Saturday, 24 January 2015

... Gorillas in the Mist: "Tent"acity

A "short" drive from Nairobi through the Rift Valley to Lake Naivasha, where I would spend my first night camping, took about 3 hours . In a very short time you learn that the road conditions here can run the full gamut from new to being in very poor condition. It is probably a good thing then that I was riding in a 24 seater Tatu overland vehicle. In case you're not sure what that means, you have to climb a ladder to board this thing. It's huge! This also means that, for most part, you don't feel every pothole. However, that said, when you go over any form of speed bump it's akin to being on the top floor of a building during an earthquake. Monkeys, goats, cattle and chickens will also often appear to have a death wish.

I've put up a tent once before in my life last October when I did my first ever solo kayak-camping trip to Granite Falls in Indian Arm, North Vancouver. It was with a tent that I had actually owned for over 6 years. On that occasion I think it took me about an hour, I got annoyed with the string holding some of my poles together because the excess wouldn't allow the feet to go back in properly- which caused one foot to snap thus I attacked the bloody thing with my Swiss Army knife. Yup, it went that well.

I'm pleased to report that I put up my khaki coloured-mosquito proofed "Afro 210" tent in about 10 minutes! I shocked myself. I am not quite sure what had happened between last October and now to make me such a tent pro but I also suspect that part of it was I didn't want to look like a total idiot in front of everyone else.

Lake Naivasha is a fresh water lake that is the highest of the Rift Valley lakes at around 5600 ft above sea level. There's papyrus and yellow bark acacias kissing the shoreline providing a home to many animals and birds. At weekends a lot of people from Nairobi will venture out to escape the maddening crowd.

I was met with black & white colobus monkeys on arrival at the campsite and it only got better from there. Lake Naivasha is home to the mighty hippopotamus and I was going to take a 2hr boat ride to see some plus many birds and other wildlife that make the lake home. The boat was similar to a canoe except with a motor and actually very comfortable to ride in. even at top speed when the spray was a welcome coolant from the searing heat. I am currently the not-so- proud recipient of a wicked sunburn on my right lower arm and wrist, complete with watch & hair tie tan lines (or in this case, burn lines), from holding my SLR camera. This was despite slapping on factor 50+ sunblock.

It was worth it however. Two curious Pelicans came right up to the boat to see if we had food and we had seen kingfisher, two kinds of cormorant, egret, and ibis before we even saw the first hippo family. They didn't move much and yet they seemed to watch our every move. These things look massive even when they're partially submerged. They were always in groups of at least 6 and the most I counted was 12. They were given a wide birth and admired somewhat from afar. Other birds included stills, hornbills, yellow beak herons and the marabou, whose face only a mother could love.

The highlight though, and my Nat Geo-worthy photography, came courtesy of watching a fish eagle successfully take a fish from the water. It was so graceful and yet so powerful. My shots included coming in for the swoop, talons & all, the successful catch and flying away with his prize. They look similar the the Bald Eagle in that they have white heads but the white extends further down their back and they also have brown on their bodies as well as black. Very majestic beautiful birds. It was an absolute delight to see.

On the shore there were giraffes, zebra, water buffalo and water antelope. The guide was very knowledgeable and had the eyes of a hawk, he saw stuff long before we did including an animal "walking on water" that looked like a marmot.

It was pretty special to walk down to the water edge later to watch the sunset and take photos that included the silhouette of a grazing male water antelope with his huge horns before sitting around a campfire to eat dinner (mostly in the hope of keeping the mozzies at bay). The campsite cats watched every forkful to your mouth in the hope that you would drop something on the floor for them to eat.

Now I'm basted in Deet and about to retire for the night. I'm praying to the bladder Gods that I don't need to get up in the middle of the night - I don't fair too well with creepy crawlies and there was already a spider watching me brush my teeth in the bathroom.....

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