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It was time for the bus to Nairobi and its reputation had us nervous. It seemed that everyone had a horror story and we half expected to be surrounded and attacked before leaving the bus. Well tourists are always continually accosted by people trying to sell things and get you to go on their safari but so long as you take care nothing bad should happen. We did not, however, venture out after dark.
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The city has major problems. There is a drought and so water is being rationed and many are going without. Power outages are continuous unless you live near a high government official or a hospital. And there are always political shenanigans going on. While we were there, for example, a dissident parliament member was barricaded in his offices by 'unknown' hooligans on the day of his planned rally. Coincidence? Don't let this deter you, though. There is alot to do in Nairobi and the surrounding areas.
We planned to rent a car and self-drive but rentals were pricey and the difference between self-driving a sedan and having a driver with a VW van with a poptop wasn't that much so we had another safari using Twiga Safaris. First we headed north to Nanyuki, at the foot of Mt. Kenya, where we had a friend. In the 2 days we were there we never saw the mountain; it was always covered in clouds.
Nanyuki Area: Sweetwater, Mt. Kenya Orphanage and the Pets
We visited Sweetwater, a private reserve nearby. In addition to a rather pedestrian game drive they had a few treats for us. First was Morani, a tame rhino. He was an orphan and was brought up in Nairobi NP and when they released him in the wild he would get injured by a dominant male or would follow some tourists into a lodge and wreak havoc in his friendly way. So they brought him here to stay in his own corale and visitors can pet him and hug him. He was mostly asleep during our visit but it was quite neat nonetheless.
Neater still was Blew, a tame warthog about 10 months old. He was great ... at first we just fed him and played a little. Later I got a bit more aggresive and Blew was like a playful dog ... he jumped all over me ... at one point he sat on my back and nibbled at my hair and slobbered all over my head. The rangers were literally falling on the ground laughing and Janet had troubletaking photos, she was laughing so hard. After that he followed us around, even when we looked through the interesting museum. I want a pet warthog now and I think our cats would like one!
There was also a chimp orphanage with about 25 chimps in residence. Each has a very sad story and you can almost see it in their eyes. These would never survive in the wild but here they have a large area to roam.
The Chimps and the Cheetah
Our friend, Karl Ammann is a wildlife photographer who has dedicated his life to preventing trade in Bushmeat ... animals illegally poached for meat and specifically primates; gorillas and chimps. His book on Gorillas is seminal and he also has published some pretty horrific pictures, some on my site. He and his wife have also written about Cheetahs.
Karl and his wife Katherine live in a gorgeous house in a gorgeous setting, at the foot of Mt. Kenya backing up onto parklands. They have 2 chimps and a cheetah living with them as pets; these were orphans. The older Chimp, Mzee, is 14 and loves to groom people and so we made ourselves available. It was a remarkable experience sitting there and having that chimp concentrate so hard on getting rid of all your imperfections. I swear he found every tiny zit and tried to squeeze it out! He likes girls better and howled when Janet left his area.
The younger chimp socialized more and loved to be tickled under her chin, she'd laugh uncontrollably. Of course whenever the chimp saw the cheetah in her run she'd (the chimp) would stamp around pounding her foot as if to say 'I'm tough so don't mess with me'.
The cheetah, Sasa, is kept in a sizeable run but she comes onto the deck to visit daily (primates only in the house) and she seems to love that. She tools in purring away loudly and does the rounds visiting everyone sitting there (and there were about 8 people) politely allowing herself to be petted. Then she went off to the side to sit by herself, not unlike any other housecat. She was an orphan and would not be able to hunt in the wild; that is a skill mommy teaches.
Later, when we brought our camera in for pictures, I sat on the floor and Sasa washed my head. Maybe we need a cheetah to go with the warthog!
Throughout this trip it was exhilerating to see the animals in the wild. But interacting with wild animals in this way was a special and unexpected opportunity near the end of our journey.
The Mt. Kenya Safari Club Animal Orphanage
Near Karl's is the Mt. Kenya Safari club, once ranked as one of the top ten hotels in the world and still very very high end with rooms starting at about $275. They have an orphanage and since Karl is a member we were able
to get in to visit. Seems as if after the parks of S.A, Uganda and Tanzania, Kenya would be the place for artificial wildlife experiences but these were fascinating in their own way.
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Like the baby buffalo that followed us around chewing at our pants, or the 135 year old tortoise carrying 2 rich kids on his back, or the almost extinct Bongo. tame ostrich, some llama(!!), zebroids (cross between zebra and horse), crested crane walking around, 3 orphan cheetah that, hopefully, are being trained for release but we doubt it. Ever watch an ostrich drink ... long head goes down for a gulp of water, picks head up and you can watch the mouthful of water move down the looong throat. There were various groups of orphan monkeys.
