Naivasha, the most easily accessible of the Rift Valley lakes, was our first safari destination when we acquired a car. In the intervening year and a half, we had toyed with the idea of returning for an overnight camping trip multiple times, but never quite managed to make it work. Fitting then that our last Kenyan safari was a return to Naivasha’s shores. Our friend Chris, who’s staying with us for a month while he does an elective rotation at Nairobi University Hospital to finish off residency, received an invitation from the cardiologist he is shadowing to spend a weekend at his home in Naivasha, providing the impetus we needed to escape Nairobi for a night.
Posts tagged ‘driving’
Although Nairobi is undoubtedly East Africa’s prime metropolis, it offers surprisingly little of interest to the average visitor. We have a few favorite spots where we’ve taken most of our guests, such as the elephant orphanage and giraffe center, but our list of must-visit places is rather brief. It was therefore a bit of a challenge to come up with enough interesting activities to fill the three days we had in Nairobi before D’s family departed.
More than any other place we’ve stayed, the Offbeat Meru camp felt as if it was part of the wild. Troupes of baboons and vervet monkeys regularly passed through the camp, a leopard stalked his prey right outside one of the tents, and a herd of elephants rumbled close by one night, trapping the camp manager in the mess tent until 3am. A bushbuck visited our tent one afternoon. Normally, these animals are incredibly shy and skittish but this one spent half an hour nervously nibbling on the foliage around our tent while we sat almost close enough to touch her.
We had just turned into the wide, open plains of Solio when our car experienced an unexpected loss of equilibrium. We had been driving on a flat, dirt track, going approximately five kilometers per hour as our visitors tried to photograph a troupe of vervet monkeys. All of a sudden, the car lurched to the left and ground to a halt as if it had fallen into a deep ditch. When we got out to inspect the damage we found that the right front wheel had come unhinged and was sticking out at a 30-degree angle.
There are few good options for those who want to tour Kenya on a shoestring. Walking, horseback, or camelback safaris are a good alternative for exploring the bush, but to see big game up close a vehicle and driver are a must. Comfortable budget lodgings are also hard to come by. There are dozens of high-end all-inclusive safari lodges and self-catering camping is possible in some parks, but there is virtually nothing in between.
Northern Kenya is a sparsely-populated, forgotten land that is home to about a dozen pastoralist tribes, which frequently give the impression of being untouched by modern civilization and the passage of time. Lonely Planet calls the northern half of this country some of the most exciting wilderness in Africa, daring adventurers to explore it only if they are willing to withstand appalling roads, searing heat, primitive food and accommodation, vast distances, and more than a hint of danger. Who wouldn’t want to go?
Rarely warmer than 80°F and almost never colder than 50°F, Nairobi’s climate is perfect nine or ten months out of the year. The two rainy seasons are the exceptions to the rule, as torrential downpours inundate large parts of the city. The long rains typically come in April-May so we tried to time our R&R to coincide with the rainy season and only caught the beginning of the rains this year. The short rains are harder to predict, especially with the advent of climate change. At least half a dozen different times over the course of the last several months, we’ve watched Kenyans look skyward and declare the start of the short rains, only to see the rains dissipate after a few days and give way to weeks of uninterrupted sunshine.
Even though D’s parents came to visit during the Great Migration, we opted not to take them to the Maasai Mara. While it is true that the Mara is unparalleled in its number and diversity of wild game, it is also hot, dusty, crowded, and very far away. Wanting a more personal and intimate safari experience, we opted for a small conservancy hidden away in the Matthews Mountain Range north of Isiolo. As we sat at the roadblock, watching the situation escalate, D had a momentary pang of regret for not flying to the Mara. Thankfully, our plan B proved every bit as good as the idyllic safari experience we had envisioned for his parents.
Heading out on safari with D’s parents, we ran into a bit of trouble. We were cruising on a wide, recently-paved road outside Isiolo, four hours north of Nairobi, when we came upon a small cluster of cars stalled in the middle of the road. We too stopped and D got out of the car to ascertain what was going on. We had just crested a big hill; at the bottom of the hill, less than a quarter mile away, people were busy dragging giant rocks onto the pavement. Kindling and old tires followed the big rocks and before long the road was aflame.
Even when she is unable to celebrate with family or friends, for S it has always been important to find some kind of Jewish connection while abroad. In Latin America, there was always a synagogue or Chabad (a sect known for their outreach) but on this continent, outside of South Africa, one has to get more creative. In Ghana, for example, S visited a Ghanaian Jewish community and attended impromptu services when a set of Chabadnick boys unexpectedly showed up in Accra for the high holidays.