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Trip report part 3 by cooked chicken

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I have started a new thread for this report because I do not like the monicker "fresh meat" anymore. After 5 days in the Mara I am an old hand now! Cooked chicken is chosen as tribute to the Kenyan food - all of which offered to me was good and tasty and all of which seemed to be chicken.

Gibson the safari man arrived only half an hour late with his safari van and driver at
6.45. We were not happy but it's all water off a duck's back to G. "Hakuna Matata.. you will see many animals today - rhino, monkey, leopard, buffalo ... er.." "Dik-dik..?" I offer, since he is clearly running out of animals he knows. "Yesss ... dik-dik too". I begin to notice that G hisses the sound "s". Also, that he has very thin lips for a Kenyan. The van was clearly one that had been dumped by a more reputable operator and carried the name of another less reputable safari operator on the door - G's insignia were on a piece of white card sellotaped inside the back window. It was okay but rattled a bit which would have been extremely embarrassing in the Masai Mara.

G of course is a middleman and my advice would be to avoid them. Lunch was originally to be included but we ended up buying not only our own lunch but that of our driver-guide too. This is par for the course and if you don't have my sense of humour and patience (to wheedle the money back out of G or cut it from the offer price of the next "sevice")someone like G could ruin your holiday. It's not the money, but the hassle because there's always an unexpected hitch or something will cost more than agreed now and you have to listedn to a convoluted explanation and wonder whether there is any danger if you play hardball at this point, out in the middle of nowhere...There are at least two reputable companies in Nakuru with real offices if you ever need them.

Anyway, G was forgiven after 5 minutes (that's how far it is from Nakuru town center to the park) because a leopard was stalking a group of thomsons gazelles just 100 meters from the park entrance and had just been spotted by one of the rangers when we arrived at the gate. We'd have missed it if Gibson had been on time. We spotted the leopard ourselves after about a minute of looking - just 30 meters from the road but hiding in a dry stream bed under a bush. It was fascinating to watch her stalking the gazelle for 10 minutes. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you are a gazelle-lover) some birds spotted her too and sounded the alarm, and the gazelles moved away ... not far, but enough to let the leopard know she'd been rumbled. She was miffed and sashayed back down the stream bed to the road, right past our van and then down the road 30 meters, before turning and giving the gazelles a last wistful look (or us or the birds a dirty look, I am not sure) before disappearing into a bush. We drove down to see if we could see her but she was totally gone. And if you are thinking it was actually us who gave the game away, well it could be true but she was spotted after the birds squarked and flew, not when we arrived, so I prefer not to believe the rattle of our van deprived the leopard of breakfast (which I would feel extremely bad about).

I thought the park itself was great for spotting animals, but rather in the way of an open zoo. The housing estates and the factories in the background were somewhat offputting and there were a lot of Kenyan families driving around in battered old Toyota saloons. Hightlights of the day were the flamingos (of course), a baby white rhino sleeping with two adult rhinos and two adult buffalos in the shade of a tree, and two male rhinos doing the cha cha cha in the open space at the foot of the lake - our driver told us they weer fighting but it was all three steps forward, touch horns; three steps back, touch horns, three steps forward...etc. We watched them for 10 minutes or so and they just kept repeating the moves with tiny variations. Of course it was actually fascinating and I could have stayed much longer, but our driver (who contrary to G-level expectations was actually quite knowledgable) told us they could go on like that for ages, so we drove on.

Oh, I forgot the dik-diks. My wife loves them and I have to admit they're cute. We'd seen them in the Masaai Mara but never this close up - another thing about the animals in Lake Nakuru National Park is that they appear so used to vehicles it is almost unnerving - just standing there when you stop 3 meters away from them (I know that is too close but if they are feeding right by the side of the road what can you do?).

Baboon cliffs in the early evening are a must for the view of the flamingos and lake and for the rock hyraxes playing around. The baboons are not too aggressive either, so far as I could see.

