Friday, 27 July 2012

Karibuni Africa!

I'm not going to lie to ya, setting down late at night in Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta airport and being driven through the pitch black, potholed streets to our deserted hostel in the middle of nowhere was an unsettling introduction to Africa. Especially when the lonely planet and the FCO website has instilled you with perhaps irrational fears that you are going to be carjacked and shot dead at every street corner. Still, we made it in one piece and in the morning we planned our escape out to Lake Naivasha, which was to be a welcome break on our long journey to Kisumu in Western Kenya. 

Matatus, the local form of transport aka a mini bus crammed with as many people and chickens as you can conceivably fit into it, provided us with our first real Kenyan experience...not so different from any other third world country really.However it wasn't until we left the pollution and smog of Nairobi's dirt streets behind us that we finally started to see what Kenya is all about. The views of the Rift Valley as you wind down the hills from the capital are spectacular; savanna stretches out for as far as you can see punctuated by rolling hills and dotted with acacia trees and the odd zebra. It is a very different vista to anything we have seen thus far and had exactly the desired effect, making us hungry for new experiences and challenges.

From Lake Naivasha town, we took a local matatu out into the countryside to Fisherman's Camp, a leafy campsite set on the shores of the lake and famed for its late night visitors, the hippos. We managed to get a spot in a cabana there and settled in for an evening  in the campsite bar watching the hippos come out to graze and the monkeys playing in the trees. It felt a million miles away from scary Nairobi and I think we were both a little relieved to have found a sanctuary from the madness.

The next day we set out with Joseph, our guide, for our first glimpse of Africa's wildlife. Crater Lake National Park is one of the few places in Kenya where you can actually walk amongst the animals, a truly unique experience (this is mainly due to the lack of most of the big 5 predators of which there are only buffalo). First stop was a spot in the lake where hundreds of flamingos were nesting. I thought I had seen these before, in Bolivia's salt flats, but this was something else. Pink, long legged birdies for as far as the eye could see and apparently most of them had yet to arrive from their Tanzanian migration. It was a spectacular display of pink featheryness.

Inside the National Park itself we were rewarded with further abundance of wildlife. From the get go we were surrounded by zebra, giraffe, gazelle, impala, dik-dik, baboon, warthog and even some buffalo whom we gave a wide birth to. Being on foot we were able to get really close to them and they seemed as interested in us as we were in them. It couldn't have been a better first day.

Lake Naivasha, we have since realised from our jaunts around the country, is a wonderful place to base yourselves for a few relaxing days in Kenya. The various camps around the lake side are remote, chilled out and well integrated into the local community making for a more interesting and authentic experience than you will get at other, more tourist focused destinations. Indeed there were many Kenyan families camping there with us over our stay. Matatus provide an easy way to get around the local area or you can also rent bikes, and it is a great jumping off point for not only Crater Lake National Park, but also Hell's Gate and Lake Nakuru. For those of you who have seen or read the iconic story of Elsa the Lion in 'Born free', Naivasha is also home to the late Joy Adamson's home and research/conservation centre which we visited for afternoon tea on the lawns! As an intro to Kenya it couldn't have been a better first stop and it remains a highlight of our African experiences so far.

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