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  • Day2

    CraterLake Park, Journey to Lake Nakuru

    November 26, 2019 in Kenya ⋅ ☁️ 14 °C

    Walking Safari at Crater Lake Park.

    I didn't sleep particularly well as I adjusted my sleeping layers in the cooling night and got somewhat tangled in my sleeping bag and silk liner. I would need to work out a better sleeping 'system' as the journey progressed. I woke up early at 5am with raindrops drumming on my tent which thankfully remained waterproof during the night. There was something particularly miserable about going to sleep in the rain and then waking up in the rain. There was clearly going to be a lot more rain on this journey than was anticipated and was usual for this time of year in East Africa. The issue of climate change and extreme weather therefore became an ongoing backdrop and point of discussion on our journey. I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag, put on some damp clothes and flip-flops and traipsed up to the shower block through wet grass and heavy rain. I therefore got a good soaking before before I even reached the shower. The shower was full of moths, beetles and various other insects, which would be 'de rigour' for all the showers on the journey and evidenced the density and profusion of all life in Africa. Such densities of insects no longer existed at home thanks to years of intensive agriculture and pesticide use. Those that had an aversion to our insect companions on this world would therefore have an uncomfortable time getting a shower. At least the shower was hot, but this was soon forgotten as I trudged back to my tent to get dressed. I walked over to the truck where I made breakfast of cold oats and a cup of tea.
    I had decided to do the early morning walking safari at the Crater Lake Park which would be my first ever safari in Africa. The rain had begun to abate somewhat but the sky was still overcast with dark skies and there was a strong likelihood of getting wet. However, there were some hopeful glimmers of brighter skies in the distance and I decided to take the chance to have my first encounter with African wildlife on foot. Only two of my fellow travellers, Jesse and Alec, had braved getting up in the rain to join my on the safari. Jesse and Alec, who proved to be lovely company on the trek, were a young, bright, friendly, and exuberant young couple from New Zealand who liked their alcohol/parties and were travelling to various places around the world. They had actually won this trip around Africa through a lottery they entered at a New Zealand travel fare - quite a stroke of good fortune for them!

    Our tour guides, Mike and his colleague, both local men born and bred, arrived in a safari vehicle to take us on the safari. Mike and his colleague (who's name has escaped my memory) were friendly, but also quite taciturn men of few words. I had that sense of their world weariness with tourists which I can encountered on other occasions during the long journey. After some discussion it was decided that the weather was good enough for the safari and Jesse, Alec and I boarded the vehicle with my levels of anticipation riding high. We headed out of the campsite and onto a main highway. After some time we turned off down a long rough road which was heavily flooded in places due to the heavy rainfall overnight. Mike had to navigate the floods, sometimes by slipping and sliding through the mud at speed to avoid getting stuck. This added to the excitement and jeopardy of the safari trip.

    Then the magic of Africa began to seep in through our wide open eyes. We saw two wild jackals trotting energetically along the side of the road and then in front of the vehicle as we pulled to a stop, before darting off onto the thick Bush and on with their lives. Then, even more dramatically, we came across a large, loping giraffe, feeding on the abundant trees that lined the road. We stopped and were able to spend several minutes watching and photographing this huge, majestic animal standing spray legged, curling his huge lips and tongue greedily around the lush leaves and tearing them off into his mouth. He was wary of our uninvited presence and was eventually got startled and lolopped away from the roadside. We then saw another giraffe a little further down the road. This was my first close up encounter with the large African megafauna, and my efforts to get up early for the safari had already been repaid generously. It was a deeply moving experience to see these large animals in the wild.

    We eventually entered the Crater Lake Park and drove for a while along rough tracks through the park. We saw two warthogs trotting through the undergrowth before stopping and parking to begin our walking safari. The weather had continued to improve, much to our relief. We walked along a rough track out into a wide open area of grassland with white trunked acacia trees standing majestically around the edges, with green volcanic hills rising behind. Mike explained how a series of eruptions had formed the volcanic landscape of the park, a long time ago, but also while human ancestors would have been living there - it must have been a dramatic sight at the time of the eruptions, and I wistfully imagined the scene back then.