We had lunch with our driver and over a beer he told us amusing but tragic horror stories about driving for a budget safari company doing trips to Mombassa - such as the clients who told him since they had hired a car and driver for 24 hours a day he should be available for all that time - so if some of them wanted to stay out until 3 a.m. and others wanted to set off on a drive at 6 a.m he would have to serve them both!! He also remarked admiringly on how clean our clothes were. We felt somewhat confused by this but thanked him and told him that people from Thailand probably valued cleanliness of clothes in the same way as Kenyans seemed to do (actually we always wore long trousers and shirts when in company in Kenya because we could see from the way Kenyans dress up it was the right thing to do, but as for cleanliness..... we did try but were getting a bit grubby by day 13... with all the dust we were going through two sets of clothes a day and the laundry just couldn't keep up).

G had accepted a much reduced price for the drive to and pick up from Lake Baringo and so we decide to use him again, for the sake of the luck his tardiness had brought us with the leopard. He showed up with a Toyota with a big crack in the window and an extremely taciturn driver who had bad BO and insisted on driving with his arm resting on the open window pane .... wind, armpits, passenger behind the driver.. guess where I was told to sit after we had taken our picture of the equator? Anyway we arrived safely and in good time with G's commentary on the fauna and flora ringing in our ears ("You sssee the acacia trees? And the honey? They sssell very good honey here. And that'sss coffee). He pointed out Lake Bogoria about 100 meters after we had passed the second signpost for it....

Lake Baringo is a very, very peaceful place. You drive through desert scrub and a very harsh, unforgiving landscape and sduddenly there is this oasis and everything is green again and totally silent except for the bird song. It is very pretty rather than stunningly beautiful but the peace and the water and the birds make it lovely. I am not a twitcher - wouldn't know a warbler from a wagtail - but I was glad my wife had bought me a birding book at the Serena gift shop (itchy fingers and a kind of thanks for persuading her to come because "If we want to sit around watching birds we can do it in our garden" was another of her pre-safari statements) when we got to Lake Baringo. The sun was extremely hot there - one downside - but from 4.30 until dusk and from 6 a.m until 9 I was down in the trees by the water, listening, looking for and taking photos of birds. Never done this before, and I might never again, but the place is magical in that way - everyone's a twitcher all of a sudden. Highly recommended as a place to be at peace with yourself and the world. Even the heat is a plus to some extent, since it means you are forced to do nothing much at all for a good part of the day. Boat ride is a must - and one hour is much too short.
I guess location is not in its favour but if it could fit it would make a great stopover between fairly active visits to two of the bigger parks. Lake Baringo Club is just okay - basic facilities for the price but perfectly servicable and the food is very good, and the grounds are nice, wooded and full enough of birds that you don't need to go elsewhere for a one night stay. By the way, they no longer do trips to the cliffs (except boat trips) unless you have your own vehicle, or (to my wife's great disappointment) camel rides. It's reasonably priced at USD 115 per night for two, full board.

Highlight was watching the weavers make their nests over a swamp at dusk while listening to the hippos grunting as they went about their business just out of sight in the reeds.

Next day G turned up on time, pointed out more coffee plants and honey (and lake Bogoria again for good measure) and we arrived back in Nakuru in time for a final chicken dinner at the Midland.

This was the least good part of the trip - in the Lake District - but there was lots that was good and it was certainly worthwhile except for the disastrous waste of a day off in Nakuru. Stick with the nature and stay out of towns is one lesson, and the other is stay with a single operator for as long as it makes sense, and when it doesn't arrange the transport in advance - it is such a waste of some of those precious few hundred hours you have in Kenya bothering to arrange things... "Mother.. tell your children...not to do what I have done... and spend your hours in sin and misery, in the town of Mr. G"

The final installment has G deliriously happy with his knowledge of flora as we pass through coffee country, the wonderful Mountain Lodge and the surprisingly (perhaps for some) good choice of the Jacaranda for a last day in Nairobi.

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