Postcards From Kenya (2011) - Chapter 1 / by Hilary Hann

BEGINNINGS

 

Walk gently through my dreams, lest my expectations make you fearful. 

And if thoughts of golden dawns and ancient lands make you tremble, leave me to my dreams. 

But if you hear the distant drums pounding in your heart, walk beside me in joyful anticipation.

… … …

 

What follows are snippets of stories from my travels during January 2011, accompanied by my sister and her handmade Scottish bear.  For my sister, it was her return to Kenya after 40 years away and was, therefore, a trip filled with meaning and nostalgia.

Unlike most of my safaris, we were travelling to quite a few places using a 4x4 vehicle, a driver/guide and for the self catering parts of it, accompanied by a cook.  

Memories flooded us as we moved from the Rift Valley to the Aberdares, to the Laikipia Plateau and beyond. The highlight for me being a return to Meru National Park, an area I hadn’t seen since camping there as a child in the 1960s. 

“Everything changes but the scent of a place not forgotten stays the same.” 

 The three sentinels … Masai Mara National Reserve 2011

The three sentinels … Masai Mara National Reserve 2011

PARK WARS

 

The gates of Lake Nakuru National Park loom up before us. Driving down the neat avenue from Nakuru we find the wide grass verges and tall trees quite appealing, especially after the dusty, noisy, bustling township. Many local residents obviously agree, and the shade under the trees is occupied with resting workers taking a break from hectic lives. It is really quite warm.

 

Choosing Lake Nakuru to begin our safari was really designed to give us a short drive and some good birding opportunities but it has never been my favourite place because of the crowds so as we approach the entrance I have mixed feelings.

 

Ken (our driver/guide from Sunworld who guided my family in 2005) hops out of our 4x4 to deal with entry requirements and we wait feeling relaxed and happy. The KWS ranger comes out and looks at our windshield, earnest discussions are taking place and we look at each other doubtfully, wondering why the delays. Back and forth they go, gesticulations, phone calls, more discussions and still we wait in ignorance. Finally, Ken gets back into the vehicle, shrugs his shoulders and sighs. "War" has broken out between the KWS & TANAPA and we are caught fair and square in the middle.

 

Apparently the Tanzanians have prohibited entry of any Kenyan registered vehicles into their parks and consequently the Kenyans have responded in kind. As of yesterday (or maybe even today, it isn't quite clear) no foreign registered vehicles will be permitted entry. I look blankly at Ken, we are using a Kenyan company right? Kenyan vehicles right? Ken begins the explanation which sounds logical, I suppose (why does Africa have to be so complicated?). Sunworld has an associated business arm in Tanzania and we have begun our journey in one of their newest vehicles which happens to be one of their Tanzanian registered Nissan Patrols. Ouch! Wrong answer for us. We are sitting on the wrong side of the fence, albeit in a great deal of comfort … fridge keeping our water and Tuskers cold, proper power points with inverter to keep batteries topped up … everything except for the right coloured number plates and registration disks.

 

Fortunately, Sunworld have about 40 vehicles and Ken spends some time speaking to the office in Nairobi. We wander into the nearby cafe to stretch our legs. We sit in the shade surrounded by vervets, contemplating our situation. Neither of us too perturbed, we are, after all in Africa and the hot equatorial sun is beating down making us feel somnolent. We know that it will be resolved, things always seem to sort themselves out here, one way or another. In the meantime, Ken can be seen still on the phone re-arranging our lives. As we return to the Patrol, he tells us that a new vehicle is heading out towards us and in the meantime we will drive up to the nearby Flamingo Hill Lodge and borrow one of theirs so that we can enter the park.

 

More waiting (this is the national past time, after all) at the Flamingo Hill car park as our new vehicle is cleaned. I see a slightly worn, yellow 4x4 approaching … could this be it? Oh yes, this is it and I try not to laugh. We climb in with our cameras, leaving our suitcases for the Sunworld driver to transfer to the new 4x4 he is bringing from Nairobi. The vehicle smells rather nasty, the windows sort of work and the engine decides to start on the 3rd try. Interesting.

 

It’s a relief when we all make the executive decision to cut the game drive a little short so that we can check in at the lodge. Relief from the overpowering assault on our olfactory senses. 

 

I wonder how Sunworld have managed the rest of their safaris. Ken mentioned one 4x4 was almost at Tsavo when we rang in with the new rules. Sunworld have sent out exchange vehicles across the country. This decision by the authorities would appear to have caught many people by surprise and just how many have been inconvenienced we will never know.

 

Fortunately for us, our Kenyan vehicle arrives before we have to spend too much time in the yellow peril and we can say a hearty farewell to it.

 

We settle down for the night knowing that we’ve overcome two unexpected hurdles already and thinking that this should be the end of it we look forward to our safari commencing in earnest. 

 

I mean, what else could possibly go wrong?

 The flamingoes have left Lake Nakuru since the floods but in 2011 there were plenty

The flamingoes have left Lake Nakuru since the floods but in 2011 there were plenty

 Pelicans enjoying the early morning sun

Pelicans enjoying the early morning sun

 An unexpected surprise to find a handsome lion resting somewhat uncomfortably in the yellow fever tree forest

An unexpected surprise to find a handsome lion resting somewhat uncomfortably in the yellow fever tree forest

 White rhino viewing at Lake Nakuru was superb

White rhino viewing at Lake Nakuru was superb