Our driver, George, had a little battle with a baboon over a water hose. The baboon thought he was threatening the water supply and grabbed the hose and started yelling away. They had pygmy hippo, dwarf antelope (tiny little things), jackal cubs, genets, lynx and porcupine. An interesting place.
From there we spent a night at Thompson's Falls, now called Nyahuhuru, where I spent New Year's Eve 1972! Even in the evening rain there were ladies trying to rope us into buying stuff at their shop. The Falls are about 250 feet high and we hiked part way down in the morning. George's family lives here so he had a chance to visit with his father and a brother.
Lake Nakuru National Park
Lake Nakuru is a shallow salt lake that is famous for its flamingoes. Years ago they virtually covered the entire shoreline, hundreds of thousands of them. About 5 years ago they abandoned the lake when the water level dropped and pollution got bad. They went to other nearby salt lakes. But in recent months, despite still low water levels, the pollution problem had eased and they were returning. Maybe 1/3 of their peak numbers, they still made for quite a spectacle - spread along the shorelines and into the middle of the lake (it is shallow) ... a huge pink mass. When you walk near them you can hear a loud rumble - sorta like people sound at a busy cafe ... bzz, bzz, mumble, mumble ... and as you walk, they walk, as a unit, away from you, always keeping 50-75 feet away. There were the lesser and the greater flamingo interspersed with pelican as well as smaller numbers of cormorant, stork, stilt, egyptian geese and other birds.
The birds aren't the only game at Nakuru; its actually quite a nice park. We had some great moments with rhino, several young, saw 7 lions in 3 batches, although all were relatively motionless, saw some impala battles as young buck were testing their testosterone. At a view point we enjoyed watching a large family of rock hyrax and despite the signs, tourist kids fed them and so they were like chipmunks in our parks. And zebra, eland, buffalo, waterbuck, warthog, giraffe and lots of baboon. At a campsite near evening the baboon came out to watch the tents go up, probably planning their night time raids.
Naivasha and Crescent Island
Lake Nakuru is one of a series of lakes on the floor of the Great Rift Valley, birthplace of man. We drive down the escarpment into the valley as we come down from Thomson's Falls. Naivasha is another of these lakes but Naivasha is fresh water. Naivasha is under severe drought even though it storms nightly at Nakuru only 60 km away. We took a boat out to Crescent island which is not really an island now, with water level down so far. George pointed out a bridge they once fished from during the El Nino rains. It was about 200 feet from the shoreline.
On Crescent Island we could walk with zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck and gazelle. We even saw some albino gazelle. We tried to get close to some zebra but they wouldn't let us within about 100 feet. I tried to crawl closer and maybe got to 40 feet. Then we noticed a giraffe that was edging closer to Janet; he was really curious ... maybe he got within 30 feet of us (or vice-versa?). If we had all day we might have gotten real close but our boat was coming for us.
Elsamere, home of the Adamsons of Born Free fame is on Naivasha and we visited and saw a touching video of Joy Adamson's life. Both she and her husband George were murdered, in separate events, in the 80's.
Hell's Gate NP is near Naivasha and is one of the few parks where you can walk, bike and climb and we actually saw a guy teaching some kids to climb on one of the towers in the park. I will be trying to find old but safe climbing gear - shoes, biners, nuts - to send them, if anyone wants to donate some or knows of sources please let me know. The drought is quite severe; we saw a number of carcasses and many very thin warthogs and hartebeest - one with a 2-3 day old baby. The gorge, for which Hell's Gate is named is quite interesting and we had a young Masai guide us. We also visited his village.
The area is geothermally active and 15% of Kenya's power come from plants that ring the park.
Several people have asked about climbs of Kilimanjaro. When I climbed it in 1973 all that was needed was to make hut reservations for 4 nights at a cost of maybe $20 and you were off. Today you have park fees, required guides/porters etc; pretty much you can't climb the mountain for less than $500 and generally you are looking at $750 for the standard 5 day route.
That's it! Time to drive to Nairobi for a few hours of shopping at Westlands, a great market. Would have been better with more money and more time but we think we didn't get taken too badly. I even used one T shirt for a trade. In Nairobi was the best place of our trip for tribal masks and we also got some banana leaf prints although Tanzania was better for these. Tanzania was best for Batiks and, surprisingly, Giraffe carvings were good deals in S.A.
Our trip home took about 36 hours, door to door. We had an all day stopover in Addis Ababa, where we were put up in the Hilton for the afternoon and treated to lunch. We sure felt out-of-place but enjoyed it. Too bad it was raining and we couldn't go for a swim! Three movies for the Rome - Newark leg of the trip; incredibly bad films and a real sore shoulder from being stuck in the middle.
So when do we get back on the road?? Don't know but for now Janet is happy to be back on her horse!!
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