Thursday, June 9

A week in Kenya: Nairobi Safari Walk

The man who collected the entry fees made an effort to convince us that the Nairobi Safari Walk was a superior option to Nairobi National Park. His argument hinged on the fact that animal sightings were guaranteed on the Safari Walk; they were not in the park proper. This was not entirely true. Though a glorified zoo, the animals, except for the Colobus monkeys in their cage, could still escape to their pens or into the ditches running along the fences and be out of sight of those on the platforms and walking paths.

Not that we needed convincing. We were going on the Safari Walk. Its entry fee was twenty dollars American. Entry to Nairobi National was forty dollars American and required a vehicle, doubling the total cost at minimum. The Safari Walk only became a better deal when the man took Demetra’s alien card and did not notice that it had expired near a year ago or that it did not, in fact, permit her the greatly reduced resident rates.

That would make the Nairobi Safari Walk the second zoo we visited in Kenya after Haller Park and Bamburi Forest Trails outside of Mombasa. We walked the path twice. We saw the ostrich and its whip neck. We saw the leopard bat at its tail in surprise. We saw the crocodiles be still. We read the educational signs and learned facts about the hyenas. We waited for the lion and elephant but never saw them. It was cool. It would have been cooler if my camera had not run out battery just before we saw the cheetah playing with the old thatching thrown down by workers replacing a roof or the Colobus monkeys chasing each other through their cage or the duiker slinking through the underbrush, but I’ll take it.

It seems like a cheat. Kenya is the nation of long safaris through Maasai Mara and tours around Lake Nakuru. To visit and be content with the zoos, attractions not unknown in the United States, seems like less than a full embrace of all the nation has to offer.

It is, but allow me to raise some points. Kenya’s parks are not American parks. There are no hiking and biking trails. There are only roads. Outside of Hell’s Gate, entry to all of Kenya’s national parks is only possible through a motorized vehicle. It makes sense. There are a great number of animals that can kill you pretty easily, and a car provides protection, but it means you go at your own pace. Even if you do want to dawdle over a patch of flora or wait from a particular vantage point, someone will always be waiting for you, even if you are paying him to drive.

The zoos you take on foot and at your own pace. You can stop and backtrack and go around again. They are quiet, and the air is cool. You can sit. That is a glorious break from the madness of the cities and their dearth of public spaces and people who are not trying to sell you something.

Neither do the zoos feel terribly much more exploitive than the parks. Around Lake Nakuru our driver cut off a rhinoceros already walking away from another car. Yes, it allowed better pictures, but the man ran the car right up next to it. The animals are safe from that in the zoos, and the zoos aren’t even entirely artificial environments. They’re merely penned sections of their natural habitat.

Yes, someday I would very much like to go through Aberdares and spend a few days in Tsavo and Maasai Mara, but until my finances allow that, I will be happy with Kenya’s zoos.

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