Overland Through Kenya
I am on a tour of the African bush, on an overland truck. This trip starts in Kenya and is led by a husband and wife team, Kaz and Jim. They do all the main jobs between them, driver, chef, quartermaster. This is their last trip and they’ve got very good at delegating. They also seem to have given up caring. We are their nine noisy children who are they pack into the back of their truck under sufferance.
I'm covered in red dust, as is everything I own. My diet has consisted of fruit and boiled eggs with the odd lump of cheese thrown in when I've been really good. Occasionally, if the budget will allow, we are fed warthog chops or zebra steaks to keep us going. I have a green ridge tent I share with Alison - it's not very easy to pitch. The ground is hard and I have to help with the washing up and sweeping. The reward for all my tribulations - lots of lovely wildlife.
Kenya - Background
It’s generally accepted that the earliest origins of man can be traced back five million years ago to what is now the northern half of Kenya. Today, there are some 70 tribes in the country, speaking 30 different languages or dialects. First, hunter-gatherers, then Cushitic speakers, followed by Nilotic-speaking settlers from present-day South Sudan (around 500 BC.). They were followed by Bantu peoples.
European contact began in 1500 AD (the Portuguese), and Kenya was encompassed first as a British Protectorate, then a full colony. There were numerous disputes with the colonists, most notably the Mau Mau Revolution, which began in 1952, leading to the declaration of independence in 1963.
The country is named after Mt. Kenya, which is the highest point in the country and is 17,057 feet high. Kenya today has a population of roughly 50 million and is the third-largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria and South Africa. Agriculture is the largest sector: tea and coffee are traditional cash crops, while fresh flowers are a fast-growing export - all those supermarket roses. Tourism is Kenya's second largest source of income. Nevertheless, over half of the country's population live in poverty. And Kenyan men are allowed more than one wife - if they want to.
There is some spectacular scenery. Kenya lies on the Equator and is split down the middle, by the East African Rift Valley. It's part of the Great Rift Valley series of massive trenches that run from the Lebanon to Mozambique). All of the African Great Lakes were formed as the result of the rift, It's tropical and hot by the coast, but inland, temperatures are mitigated by the (surprising) amount of high ground.
There are also 60 national parks and game reserves. That's what I've come to see.
Lake Naivasha and Hell's Gate
- Lake Naivasha for a walking safari on Crescent Island, fraternising with giraffes and sitting in Robert Redford’s chair, where they did the filming for Out of Africa. It's idyllic camping by the lake shore, except that American Mel who's had her very short hair done in cornrows, snores.
- Hell's Gate National Park is named after a narrow break in the cliffs, with a gorge and columns, the most prominent of which are named Fischer's Tower and Central Tower. It's diminutive. but it's still home to five geothermal power stations.
Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya
- Lake Nakuru is an algae-filled soda lake in the Great Rift Valley, that attracts thousands of amazing flamingos turning the lake candy floss pink. Lookout points such as Baboon Cliff and Lion Hills offer views of the birds, the lake and mammals, including warthogs white rhino, lion, impala, baboons and hirax, amongst others.
- This leg isn't without adventure. There's a leopard on the road to start with (padding along, but impossible to photograph) and then lashings of rain. The truck gets bogged down in mud and they put me on lion watch, while the others dig it out. Foraging monkeys invade our camp and have just been driven out when a buffalo arrives. These are skittish and must not be antagonised. I'm not enjoying my middle of the night trips to the toilet block.
- Rumirutu, a smallish county town. (There weren't any larger ones to choose from). To my consternation, we're doing a camel safari for two days from here. I missed that bit in the itinerary. The treat of spending a night in the total open air, in the bush, under the stars. Besieged by mosquitoes. After riding a camel for four hours, elephants crossing in front of us - there are young bulls in musk around. (Don't ask about the blisters). No toilet, well I'm used to my little trowel now. Everyone just goes by the side of the bus and sod it. Somehow, I slept through the hyenas visiting and the lions roaring. Apparently, everyone else got up in the middle of the night, made a huge fire and hid behind the camels. In the confusion, I've managed to lose my sleeping bag sack, a lens from my sunglasses, my padlock key and my precious toilet roll.
Lake Baringo, Kenya
- Lake Baringo is, barring Lake Turkana, the most northerly of the Kenyan Rift Valley Lakes. A boat trip, feeding swooping fish eagles, more flamingos, monitor lizards, crocodiles, snuffling hippos and a 65 year old giant tortoise. It's remote, hot and dusty but it's home to over 470 species of birds, occasionally including migrating flamingos. There's a Goliath heronry on a rocky islet happily known as Gibraltar.
- Local fishermen manoeuvre their lightweight, almost raft like 'kadich' boats.
- I'm attacked in the eye by a thorn bush, find my padlock key and then lose it again.
Eldoret and Kericho
- Eldoret, the capital of Uasin Gishu County, colloquially known as 'Sisibo'. Up winding mountain roads, with stunning views across the Rift Valley. We wave to school children. Some wave back. Some give us the finger.
- A quick nip over the border to Jinja, on Lake Victoria, in Uganda.
- Back into Kenya and through the gorgeous high rolling tea country around Kericho. It's complete with Brooke Bond signs.
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The Masai Mara National Reserve
- The Masai Mara is a brilliant finale to Kenya. Not least, because it involves glamping (tents with bathrooms and hot water) with Masai warriors on sentry duty and silver service dining under the stars. 'Do you have your knife?' the guard inquires as he walks us back to the tent at night.
- Each year around the same time, the circular great wildebeest migration begins in the Ngorongoro in the southern Serengeti in Tanzania and loops in a clockwise direction through the Serengeti National Park and north towards the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya. This migration involves 260,000 zebra, about 1.7 million wildebeest and the following hundreds of thousands of other plains game, including around 470,000 gazelles. The herds arrive in Kenya in late July to August and here we are watching them. Wikipedia says that about a quarter of a million wildebeest die on the 500 mile journey. This is safari, just like you see on TV. There are flat topped acacias on plains teeming with topi, eland, Grant's and Thompson gazelles, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and warthog. Hyena, cheetah, lion, elephant, hippo and rhino, all put in an appearance.
- I worried before I came out that the zoom on my camera might not be good enough on safari. But I've taken photos of rhino, lion and elephant that filled my frame without using the zoom at all. Elephant was the most disconcerting. For one horrible moment I thought it was going to lift me clean out of the Landrover. I panicked so much I forgot to take any photos. I'm told others have them. Just the whites of the eyes. The elephant that is. I’m very fond of the graceful giraffes and the flamingos, carpets of them, are gorgeously flamboyant. The impala are pretty, though we're a little bored with them now, leaping in front of the truck all the time.
- Our last night in Kenya is spent at a once fine country hotel, now sadly in need of renovation. We've erected our tents on the front lawn. Alison, American Mike and John, the youngest of us, are all sick.
- Over the border to Tanzania...