As we drive from the hotel out of the city, we pass markets and shops made of rusted corrugated metal shacks; large herds of sheep, cows, or goats in the hundreds graze along the roadside; bicycle and motorcycle “taxis;’
Please join me on the Great North Road, built 1939-1945, that connects Cape Town with Cairo. It is clogged with huge trucks carrying loads from the port city of Mombasa to landlocked Uganda and Burundi. There are baboons along the roadside; a zebra standing in a field; carts being pulled by donkeys or by men; a veiled woman on the back of a motorcycle, her colorful veil streaming behind her; a little boy rolling a hoop; people walking what appears to be miles away from anywhere.
James weaves in and out of the lanes, judging when to pull back into his lanes when oncoming traffic appears. We seem to be moving at a great speed. When I ask him about it, he says that he can only go 110 kilometers/hour (equal to about 70 mph); minibuses and vans are limited to 80 and trucks are limited to 65.
He tells me about the three major tribes in Kenya: the Maasai, who are nomadic herders; the Luo who fish; and the Central Kikuuyu who farm and do animal husbandry.
As we drive through areas, he tells me what they are known for. For example, people go to Kikope for roasted meat and to Lake Elementaita to get large bags of soda ash for white washing.
On this journey, we will move through cities and very small towns, forests, arid areas, mountain areas and lake areas. The countryside is continually changing. Some small towns have signs for Rotary Club and a woman’s bank; all have churches and missions and church schools.
We stop at a lookout point for the Great Rift Valley, where I am told that it extends 8,600 miles from Jordan to Cairo and is 60 miles wide. An international satellite station is pointed out, which triangulates with stations in South America and Australia (although later I can’t confirm this on the internet). Our guide there points out Mount Longonot, which is active. I later purchase products he has made from the lava.
We pass where the great wildebeest migration occurs near Maasai Mara from July through September.
It takes us 2.5 hours to get to Nakuru. The park at Lake Nakuru presents a number of surprises. The first is that there are many trees and buildings under water. The lake, which usually is 45 km wide, is now 65 and climbing- due to heavy rains, four “seasonal” rivers flow continually into the lake. Roads have been washed away and new roads quickly constructed.
When I ask our guide if Kenya could divert the rivers, he tells me that it is against the law to go against nature- people need to get out of nature’s way.
Nakuru is known for its 1.5 million flamingos, but flamingos like salt water. Because of the influx of fresh water, the flamingos are starting to move elsewhere.
The animals here include: Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle, colbus monkey, hippo, leopard, lion, rhino, waterbuck, impala, gazelle, striped hyena, wild cat and the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe.
They do not have: elephants, because they are very destructive; cheetahs, because it gets too cold for them; or wildebeests, because they do not like enclosed spaces.
They began with 55 lions but now have over 72- and almost all of them have been hurt battling each other to maintain their areas. The park will be shipping 25 out to other parks.
There are 450 species of birds- and during the course of the day, we probably see over 100. The flamingos go to Tanzania to lay their eggs because the soil in Nakuru is too soft for them to make their nests of mud.
We see guinea fowl and our guide tells us that their eggs are highly prized, particularly by the Chinese. One egg sells for 160,000 KS. Later, we learn that the guinea fowl lay their egg (1 every other year) make a communal nest, which all sit on.
As we drive through the forested area, we see all sorts of brightly colored small birds and gazelles. Each herd of gazelles has one male and after 2-3 years, another male fights him to take over the harem. Once a male gazelle reaches maturity, he is run out of the herd and lives with other bachelors- until he possibly gets a crack at leading the herd. Many of the males, however, never do. The mothers tell their young what to do by how they hold their tales. If the tale is up, it means to follow. If the tale is down, it means to take cover.
We also see lots of zebras, each of which has its own unique marking the same way we have unique fingerprints. There are two types of zebras and this common zebra has stripes under their bellies, while the other type does not.
When we get within sight of the lake, we see all sorts of water birds. We also see (and smell) a dead water buffalo being attended to by a vulture. There are waterbucks everywhere.
When we get to the savanna, we look for lions- but see none. However, the day before the guide tells us that there were 7 lionesses sleeping in the shade of a tree next to the road! There are yellow barked acacia trees- as soon as I saw them, I remembered their silhouette in promotions for the movie Out of Africa. They look flat on top. When you see my photo, I’m sure you’ll recognize them. Later, as the sun started to go down, the light played up the yellow in the trunks.
When we get to the lake, I can’t believe my eyes. There are thousands of flamingos- some with red legs and beaks, others with red on their wings. We watch one flamingo right next to us ground his beak into the mud and rub his beak back and forth, taking in algae and discarding what he doesn’t want.
There is also a large flock of Great Pelicans- and water buffalo everywhere. It is breathtakingly beautiful and so peaceful. I could have stood and watched the birds for hours.
There are so many water buffalo that the park will give them away to any zoo or park that will pay to transport them.
When we leave, we pass lone male water buffalo, matted with mud and looking very forlorn. When they get to about 15 years old, they are pushed out of the herd. Since they live for another three years, it is a very lonely existence. They cover themselves with mud to keep the parasites and ticks off. They are the most dangerous of animals.
The next surprise is a Rothschild’s giraffe eating acacia leaves. These giraffes are white from the knee down, so it looks like they are wearing white socks. They are the only giraffe with 5 horns. They have very long tongues (45 cm) and their saliva is antiseptic. This is useful, because the acacia have 1” long thorns.
Their legs are solid bone, without any marrow, so one kick can kill a lion. They have the largest heart of any animal to pump blood up their long necks. They only sleep 5-30 minutes because they have to be alert against predators.
We see baboons and velvet monkeys. The velvet monkeys are very cute and small enough to be the prey of the fish eagles.
We don’t see hyenas, but we are told that they will come to eat the dead water buffalo that night. 70% of hyenas do not hunt, they just live on what they find.
There are white rhino, who have no predator, because their hide is thicker (1.5 inches) than a lion can bite. Their horns are 7-8 kilograms- and 1 kilogram goes for 700-800 KS. People believe that the horns give them energy. They let a horn rot, then crush it and put a pinch into what they eat.
Our guide showed us the enormous nest of small bird called a hammerkop. It takes 3 years to build it and it can weigh up to 200 kg.
We went to Makalia Falls, which was very nice. There were trees with pink flowers. Apparently, what I saw was called red lily and was a parasite.
Rather than try to list all of the birds we saw, it probably would be easier (for both of us) if you just Googled Kenyan birds and you’ll see what they look like. But here is a partial list:
Sacred ibis, marabou stork, yellow-billed egret, black-headed heron, greater flamingo, lesser flamingo, Egyptian goose, gray crowned crane, augur buzzard, black kite, cormorant, teal, crowned plover, black smith plover, common sandpiper, lilac-breasted roller, little bee-eater, red-billed hornbill, jackson’s hornbill, African blue flycatcher, gray-headed hornbill, tawny eagle, African hoope, great white pelican, African fish eagle, greater painted snipe, hammerkop, African spoonbill, guinea fowl, common greenshank, etc.
When we finally got back to the hotel 11 hours later, I was astounded by what sounded like millions of birds at the hotel entrance. They were frogs!
I’ve attached a few photos. I’ll put the rest on Facebook.