07.06.2009 - 08.06.2009
In today's Daily Nation, probably the most serious of Kenya's English language daily newspapers, I came across two great stories from the nations students. In the first, they were protesting about a decision to reduce the semester by 2weeks, thus giving a longer summer break. In the second, a number of students walked out of an AIDS/HIV exam (apparently this is studied by all University students as part of their first year studies) in disgust because it was far too easy, and also included some recycled questions that they knew the answers to.
Neither article bears any relevance to the rest of this tale, but I was slightly tickled by the fact students were basically complaining that their courses were too easy and they were getting too much holiday: It's not something I can ever imagine British students doing, for example – There, almost certainly most would happily have completed the easy paper before gleefully retiring early to the pub/SU, happy in the knowledge they had gained two extra weeks boozing time.
The final part of my 4day jaunt was to Lake Nakuru National Park, and i must admit I enjoyed it significantly more than the Masai. Located in the Great Rift Valley about 5km south of Nakuru, Kenya's 4th biggest city, Lake Nakuru national park is quite small and compact, but includes a great deal and, crucially for me at least, is nowhere near as popular or famous as the Masai Mara. With Joseph still driving us around, we lost the two English guys and gained a Nigerian travel agent, and after a night in Nakuru city (where we watched Nigeria beat Kenya 3-0 in a World Cup 2010 qualifying match in a great atmosphere with lots of animated Kenyans, and Juba, our newly joined Nigerian, being extremely vocal at every goal without even a hint of trouble or bad blood in the air: I somehow doubt that, say, a loud German fan in a packed English pub during a 3-0 German victory over the English, would have escaped so lightly) we were ready to enter the park.
It was a glorious day, and a fruitful one. Nakuru is famous first and foremost for its flamingos, who's number is unknown but estimated at roughly 3million or so. Large chunks of the lake shore were a mass of pink and despite the presence nearby of buffalo, hyena and a white Rhino, we were able to get out and have a walk close to the flamingo. They seemed non plussed by our presence, but also casually moved away to ensure that we never got closer than about 50metres from the flock. The constant sound and interesting smell will long linger, whilst one of the highlights for me was the presence of small groups of 5-10 who periodically walked quickly up and down in the area between us and the flock, in a manner of beggers following a rich person (or safari touts following a white person) or outreach security patrols. It just looked funny.
In the 4 or 5 hours that we were in the park, we saw flamingo, pelicans, vultures, assorted birds of species that I have no knowledge of, several species of monkey and baboon, ostrich, warthogs, Rothschild giraffe, hyena, zebra, dik-dik and several other species of antelope as well as the 4 of the famed 'big 5'* that live in the park: Buffalo, Lions, Leopard and Rhino, both black and white.
At one point and almost entirely by luck, we were privileged to have 2 leopards mating a couple of hundred metres away on one side, and a black rhino a few hundred metres away to the other side. Two of the most sought after and elusive animals to see in the wild, and we could see both and were one of only two vehicles nearby watching. It was infinitely better than the hoards of the Masai.
The White and Black Rhino, so called because both of them are, erm, gray. The White Rhino (above) is generally lighter coloured, larger and has a large flat squarish mouth, whereas the very rare Black Rhino (below) is darker, smaller – but still big enough to cause serious damage to you or your vehicle if it gets p1sed off and decides to charge you – and has a rounder mouth
But the thing I loved more than anything else was the scenery. As well as the Lake and flat areas around its shores, there was grassland, forest, savanna, rocky outcrops, hills and a small escarpment – a whole range of different environments. On the rocky outcrops there were some gorgeous and stunningly coloured lizards (bright blue, often with red heads), whilst in the forests and on the plains were lots of absolutely brilliant trees: fantastic shapes, and colours, with many characterized by a wonderfully green coloured bark. I would have happily wandered or cycled around the park even if there had been not a single animal in it. About the only thing that was a bit off was that the park is so small that in places it felt more like a large open zoo than an open wildlife reserve, and so you weren't always convinced that the animals were truly 'living in the wild'. But after the Masai, i'm not really sure that I cared.
Happy, we then left the park for a quick stop at a curio shop that even by East African standards was impressively packed with assorted, well, curios, before having lunch and then parting from the excellent Rwandan/Tanzanian-German duo of Sam and Lena, who were heading off to Kampala. And with that, it was time to return to Nairobi and its traffic chaos, where certain medical 'professionals' and student doctors were awaiting me, ready to insert more long sharp pointy things into my arse again.
Traveling is such fun sometimes.
Vultures (though not of the same sort that tracked the Leopard in my previous post) attack the carcass of a recently deceased Buffalo. Lake Nakuru National Park had a surprising number of large bones scattered around
- The 'big 5', is a slightly strange concept that doesn't really have any modern relevance, but which is still mentioned endlessly in guide books, and peddled relentlessly by tour operators, t-shirt sellers and touts right across East Africa. For the record, the Big 5 comprises Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Lions and Leopards, and originally stems from the time when tourists were rare and the only visitors were rich colonial hunters: the Big 5 was a hunting term, and rich Americans and Europeans came to Africa with sole intention of tracking and killing what were considered to be the 5 largest/most impressive animals, and whose heads, tusks, horns or skin was brought back to their homes and mounted (or turned into rugs, in the case of the leopard) as trophies. Even today, to many tourists their Safari (in the western sense, as opposed to the actually Kiswahili meaning of 'travel' or 'journey') is not complete without spotting/ticking off the big 5, even though Buffalo at the very least are not that rare, exciting or hard to spot. And just what Giraffe, Cheetahs and Hippo, amongst others, think of their exclusion from what people are told that they really want to see, is anybodies guess.
Top to bottom, a family of warthog oddly standing to attention, a Rothschild Giraffe eating, two Lions resting under a tree, and two monkeys, the bottom of whom really did seem pleased to see us...