Our safari began in earnest on the morning of our first full day in Kenya. We were driven to an elephant orphanage in Nairobi where baby elephants who have lost their parents are raised before being released back into the wild. Most of the elephants had become orphans due to poachers, a serious problem throughout Africa due to the high value placed on their husks. The elephants were introduced in two groups, walking out single file led by one of the workers who introduced each of the elephants by name and age and described their daily routine. The elephants ranged in age from 3 months to two years and each group would form a herd with the eldest being the leader. These groups would be released back in the wild together.
Megan and I then boarded the tour company’s Land Rover and our guide, Charles, drove us several hours to Lake Naivasha. It should be noted that driving in Kenya is nothing like driving in the US (or, really, anywhere else). It is more an aggressive form of survival with each driver making split-second decisions on whether to attack, retreat, or hold their ground. Of all of the concerns of traveling to Africa, riding in a car is hardly ever mentioned, but it should be included at the top of the list. We were passed on the left, on the right, both at the same time, and even saw cars pass on the opposite shoulder, swerving around on-coming traffic – of course, this was all on a one-lane, poorly maintained road. Fortunately, Charles struck just the right balance of speed and safety and delivered us safely throughout the journey. The Land Rover certainly came in useful since several times we just hopped the curb and drove around construction and the laconic police officer on duty to bypass the recommended detour.
Added to the harrowing overland drive, we passed into the Great Rift Valley, an impressive trench that runs over 7,000 miles from Syria to Mozambique. With a slight resemblance to the Grand Canyon, we stopped at an overlook that provided a view of the expansive valley before descending the steep eastern edge into the valley.
Upon safely arriving at our destination, we walked through a small forest and boarded a motorboat for a boat safari. Even before casting off, we began seeing water buffalo, giraffes, and an assortment of birds grazing by the water. We slowly motored out to the lake through high grass and exotic species of birds presented themselves in every direction. As we excitedly tried to take it all in and snapped as many pictures as possible, the guide patiently pointed out kingfishers, cormorants, egrets, and herons. Once the lake opened up before us, we saw groups of hippos in every direction. Fearlessly, we motored through these groups and approached to within a few feet of the most dangerous animal in Africa. In the distance, the far shore was barely visible through the haze. We were informed that this is where the movie “Out of Africa” was filmed. In addition to the plethora of wildlife viewed from the boat, on the hike back to the car we saw both the rare colobus monkey and dik dik.
Another long drive delivered us to Mbweha Camp near Lake Nakuru just before sunset. Again, we were the only guests and were greeted with a tasty, frosty beverage. We were led to a cute, rustic cottage constructed of lava rock with a thatched roof. The inviting bed in the middle of the room was covered in a mosquito net. After getting settled, we poked our head out of the private hut and flashed our flashlight to hail the security guard to guide us to the main lounge where we enjoyed another excellent private fireside meal. Still suffering from jetlag, following dinner we were guided back to the hut, admiring the stunning view of stars in the absence of artificial light. With temperatures plummeting and listening to animals patting by outside and bugs buzzing around in our hut, we scurried into the protection of our bed. Megan was first to enter and jumped back with a scream, pointing out that something was in the bed. Several bumps appeared to be moving under the covers and I dramatically pulled back the sheets to reveal a few bladders of warm water that had been strategically placed in the bed to keep it warm. Once we got over the shock, it made for a really comfortable sleep and we vowed to bring this simple method of keeping the bed warm back to the US.
Thus ended our first full day in Africa. We got a taste of the amazing wildlife and moved from the dense urban center of Nairobi to the remote planes of Lake Nakuru. Along the way, we saw a wide range of Kenyan villages and a huge diversity in the landscape.
In the next installment, we begin our game drives. (click here for Part III – Africa, Brave Africa)