African Overland Tour: Naivasha And Nakuru

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Welcome to Part Three of our ongoing review of our Absolute Africa African Overland Tour, if you missed previous posts or our overview of why we decided to travel this way through Africa in the first place, feel free to click the links at the bottom of this post. If you’ve been eagerly awaiting more entries, then I’d like to say “Hi, Dad!” because you’ve got to be one of the only person actually enjoying these posts. They can’t all be exciting posts about Hot Dogs in Iceland, you guys. But if you’re enjoying these posts, don’t forget to like them on facebook, retweet them on twitters, or just say out loud “Man, I’m enjoying this review of an overland trip through East Africa!”

Our third stop was the Marina Camp on Lake Naivasha in the Nakuru National Park area, which is actually closer to Nairobi than Ma’asai Mara….why didn’t we do this first and then swing around to the Mara afterwards? Just so we could get used to long days on the truck, maybe? We had a couple of options in the morning while the hippoes grazed on the grass beside us, we could either go for a 12KM cycling trip into Hell’s Gate National Park, which sounded awesome except for the fact that 12KM round trip is actually 24KM, and I can ride a bike about as well as I can write a poem (that is to say, not well). The reviews of that trip from our truckmates were quite good, and the pictures looked unbelievable, similar to Antelope Canyon in the States and there was apparently a rock that looked similar to Pride Rock from The Lion King which led to some nice photo opportunities. Fortunately for us, we were in for some pretty spectacular photo opportunities ourselves when we went on a guided game walk through Crater Lake National Park, where we were able to see giraffes, zebras, impalas, warthogs, and other animals on foot. 

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Do you ever wake up early, take a few steps out of your back door with a fresh cup of coffee, ready to face the day, and there is a deer or other wild animal in your backyard? That was kind of like what we were doing, except THEY WERE FUCKING GIRAFFES AND ZEBRAS. We spent three hours walking around the National Park, being led by a knowledgable guide who continually spent time pointing out beautiful trees and flowers, not the animals, because they were right there. We were literally within 30 feet of these majestic (and yes, I realize I keep using the word majestic, and I’ll probably use it at least twice more before we’re done with this post, but there is really no other way to describe them, feel free to make it a drinking game) creatures as they went about their daily activities, grooming each other, eating, and fighting (yes, we actually saw two impalas fighting). 

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After our time in the National Park, we then had a very short hike to a viewpoint called Leopard Rock where we could see the Crater Lake in front of us and the Great Rift Valley behind us. It was great for photos, and let’s face it, basically 70% of the reason why people travel is for good facebook profile pics. We then headed down to a hotel right next to the lake for a delicious African lunch and Tuskers (a local Kenyan beer that was absolutely delicious, and I was obsessed with saying it in a British accent, “Tusk-eh!”). On the way down to the restaurant, there were acacia trees planted by previous guests, and if you think that baboons weren’t on the stairs heading down to the restaurant, you are incorrect. The animals are everywhere.

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That afternoon, we had the option to have High Tea at Elsamere Conservatoin Center, the former home of “Born Free” author Joy Adamson, but we didn’t attend. While High Tea in a house museum seemed very nice, we opted for a nap and a bit of underwear laundry while checking out the hippoes grazing on the lawn near our tents. Seeing these huge, dangerous creatures so close up was unbelievable, as they are a huge cause of death for locals. While Renee wouldn’t let me get closer than 20 feet, a couple of brave tourists went meandering directly up to the electric fence, staring those two-ton beasts right in the eyes. Too scary for me, but people are dumb. That night, after dinner, the entire group had some Tusk-ehs and whiskeys at the campground bar overlooking the lake. The hippoes joined us, grazing on the grass until we crawled back to our tents.

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The next morning, we headed down the road to a great campground near Nakuru National Park, stopping in town for some groceries and a very awkward wifi hotspot. If you’re curious where I write these posts from, they usually look something like this:

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On our way to Punda Milias Campground near Nakuru, we stopped at a local orphanage where we got the opportunity to meet with about two dozen orphans who ranged from three to thirteen. We brought them some small gifts we had purchased in town (colored pencils and a soccar ball were the most popular items) and spent some time playing games (Duck, Duck, Goose and Mingle, Mingle, Mingle) with them. 

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Looking around their grounds, we saw their schoolroom, a working farm where they grew their own food and their dorms where they slept. Seeing how kind and truly thankful they were just for us to come and play with them was heartwarming. Sometimes as we drive through small towns in rural areas, kids will wave happily and chase after our big yellow truck, but occasionally some will hold out their hands and yell “Give me money!” as we zoom by. That can be disheartening, so both the overlanders and the kids really relished our time together, enjoying the opportunity to laugh and play with new friends. They especially liked taking selfies and then staring in wonder at the pictures. 

