further around the park and saw a white rhino very close-up. Quite an impressive animal. After taking a few photos we visited a lookout in the hills surrounding the lake which overlooked the park. After hanging out at the top for a while - exploring the area and trying to not fall off the cliffs - we headed off again. We saw quite a few more rhino, some Thompson Giraffe and the usual wart hogs, waterbuck and baboons. Now we're back in camp preparing for the next leg of our trip that day.
(after lunch) This afternoon we caught a boat out to an island in the middle of another lake (I really should look the names of these places up). The island was really cool - there was no predators so we were allowed to walk around it on our own for a few hours, first seeing a group of giraffes. Me and Joe sat around watching them for a bit, and then caught up with the others that had walked ahead.
I left the others for a bit after that and walked around the fields on my own, eventually reaching the same giraffes we had seen earlier. I crept up on them slowly and, although I'm sure they noticed me, they didn't seem too concerned about me so long as I didn't make any sudden movements. I got within about 10m of them and took a whole heap of photos before I finally got too close and they ran off. Watching a giraffe run is one of the coolest things you can see - its like they're running in slow motion because their long neck means they can't sway back and forth very fast at all.
03.02.98 - Hell's Gate National ParkWe camped last night (in tents, even) and left in the morning to visit Hell's Gate National Park. We got dropped off at the entrance and were given a map and told to walk to the gorge (Hells Gate). We walked for several kilometres before our guide caught up to us in the van and drove us the remaining kilometre or so to the gorge.
All in all this wasn't a particularly exciting day, we saw the usual African wildlife we had seen a hundred times before (how quickly we tire) and Hell's Gate itself was just a small canyon with a few hot springs (yawn! ;-)). One thing we have discovered after a week in Africa - we're all so much more relaxed now - we really don't care what happens. Still, we feel that Hell's Gate really didn't fill the gap we lost due to missing Sambura National Park.
* I gave up all hope of this package ever returning after it still hadn't appeared by July of 98, but out of the blue there it was on my doorstep!