Wednesday, September 16

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Lake Nakuru and Menengai Crater

There is only one reason anyone outside of East Africa has ever heard of Nakuru or bothers to visit. That would be Lake Nakuru National Park, home to massive flocks of greater and lesser flamingos, site of one of Kenya's largest black rhinoceros sanctuaries, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Every local tour agency offers a package which includes a trip through the park, and if you see anyone white in town, you can be sure they're here to check out the park.

Finally, two months after arriving in Kenya, I managed my own safari there this past weekend. That extended delay was only encouraged by a completely disastrous attempt to visit in July when Demetra and I walked to the front gate only to learn that no foot traffic at all is allowed inside and that between the two of us, we could only pay for half the entrance fee with the money in our pockets. Kind of disappointing, but that's over and in the distant past now.

To put it up front, the wait was completely worth it. Driving through a park with a guide rather than going through at my own speed under my own power is not my first choice, but nothing could distract from how excellent the park is. We're riding past families of warthogs and herds of giraffes and zebras and impalas and gazelles and water buffalo and waterbuck and baboons, and I can't help but think that these don't belong in real life but movies. They should be cracking wise and singing not taking mouthfuls of grass.. But here I am, watching them watch us. A storybook come true. There was even a rhinoceros. Our driver was all over that one. When the van in front of us stopped for pictures and blocked our view, he threw ours into reverse to take a second road which the rhinoceros was heading toward. Thing was bleeding massive. Could have taken out the van no problem if it had been so inclined, and that was a distinct possibility as the driver adjusted the van so often for a better view.

Easily my favorite were the flamingos. I had always imagined them as such awkward birds, a feeling only encouraged by the Queen of Heart's determination to use them as croquet mallets, but they are actually quite dainty. Every step is precise and delicate, and unlike the pelicans they share the lake with, flamingos do not dive into the water with a splash. No, they flare their wings at the last possible moment and plant their feet. Second favorite would have to be the mongoose. When I first saw it running through the underbrush, I wasn't even sure it was a mammal it moved in such a lizard-like fashion.

While the fauna is the main attraction, the flora deserves its own due. It is amazing to me that such a diversity of land could be find within the same park. Driving alongside the lake, you find yourself in a lush wetland. Go a little farther out from it, and you're in a thick forest. Go to the other side of the mountain and you find yourself on the savanna. Incredible.

The part of me that likes to be clever likes to think of Lake Nakuru as the ideal American park on a number of levels. Two, to be precise. As I already mentioned, no foot traffic is allowed inside the park. The official reason is for the visitor's protection as there are lions inside. That doesn't convince me as seeing them is so rare. I think it's really just a deal to give more business to tour agencies. In either case, it means that walking is prohibited. The appeal to the many weight-challenged Americans should be obvious. There was also a distinctly democratic sense to the park in that all of the species of animals seemed so comfortable with each other. Yes, they may stick with their own herds and kinds, but they mingle while foraging and share the same water. No problems. An animal melting pot or salad bowl or whatever your favorite symbol for American diversity. In retrospect, it seems so conducive to American health and sensibilities, I'm surprised there aren't any like it in the States.

We finished our safari with a drive to Menengai Crater. There isn't much to it, just a vista of the surrounding land. There are trails, but our guide warned us they weren't safe, especially for wazungu. Because of bandits or because we don't have as sure of footing, I don't know. So we just sat. That was nice. It reminded me how much I miss parks. In Spokane I could bike for a half hour in either direction and be outside the city and in a park, and there was still Riverside at the city center. It's nice to have a place of quiet and beyond the rush.


Emmi said...

I look forward to your posts. Spokane is the same as always, I'm in German conversation this semester.

That safari looks like amazing fun. I've always wanted to go on some kind of safari. Maybe someday, when I make it to Africa.

Also, your hair is getting very long!

I found this link website the other day, with free online German books. Mostly fairytales, but I think Don Quixote is on there too.

Say hi to Demetra.


Jessie said...

A part of my brain was thinking how nice it was that you had linked to those National Geographic wildlife pictures. But you almost definitely took those yourself! Mind-blowing.