    As we walked over a low rise and into a dusty wide bowl of yellowing grassland, we suddenly saw a herd of large, elegant, long-horned, Elan, the largest of Africa's antelopes. They shifted uneasily at our approach, and moved off into the safety of the surrounding bushes, where they disappeared like wild apparitions. As we turned along the path, the scrubland and trees closed in around us. We saw another warthog cross the path up ahead of us. Mike pointed up to a black faced monkey eyeing us from a nearby tree. Then we saw the long neck and head of a large giraffe poking up above the thick bush nearby. Each wild encounter was all the more thrilling as we were on foot, with the feeling of human frailty and vulnerability engendered by being exposed to this wild landscape with no physical protection of a metal shelled vehicle. I noticed my breath quickening with excitement. This was like my nature walks at home in England, so felt familiar in that sense, but this time I was surrounded by large African game for the first time in my life. The thrill was palpable. Then we came across a small herd of zebra in bushes around 20 yards away. Their black and white coats shone vividly in the brightening sunlight as they nodded and snorted nervously. Then behind them we saw several of the mighty African buffalo lying relaxed and chewing, regarding us with an uninterested air. I asked Mike if we were safe to be this close to buffalo as I had heard that they can be very dangerous animal to encounter, but Mike nonchalantly reassured me that he had grown up in this park, walked in it every day, and that we were not in any danger from these relaxed buffalo. Mike exuded a kind of tolerant world-weariness with tourists' ignorant questions such as mine. We spent some time taking photos of the buffalo and zebra feeding together.

    As we walked on, we entered another more open area, interspersed with majestically beautiful, high, green-crowned acacias, backed by more green grassed volcanic slopes. A large eagle sat at the top of one of the acacias, surveying the surrounding woodland for prey. A small brown bushbuck daintily crossed our path in front of us, before disappearing forever from our view into. We turned down a more open path of tall grasses edged with pale green leafed bushes and encountered a large herd of small, orange-brown, impala antelope, very close to the path. They nervously kept a little distance and hid behind bushes, but we could see the shiny, black, twisted horns of the males and the twitching white tails of the females to confuse and bamboozle chasing predators.

    The path then opened out further into a lush green, grassy bushland skirted by thick acacia woodland. This green bowl of bushland, contained my first exhilarating experience of the kind of timeless wild magic that Africa can produce when several species of large mammals all congregate in one place like the proverbial 'land that time forgot'. A herd of large Eland fed and wandered towards the woodland. More impala twitched and flitted through the gasses. A herd of zebra nodded, snorted, and fed in the bushes. Just cap this moving scene, a herd of tall giraffe loped through bushes towards the woods. A young giraffe stood nearer us and cocked his head to watch us warily, before deciding we were too worrying to remain there, and ran in that distinctive graceful gait of the giraffe to be nearer his tall, elegant, brown, patchworked mother. Suddenly, two male zebra decided to chase each other aggressively. They both thundered down the path towards our group, red dust flying up from their departed hooves. As they got closer, we grew more nervous, until, to our great relief, at the last second they saw us and parted in opposite directions. We continued on, adrenaline rushing and, after seeing a huge sea eagle circle majestically above our heads, we returned to our waiting safari vehicle, grateful for a wondrous first experience of the wild wonders Africa offers in such abundance.

    We trundled along an uneven, stony track, through thick woodland. We startled a tiny Dik-dik, one of Africa's smallest antelope, who darted into the woods as we approached. We began climbing up a steep incline and Mike parked by a steeper dusty path. Mike's colleague took us up the path on foot. He had been very quiet and shy during our earlier walk, talking mostly in Swahili to Mike, but now he began to show his deep connection with the nature in the land of his upbringing, by pointing out medicinal plants that we passed. He broke off leaves and buds and explained how they were used traditionally to cure ailments in local communities. One plant he explained helped reduce malarial fevers. We reached the top of the path and turned up through some bushes to a large rocky ledge with many scattering Spiny-tailed Agama lizards who'd been bathing on the sun-baked rocks. There we were greeted with a glorious wide view over an ancient, volcanic crater, thickly lined with trees and with a large, still lake at its centre. We soaked in the view, and could see a few wooden buildings far below on the lake's which was to be our next destination.

