Kakamega Forest Reserve and the Rift Valley lakes
Kakamega Forest Reserve
After the border crossing from Uganda our first destination in Kenya is the Kakamega forest. Not so long ago much of western Kenya was hidden under a dark veil of jungle and formed a part of the mighty Guineo– Congolian forest ecosystem – even gorillas are rumoured to have once played in the mists here. However, the British soon did their best to turn all that lovely virgin forest into tea estates. Now all that’s left is the slab of tropical rainforest surrounding Kakamega; hence the Kakamega Forest Reserve. The campsite in the reserve is seriously run down, but the staff is very friendly and made us some hot water to freshen up. During our morning hike we heard many Black and White Colobus monkeys, before we finally noticed a couple of them, high up in the trees. We also saw trees actually kill each other – seriously! Parasitic fig trees grow on top of unsuspecting trees and strangle their hosts to death.
Lake Baringa and Bogoria lake
We hadn’t planned to visit these lakes in the Rift Valley, but since we left Uganda a couple of days sooner than planned, we made a short detour. The fist lake we visited was Lake Baringa, a rare freshwater Rift Valley lake, encircled by mountains and with a surface dotted with picturesque islands and we thought it was the most idyllic lake of the Rift Valley lakes we visited, as well as the most remote. The next one, Lake Bogoria, an alkaline lake, is renowned to be one of the best places in Kenya to see the massed flocks of blushing pink flamingos. It also houses several hotsprings, one of which is in use by the lodge and campsite where we stayed. At the lodge we had the worst meal since we started our trip 8 months ago, so Wilfred went to see the manager and told him:’ I want to help you because we just had the worst lunch on our trip through Africa’. The manager listened very patiently to our complaints and afterwards came to our table with the head chef and waiter and we were invited to have dinner on the house. So we did, reluctantly, but to our surprise the food was a lot better than lunch and they really made an effort !
In 2013 floods took place in this region, the Rift Lake region; destroying many houses, lodges and campsites on the shores of the lake and leaving a view of many dead trees just beyond the shores of the lakes.
Lake Nakuru National park, Lake Naivisha, Hells Gate National Park and visiting friends in Nairobi
Lake Nakuru National Park
The first national park we visited in Kenya is Lake Nakuru, a few kilometres from the hustle of central Nakuru (a rather large city). In this park we hoped to see massive flamingo flocks that made the lake famous, and of course some lions, leopards, endangered Rothschild’s giraffes, buffaloes and zebras. And, as it is also renowned for its black and white rhinos, it would be great to see those again! The last time we saw a rhino is at least a couple of months back.
On our first afternoon in the park we did a game drive, but were not lucky at all. The number of animals we saw was limited and the rain that started did not improve our chances. We still enjoyed our afternoon as the landscape was very diverse; fringed with euphorbia trees, acacia forests, an escarpment, and lovely views of the lake. The next morning, luck seemed to be on our side; we saw a couple of lions with young cups, three white rhinos and lots of different antelopes and bird species.
Lake Naivisha and Hells gate National park
The freshwater Lake Naivisha is the highest of the Rift Valley lakes (1884m above sea level). Its shores are fringed in papyrus and yellow-barked acacias. At night we heard the snorting hippos as our campsite was located right at the shores of the lake. That night one of the staff made us a nice campfire…well actually a huge bonfire ! So big, that we needed to move the truck to a safer distance.
Close to Lake Naivisha is a small national park, called Hell’s gate. Why it is called Hell’s gate still remains a question to us…the park is one of the most scenic parks we have visited in Kenya so far and because it is mostly a predator-free park (with only a leopard and hyena’s that a rarely seen) you are allowed to walk and cycle next to just driving through the park. Our initial plan was to go cycling, but as we were meeting up with friends that evening in Nairobi our time in the park was short. So we drove most of the park with only a short hike in the Ol Njorowa gorge.
While driving though the park we started to hear a strange noise in the car, but couldn’t really discover the problem. However, when we exited the park we made a short video to record the noise and Wilfred finally localized, that the strange sound was coming form the back of the car. Oh, shit…Africa had finally taking its toll on our truck…one of the OME leaf springs had broken. With a ‘bush fix’ Wilfred temporarily fixed the problem (or at least the noise) by using a ratchet strap to tighten the leaf springs. We still needed to drive about 150 kilometres to Nairobi. It was a good road, but not as smooth that we hoped with our broken leaf spring. We drove very carefully to avoid every bump, speed hump and pot hole. During the drive, Judith started making calls to the different 4x4 shops in Nairobi and fortunately one had the leaf spring we needed on stock.
A day later than planned due to the repairs to our truck we left for the Masai Mara Conservation Area. Two nights before we met Rajiv, a safari company owner, and he gave us lots of tips on where to go in the conservation area as most of the wildlife is currently near the Masai Riante area.
The Masai Mara is probably Kenyan most famous and visited national reserve. It borders the Serengeti (equally famous in Tanzania) in the south. The park get reliable rains and is plentiful in vegetation to support the millions of herbivores living in the Mara. Wildebeest, zebra, impala, eland, reedbuck, waterbuck, black rhino, elephant, Masai giraffe and several species of gazelle all call the short-grass plains and acacia woodlands of the Mara home. This vast concentration of game accounts for very high predator numbers including cheetah, leopard, spotted hyena, black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox, caracal and it has the highest lion densities in the world !
Driving through the Masai Mara was challenging at certain points due to some river crossings and very rocky tracks (and of course… we did choose them ourselves). We had some luck on our side as we saw four of the Big Five with the exception of a leopard, many wildebeest, zebra and many hyenas as we discovered several holes of them.