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A short drive from the orphanage, we had a bit of a lazy day at the campground, as we had to be up early the next morning for a sunrise game drive through Nakuru National Park, a soda lake located almost 4,000 feet above sea level which is famous for both black and white rhinos, animals which are hard to scratch off your safari bingo card. Of course, since either we are the luckiest travelers in the world or Africa is just that fucking awesome (I’m inclined to believe it’s a little bit of both), within five minutes of entering the park, BOOM there’s a black rhino in the distance. And in the immortal words of Salt N Pepa, “He’s coming this way, ooooooh!” Seeing that prehistoric (didn’t use majestic here, shocking, I know) creature cross the road ten feet in front of our van was a great way to start our day, and shit was about to get crazier from there.

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After seeing herds of impala (and the rhino taking a huge piss, which thoroughly entertained the five-year-olds in all of us) and zebras (including a baby), we happened upon a few trucks hovering on the side of the road, which as you may remember from our Ma’asai Mara entry, is a dead giveaway that something awesome is happening. As we drove up, our driver said, “I bet it’s a lion.”

And he was fucking wrong, because it wasn’t just one lion. It was seven of them.

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As we pulled up, there were a couple of huge limbs sticking out of the high grass, but our driver pulled past what we thought was the main attraction to point out A HUGE MALE LION SLEEPING IN THE GRASS SIX FEET FROM THE SIDE OF THE ROAD. The first thing our driver did was open and slam his door to try and raise the lion from his slumber, which didn’t work, and we began hanging out of the van’s roof in order to get a good picture to put on Insta. 

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We were taking pictures for about ten minutes, just watching this majestic (BOOM THERE IT IS, TAKE A SHOT!) creature sleep, and it looked like this was going to be the most exciting part of our day, until he opened his eye. Less than a second later he was on his feet and staring our van down. REPEAT: A HUGE LION WAS STARING OUR VAN DOWN FROM SIX FEET AWAY.  If you think we didn’t get our asses in the seats, you are WRONG. He then turned and strode to a better sleeping spot, and we chattered about how terrifying the experience was for the next ten minutes while we headed to Baboon Cliff.

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Baboon Cliff was a viewpoint that had some stunning views over the park and was frequented by baboons (as you may have been able to tell by the name), with huge signs alerting visitors to ensure their doors and windows remained closed, as the animals were not scared to dash into the vans or cars and steal some snacks. One van made a poor decision and lost a bag of Cheet-os for their troubles. These animals were almost completely habituated (more on this later), which means they’re not afraid to come within a few feet of humans, and have begun to associate us with food, which is why they know to grab the brightly colored bags that sit in the big metal moving creatures.

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After Baboon Cliff, we made a quick stop at a lodge in the middle of the park because it was time for the drivers to take a break, and as we ordered some Tusk-ehs and Sundowners to celebrate our spectacular morning (all this happened before 1PM) over prepacked sandwiches, we noticed some baboons and zebras strolling by, just past the fence.  A couple of girls, Laura and Natasha, decided they wanted to take a picture in front of the animals, and as they posed, a large male baboon which had been eyeing our group for a few minutes scaled the fence and in an instant was standing on his hind legs in front of Laura, reaching for her brightly colored cocktail. 

A few of us yelled and clapped and the baboon turned to us, fear in his eyes. I (yes, I’ll make myself the hero of this story) took a threatening step forward yelling “Hey! Hey! Hey!” and he quickly scampered back across the fence. Scary situation, but Laura, to her credit, didn’t spill a drop.

After an excited lunch break, we headed back out into the park; our first stop was obviously the spot where we hoped the lions were still sleeping, and luckily enough, we found them again. I’m not going to describe their exact movements, but we stayed there for almost an hour watching them, and if you think a male and female didn’t bear their teeth at each other and a cub didn’t walk by and Renee didn’t tear up, you’re wrong.  

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After that, we cruised the park specifically looking for a leopard to complete The Big Five, but of course we didn’t see one, seeing 80% of the Big Five in such a short amount of time was borderline unprecedented. Just cruising through the park singing made up songs (“Give it to me baby, Leopard, Leopard And all the rangers say it’s pretty hard to spot a leopard” being the most popular one) was definitely a great way to top off our historic morning. I am writing this as we cruise through Tanzania (spoilers!) almost three weeks later, and the Nakuru game drive has been my favorite day in Africa so far. 

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Our next day was a long drive through the mountains, and we stopped in Eldoret (a campground with a pool we couldn’t even enjoy because somehow the water was too cold!) before crossing the border; we were leaving Kenya after just a week, but even after this short amount of time, the 14 of us on the truck had formed strong bonds, which would only become stronger at our first stop in Uganda, where we would be whitewater rafting the Class 5 Rapids of the Nile River.