A Few Moments in Town
Driving to Lake Nakuru proved to be a welcome change, compared to the drive to Masai Mara, if only because we managed to see people living in and around towns. Don't get me wrong, the animals were a fabulous sight and will always continue to be so. But, for whatever reason, I wanted to see what life, human life, was like in the midst of such "great beasts"; not to make it sound like people in Kenya lived in barricaded towns always fearing an animal attack of some kind.
At one point in our journey to Lake Nakuru, the driver pulled up in front of a shop in one of the towns. He said he had a small errand to run, and that he'd be right back. However, almost like a deathly serious scene from a movie, he turned back, looked my father and I in the eyes -- his eyes had changed from pleasantly-happy-guide-slash-driver to a more sinister, could-be-a-secret-operative-with-the-CIA -- and in a Godfather-like voice (seemingly frail but more than menacing) he said, "No matter what happens, please do not open the doors or the windows." Before either of us could respond, he'd exited the vehicle, and almost as if he didn't trust us to heed his warning, he locked us in the van! What could we do, except wait the five minutes he took to get back and demand an explanation. Unphased by our perplexed, what-the-hell-were-you-thinking looks, the Driver (whose name I vaguely now remember being "John" or "Samuel"...or both) just let us know that places like this could be dangerous for tourists, not only because they might crowd us and try to sell us stuff, but also because there was a real threat that we could be robbed or worse. What could we say to that, right? So, we just continued with the way things were; Samuel driving, my father looking out the window, and me dozing off in the back.
"Rohin. Rohin!" More urgency the second time around. And yes, it was my name. The word "what" had barely formed on my lips as I opened my eyes, when I suddenly inhaled it and the rest of the sentence in a gasp of sheer surprise. My father had been trying to wake me up to see the wondrous scene that he himself was taking in. There it was, Lake Nakuru. A large lake surrounded by the greenery the water helped support, as far as the eye could see. Samuel took us on what he said was a circuitous route to the hotel we were staying at, just so we could have a mini-safari and take a quick gander at the place. It was the best move he could have made. Not long after getting myself upright, and rubbing the sleep from my eyes I noticed the water shimmer in the afternoon sunlight, but with an element of pink. Just to be sure, I rubbed my eyes again. There it was, a vast swathe of flamingoes, some doing their little dances, others their feeding strolls with heads swaying from side to side. It was unlike anything I'd seen before in real life. I mean, I'd seen flamingoes in their thousands on TV. But nothing can ever prepare you for the spectacle that is the real, natural and beautiful.
A few more winding turns around the lake's edge, and we were looking straight into the gate that led to our hotel. Interestingly enough, however, we saw a jeep parked outside the hotel, less than 50 feet from the gate. It was parked off the road, right under a tree, and if you saw it at first glance you would think it had crashed into the tree in some sort of freak safari accident. This was hardly the case, however. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that there was a man and a woman in the jeep, with tons of camera equipment, and both of them with their own porthole/vantage point to get a great shot of some game animal; he was standing up through a hole in the canvas top that covered the rear half of the vehicle, while his assistant/partner was leaning out of the passenger side window, being as still as she could be. But what on earth were they taking pictures of in the tree? Following their line of sight up the tree, I saw it, sitting pretty and acting rather nonplussed with all the attention it was getting - a full-grown leopard! So that's what they were doing. Wow! The temptation to go down to their jeep and ask them how things were going, or even to just shake their hands crossed my mind again and again. But, this wasn't to be as we found ourselves at our next stopover. As with Masai Mara, we ended up getting ready and fed in time for an evening safari. Unlike Masai Mara, however, and thankfully so, there was very little opportunity to go off-road in a van without meeting some resistance from the thick foliage on either side of the dirt road that surrounded the lake. There were all manner of birds, and grazing animals to be seen, especially as the light began to fade, and those that did not venture outside in broad daylight started making their appearance. There were hoots and howls, and it may have been my imagination, but I think I heard some roaring as well.
The following day, we had a short trip to go visit a nearby watering hole that hippos frequented. It was a bit of a ways away, and we were back in semi-barren lands. At one point, just a couple of minutes before we reached the hippos' watering hole, the driver stopped next to a milesone marker, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and said "Look." So we did, and saw nothing. He repeated himself, and made sure that his downward pointing gesture caught our eye. The milestone marker? Yes, it was curious, not just for being in the middle of nowhere, but because it marked what was once a border between Kenya and Uganda. yay...... But even in these inhospitable conditions it was great to see life in all its glory. Sure the hippos were nice and cool in their pool far below, but the "life" that I was referring to had to do with the gangs of monkeys that had descended upon the parking lot, trying to get their "Special of the Day" from unwary tourists. Come to think of it, I remember looking at the hippos in the water until some idiot from the large Indian group we had befriended threw in a chunk of dirt in an attempt to get the hippos out of the water, just so he could get a better shot. To this day, I still wish someone had pushed him in. Hey, that way he could get as many photos as he wanted...up close and personal too! But it was the monkeys that caught my eye. There they were, working in unison, ripping off the tourists. It was almost poetic justice of some kind. Time and time again, for the half hour that we were there, I watched as one monkey went about harassing the tourists in plain sight, by pretending to reach for their bags, or whatever was in their hands, while a second monkey, just as the annoyed tourist was shooing away the first, would swoop and grab whatever it could, cool as a cucumber. At one point, I noticed another monkey tailing a child. At first I was a little concerned, because the primate was almost as large as the child, and even though he was holding his mother's hand, there would have been very little she could have done had the animal attacked. But it wasn't the child that the monkey was interested in. It was what the child had in it's other hand -- a huge lollipop. Before anoyone could blink, the monkey swooped in, grabbed the lollipop, and was well out of range of any retaliatory attacks. Even the child was a bit dazed, as he first looked down at his now empty hand, then at the monkey who was up a nearby tree enjoying his lollipop, and back down at his hand again, as if confused by the surreal nature of what had just happened. I did feel sorry for the child, and if I had a lollipop to give I would have given it to him, but I couldn't help smiling about how apt the phrase "like taking candy from a baby" was at this moment.
It was late evening by the time we got back to the hotel, and as I watched my dad order a local "Tusker Beer" (I couldn't because I was "under age" ...whatever that meant ;)) I found myself caught up in the feeling of being so close to nature, yet so far away at the same time. Just beyond this outside dining area, which was really nicely done up, mind you, was the lake and all of its inhabitants, separated only by an electrifed fence. Tomorrow, we would head to our next destination, at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro - Mountain Lodge.