    We made our way back down the path, and were welcomed to the timber entrance buildings of the restaurant by a troop of mischievous vervet monkeys scurrying loudly across the tin rooves. In the entrance way were laid rows of giant skulls belonging to the megafauna of Africa; buffalo, hippos, giraffe and antelope of all kinds. We left this animal 'cemetery' descending a long series of stone steps to the restaurant, which was in an idyllic situation, nestled on the lake shore, with spectacular views across the lake. Alec, Jesse and I were apparently the only patrons for lunch at this hidden gem of an eatery, and were led to our seats by the staff with a politeness, care and attention only really due to royalty, not the travel weary, dusty travellers that we were. We were then treated to the most sumptuous four course dinner, with fruits and vegetables too various and many to mention, as we looked over the great lake before. We all laughed at our good fortune to make this our first safari, and new that our fellow travellers would regret not having got up early to join us. The early birds definitely got the proverbial worm today!

    When we could eat or drink no more, we said our goodbyes and gave our thanks to the wonderful staff of the restaurant, and drove back towards our campsite, thrilled at our day's events. I couldn't have imagined a better way to experience my first African safari, and knew that my 'first time' would live long in my memory. However, the drama of the day was not quite finished, as the earlier rain had flooded our return road, and Mike had to engineer some hair-raising maneuvers through the waters, with the bonnet sometimes momentarily disappearing under the muddy water. We were also running late for our rendezvous with the big yellow Oasis truck, Chui, that was to become our African home. Thankfully our truck was still waiting for us as we arrived back at our campsite. We thanked Mike and his colleagues for a wonderfully guided safari, boarded the truck and we were on our way. There were some envious faces as we described our day's dramatic events to our travelling companions.

    We drove on to a large shopping mall, whose western-style consumer modernity contrasted sharply with the wild landscape we had spent the morning in. This became a common, jarring juxtaposition, of the ancient and the profane, during our journey through the rapidly expanding and developing populations of East African nations such as Kenya. The 'cook group' of four fellow travellers were to buy the ingredients for our evening meal there, but I was tired after our day safari so volunteered to remain as a 'security guard' for the truck, talked to Jesse about her interesting mixed Samoan, New Zealand heritage, and watched Kenyan children play football raucously, and enthusiastically on a nearby football pitch. We travelled on through lush green countryside filled with butter acacia trees, and epic wide vistas of the rift valley with hazy mountains beyond. The landscape was already on a gigantic scale that it takes time for a northern European such as myself to adjust to, as we never can see so far, at least in England that is. After a long afternoon's drive we arrived at a lovely campsite, Punda Milias Nakuru Camp, with good facilities near lake Nakuru. Our cook group cooked us a good, hot, hearty meal in the outdoor kitchen, as we sat in a rough circle on our camp stools, under a clear, jet black, star filled sky, watching shooting stars leaving trails in our eyes and our memories. We all settled down to sleep in our tents, in preparation for the next safari adventure in Lake Nakuru National Park very early the following morning.

    Old Blog:
    with Mike and his friend guiding us. I hoped the weather would improve and gladly it did.  We saw two giraffe close by the road and jackals around the car. Then we entered the park and started the walking safari. It was an amazing experience for my first safari in Africa. We saw a heard of Eland. Then we saw warthogs. We saw a black faced monkey. We saw a giraffe. Then we saw some zebras next to laying buffalo. We walked through beautiful acacia woodland. We saw bushbuck and then lots of impala. I couldn't believe how close we got to the animals. Finally, we were surrounded by zebra, eland and saw several more giraffe. There was a baby giraffe with its mother. Two male zebra charged out of the heard chasing each other towards us on the path then broke off the charge when they saw us. We walked back to the van, seeing a fish eagle in the sky, and headed towards the Crater lake view, seeing dick-dick – the smallest antelope along the way. Mike and his friend did a great job showing us the animals and going is their knowledge about them. The friend took us to the amazing view, with geckos on the rocks, and told us about the volcanoes and various plant medicines. We then walked down to a restaurant on the lake shore and had a wonderful 4 course meal. Returned to the truck, nearly getting stuck on a flooded road along the way. Stopped at mall to buy food – I stayed on truck to rest. Great views of rift valley on way to  next lovely campsite, Punda Milias Nakuru Camp, with good facilities – did my laundry. Clear night with amazing starscape and shooting stars. Got an early night for safari at Naguru Lake park tomorrow 
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