Rhino spotting, a wildlife walk and Elsamere
It takes only a couple of hours to reach our next camping place, a lovely grassed garden attached to a dairy farm, holiday cottages and a knitting co-operative, all run by a European family, the Nightingales, who are fourth or fifth generation Kenyans. After erecting the tents, we travel 30 kilometres to the town of Nakuru and a Westside Shopping Centre to get some money and look at our emails. It has been over a week since we last had internet access and we are all eager to receive news from home. As I sit in the café over my cappuccino and pastry, I recall that it was in another Westside Centre in Nairobi that the recent terrorist attack took place and a number of innocent people were killed. I am not afraid, but it is reassuring to have security on the shopping centre gates, checking all incoming vehicles.
In the early evening we have drinks with Yvonne and Brett, another European couple who have also arrived at the camp. Conversation drifts, as it always seems to, towards Africa and its problems. Yvonne shares her experiences in Ethiopia which she had just visited on a 12 day tour; she really loved it and heartily recommends it; perhaps one day . . . The nights are cool here in Kenya and though we can sit outdoors, we need to cover up and dress warmly.
Near the town of Nakuru is Lake Nakuru National Park, where we spend a day. Until recently the highlight has been the thousands of pink flamingos wading in the shallow soda waters of the lake. However in the last year the level of the water has risen dramatically to the point where some of the buildings near the shore are now standing in the lake and many of the flamingos have taken off to better feeding grounds. We have to be content with giraffe, waterbuck, baboons and rhinos. Rhinos! That’s great, for they are an endangered species and we haven’t seen many on our travels; in fact it’s back in Namibia’s Etosha that we last saw a rhino. Nakuru National Park is a sanctuary for both black and white rhinoceros, with fences to keep poachers out, providing one of the best chances to see rhinos in East Africa. Rothschild giraffe also enjoy the security of the sanctuary.
As we set off around the lake, we see three or four lone white rhino in the distance grazing along the lake shore. We stop, grab the cameras and focus the zoom lens for the distance. But later in the day, on our way to Baboon Cliff, we have a better chance to see one up close.
“Look, Martin,” I say, “Isn’t that another rhino?” I point in the distance. “No, just a rock,” he says sceptically. I insist that it is a rhino and I am proved correct. As we return from Baboon Cliff, we see that it has come down from the hill and is much closer, only about 30 metres away from the road. We follow it, observing the extraordinary creature as it munches its way along the rough pasture. It is a white rhino, more numerous in Nakuru and elsewhere, than black ones. Wikipedia says that in 2009 in the park, there were at least 25 black rhinoceros, one of the largest concentrations in the country, plus around 70 white rhinos. I assume that all the ones we see in Nakuru are white ones, for they are all grazing on the short grasslands surrounding the lake, whereas black rhino browse, pulling leaves from trees. But we did see a black one at Etosha, so we have seen both on our African travels.
We motor up the rough track of the escarpment to see the outlook from the ‘Out of Africa’ viewpoint. It is a glorious sight with the sweep of the lake and the park surrounding it. Baboon Cliff, further along, is just what it says. The park authorities have set up picnic tables, supposedly for the benefit of the tourists, but I doubt anyone would brave the resident baboons and attempt to eat out of their car. As we stop to take in the view, a large bundle of grey fur launches at our wind screen and makes for Martin’s open window, reaching in with his hairy arm to see what he can pilfer. Martin madly winds the window up and the arm withdraws. The baboon skirts across to my side as I rush to shut my window, just in time. Admitting defeat, he retreats to a nearby pole before we can gather our wits to take a photo of him on the wind screen. We glare at him and he glares back. That was a close shave; he’s a big fellow and if he got inside the vehicle, he could have done extensive damage.
We arrive back in camp, grateful to find Eddie has rescued our washing, an accumulation of a week’s clothes. The mornings are fine and sunny but in the afternoon thunder rolls around the hills, bringing heavy showers. Before we leave the camp site, we visit the co-operative venture, Kenana Knitters, run by some of the family with about 300 women involved. Products of the home industry are sold around the world. I oh and ah over the enticing knitted animals, eventually deciding on a leopard and an orangutan – before you jump in with your accusations, I do know it’s not an African primate, but it is lovely and beautifully made. The grandchildren again, you know. By the way, orangutans originate from Indonesia and Malaysia.
Our destination is Lake Naivasha where we have the opportunity to do a nature walk in the Wileli Wildlife conservancy. Marcus, our guide, picks us up in a six seater car and accompanies us around the park, pointing out different plants and animal signs. The walk in the sun makes for a very pleasant morning. We see zebra, buffalo, giraffe, waterbuck, warthog and Grant’s Gazelles. At one stage a giraffe runs through the vegetation within metres of us, so we are able to walk quite close to some of the wildlife.
The main industry in the Lake Naivasha area is floriculture. Graham and Judy call in to one of the businesses and ask if we can have a look at the operation and they make an appointment to return after lunch. George, the production manager, takes us through some of the enormous plastic shelters where millions of roses are grown, harvested, sorted and exported. Everyday up to 1.4 million rose stems are flown to Holland. That’s amazing! George asks us not to take photos because the operation is commercially sensitive, but in the sorting shed he relents and allows me to take some of the beautiful blooms. Around the walls of the sorting shed are pithy sayings aimed at encouraging the workers: ‘we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give’. The place we visit is just one of a number in the area. No wonder there is pressure on the lake water used to irrigate the tunnel houses.
In the late afternoon we visit Elsamere, former home of Joy and George Adamson of Born Free fame. You have to be at least in your 50s or 60s to remember the famous lyrics of the highly successful film based on Joy’s book about Elsa the lion, whom she reared and returned to the wild:
Born free, as free as the wind blows
As free as the grass grows,
Born free to follow your heart
Live free and beauty surrounds you
The world still astounds you
Each time you look at a star
Stay free, where no walls divide you
You're free as the roaring tide
So there's no need to hide
Born free, and life is worth living
But only worth living
'Cause you're born free
We begin by viewing a most interesting 40 minute film about the couple. An unusual individual, Joy had three marriages, was an accomplished painter of plants and African people, and became a committed wildlife champion. After looking around her home, now a museum full of memorabilia about her life, we partake of tea and cakes on the front lawn overlooking Lake Naivasha and watch the black and white colobus monkeys playing in the trees. It is lovely to relax; I realize again that we are becoming tired with all the travel and the amazing things we have seen and done. As we leave we inspect the land rover that George was driving when he was shot and killed by Somali bandits in northern Kenya.
We return to Fish Eagle Camp for our final night in our Oz tent, for the next day we travel to Nairobi where we stay in more upmarket and stylist accommodation.