We left after breakfast on our 5.5 - 6 hour drive to the next stop: SOPA Ecolodge on Lake Naivasha. The ride started out beautifully - bright sunny skies, passing over the Aberdare range and going through intensely colorful roadside villages. The road is horribly bumpy though, and no way to avoid it.
The rural areas we've driven through astound me for the fact that none of them are empty. Even in the most remote regions, you find people walking along the road side: cycling, carrying things, waiting for matatus, driving donkey carts, hauling water. There is never an isolated spot.
We were just warned to avoid the hawkers here. There are a lot of village women who want us to stop into their souvenir shops; men dressed as Maasai warriors who you can take a picture with; and most interestingly, people walking around with Chameleons on sticks that you can buy. They are relentless. I feel bad, because all I want to do is take a look at the falls and admire the scenery but I have to ignore everything that's going on around me. I find it really stressful and have practically run back to the car after snapping one or two mediocre shots of the falls.
We've gone through several larger towns (Nyahururu and Gilgil stand out but there may have been others). Everywhere you look there are people selling things: old shoes, vegetables, electronics, hardware, glasses, construction / repair services. This is micro-commerce at its best. Everything is so entrepreneurial here - the people struggle to access water, yet there is this brisk market business going on all along the road.
The towns are dirty, dusty, muddy, and colorful. Facades are brightly painted with different brand names. The brands will paint your facade for free and it serves as an advertising for them, and a renovation for your shop.
In the late morning it started clouding over and about this time I wished I had taken a travel pill to knock me out. The road was incredibly bumpy and it started raining, adding even more of an element of danger to driving on the backroads with the crazy matatus.
We stopped in Gilgil to pick up one of David and Merry's sponsored girls - part of the money from the safaris they run go towards investing in the Maasai community and helping the community get educated. Gilgil is apparently known for its good schools.
We checked into the lodge around 1:30 and ate lunch. The buffet is much larger than at Sweetwater but it isn't as tasty. The salads and fruit seem bland. The interior is very grand - large scale exposed wood construction and stone block with high thatched roofs, but it lacks the intimacy and simplicity of the Serena Lodge we just came from.
We drove a short way to the edge of Lake Naivasha to begin our boat safari - where we were going to see hippos. I have to admit that hippos are the one animal I could really skip here. There was a poster in the reception area back at the lodge which had images of hippos and said:
ENSURE A GUARD IS WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES AFTER DARK - HIPPOS ARE LIGHTNING FAST AND WILL EAT YOU TO DEATH
How can you help but be emotionally damaged by this statement? I had always thought of hippos as benign, jolly animals. Now all I could think of was their evil, beady eyes and enormous gaping mouths.
Anytime we walk from our huts to the dining hall after dark, we need to call a guard to walk with us. The hippos come out from the lake at night and graze around the hotel grasses. Dark + Evil Hippos = Very Irritable and Frightened Stephanie.
On the boat safari we saw these manifestations of evil glomping away on water plants - sharpening their teeth no doubt in anticipation of a tasty, unsuspecting human.
We also saw a lot of magnificent birds, which somewhat made up for the hippos: Pelicans, Egrets, a Spoonbill, Yellow-Billed Stork, loads of cormorants, and others. We baited a fish eagle: some fisherman caught us a little Tilapia and our guide threw it out into the water: suddenly we heard the call of a fish eagle and he came swooping out of the trees with his talons out. Amazing sight!
Our guide let us out in the middle of bushes amidst the water hyacinth (beautiful, but very bad for the water ecology as it chokes out the sun and essentially kills life below the surface). After walking a few steps I smelled something bad and realized there was a rotting animal corpse to my left. At first I thought it was a pelican, but it turned out to be a small gazelle. A few steps further there was a more disturbing sight: a full on dead giraffe. Just lying in the bushes. She had broken her neck and had also been pregnant - I didn't catch all the details but. That is the circle of life.
We were walking across very dry grasslands that had been nibbled down to nubs by wildebeest. Crescent Island is a small private conservancy with no predators. Hence why we could walk around without fear. We saw a lot of herbivores: Giraffes (alive), Wildebeest, a couple of jackals, gazelles, and a herd of sheep.
After our walk, as we drove off the island, we saw monkeys for the first time.
A NOTE ON INSECTS
I haven't bumped into anything disgusting yet. Well - let me revoke this: I discovered a giant banana slug outside our patio door earlier today but we ended up switching rooms with Alix so this is no longer a problem. I don't like the looks of the wood/thatch overhangs on our rooms, though, and prefer to keep all doors and windows firmly closed. I asked the valets to spray our room and put up a mosquito net tonight. I just can't take any risks. So far I haven't seen a single mosquito.
Tomorrow we leave early for a hike up a dormant volcano in the rift valley: