Pretty Lake Nakuru, Kennya

The morning sight that greeted us at Lake Nakuru, took my breath away! This couldn't be Africa! 

What a world of contrast from the arid dusty browns of the Masai Mara. This was a world of soft, cold, wintry day, with smoke coming out of our breath, the splendour of the mist and the greens, the birds and the rare rhino’s I had yet to know and meet… the magic waiting to unfold.

The quiet and the calm of the early morning light was delightful. For now, finding the next animal was a secondary issue – being out in the crisp air, filling my lungs with pristine oxygen was a high, indescribable; I was trigger happy discovering such picture postcard perfect snaps created by Nature, ready to help me show off, when I returned home :D

A band of dark clouds were creeping up in the western sky as we moved through the park towards the flamingo point to take advantage of the light while it was still present. We were a little disappointed with the ‘not so many flamingos” we spotted. 

The safari agents were not upfront honest, nor did we do enough homework ourselves to realize about the flamingos going elsewhere as a result of heavy rainfall and lack of salinity in the lake.

Sam drove us quickly through the slushy tracks onto the other side of the lake to a dotted shoreline of pink fuchsia flamingos gracefully taking in the early worm. On the water drenched track side, their more distant cousins the African White Pelicans played happily in the wet lands! :D

Sam informed us that the reason the flamingos appear to be standing in a line is because they are perched on a sandbar, eating rows of algae. As the lake begins to dry, the bird droppings stick around longer, creating more algae on sandbar, all along the edges of the shore. The more the algae, the more food there is, and therefore the more flamingos that are drawn in. The best time to visit this national park is in the height of the dry season if you want to see the million flamingo phenomenon.

Besides the pink-rimmed shoreline of Lake Nakuru we spotted a variety of other birds and animals 

– a flock of yellow-billed Storks, the rare White Rhino,  the Olive Baboons, Colombus monkey,  the common Zebras grazing by the track side, close enough for me to take a picture of their gorgeous designer booty!:D

And more wildlife -the Yellow-billed ducks , Egyptian Geese, Dik diks, Hadada Ibis, Red-billed Teal, the Waterbuck, a Malachite Kingfisher, more African White Pelicans, the water bucks…

Lake Nakuru, is the only fenced park in all of Kenya. It’s not fenced to keep the wildlife in, but to keep the poachers out. Poaching is a very real problem for the rhinos in Kenya who are abundant today, but were most vulnerable and near extinct, till a few years ago.

The lake has several swampy patches, making it perfect conditions for the rhino. We had previously learnt about the differences between the white and the black rhinos,  so we knew straight away that the above group by the lake were the white rhinos, grazing in a group. The dried mud looks like cement on their armoured skin. (below). The rhinos are mostly focused on the patch of grass in front of them, and not much else. Docile, with their heads down, you cant help but compare them with a herd of grass-chewing cows

These giant rhinos are slow to reproduce and have a built in defence mechanism to not have babies if it feels the environment is unsafe. For decades the wildlife of Africa has been decimated by hunters, so for decades, rhinos rarely reproduced. The Lake Nakuru project is so successful that rhinos are having babies and as their population grows, they’ve been transferred and donated to 23 other parks to help rebuild the rhino numbers in Africa. It’s an uplifting story and to watch these magnificent creatures, I cannot understand how people can kill them simply for the fibres on their horns. Such a waste

It was a quick transition leaving the lake park, heading into the city – one minute we were surrounded by the mist, cold air, animals, birds, the lush greenery of the highlands, then a short while later, we were zipping on a smooth tarred runaway with the street lights, the only reminder, for where we had been. 


Run like the wind: Lions

Masai Mara has one of the highest densities of lions anywhere in World. Some experts say, the density of Lion population in the Mara is 30 Lions/100 sq kms! 

Given the number of safari vehicles that throng to sight the Big 5, morning and noon, the animals have got smarter in Masai Mara. There is evidence that the animals have started to change their behaviour patterns to avoid tourist vehicles, hunting earlier or later when most people are still in bed or enjoying a sun-downer

Masai Mara is just like The Lion King. The only difference is that I never saw a crazy, old, mystic baboon that wore face paint and carried a walking stick:)  Often I heard the "Circle of Life" or "I just can't wait to be king" playing in my head, and as often the others in the car kept making references to the film... poor Sammy (our driver) musta been sick of the Lion King chatter, but he pretended not to mind. 

Sammy wound the car through the grasslands and gorgeous rocky landscapes with ease, alert for any sightings. On the plains that stretched in between, the grasses were pale against the deep green of the acacias that dotted the landscape as far as we could see. The imposing dark mountains peaked between the plains and acacias, in gorgeous contrast and the puffy clouds looked down on us wafting above, giving the landscapes a very dramatic edge.

Now the human herd started to appear. Vehicles were converging on the site from every point on the compass. The Jeeps  the Land Rovers, the Land Cruisers came thick and fast through the trails, across the fields and through ravines. No obstacle was going to stop any guide from treating his guests to the most revered, the most popular, hell bent for  –The Lion!

It was an incredible cat seemingly hiding in the bushes, with no concern for the human element. Or maybe they know they cannot attack a vehicle. At this point in the history of human/big game relations there is a comfortable peace.

This gorgeous lioness was pulling away from us, slowly and deliberately scoping out the valley, totally focussed on her prey, to the exclusion of all else. 

When a lion is approaching her prey in this cat like manner, you thank God, you are in a vehicle! She suddenly sprung into a speed and started in the opposite direction from where we were…at many spots, we lost here, because she’d merge into the tall grass, at some points again we’d spot her, crouching-catching her breath, till Sammy decided to drive towards us towards her

We finally caught up with her again - she was tired, very tired. Up-close we could tell now how heavily pregnant she was.

Before we could breathe again, we spotted 3 more lions- emerged from the bushes….all seemed to be circling, as if working together for a kill. (In my head, I thought these 3 lions, were helping the pregnant lioness find food) They encircled a huge herd of buffaloes, started crouching towards them,  a slow prowl, well camouflaged by the brown grass…(the lions can can crouch almost touching the ground! What amazed me was the buffalo's didn't seem to stir. They didn't seem very intimidated by the lions or by the safari vehicles. 

They probably outweigh one and could redefine the term fender bender with those horns of theirs :))

We wove our way through the herd, as the 3 lion's kept assessing the landscape and their prey.  Before we knew it, the lions picked up pace and sped past the buffaloes, till we realized the lions were now outpacing all animals and chasing a zebra! Soon to disappear from sight. 

Lions are stealthy and smart and it was fascinating to watch them work together. They spread out and circle around. They take their time to plan for attack.  Hunting in Africa is dangerous for any animal and a lion needs to be sure that they can take down their prey before they go in for a kill. Buffalo are strong and can put up a good fight. For a lion to take down such a large animal, a lot of preparation and teamwork is needed. It could be hours before they make their move

In the meanwhile this pregnant Lioness, was tired, she was giving up, panting hard. I felt gutted … wondered, when would she get her next meal. It was heart wrenching to see such a majestic animal not be able to get food.  Sammy drove us away…I found myself praying to God to be kind with her.

Within minutes the crackle and excited chatter on the wireless alerted us to something up ahead! We came upon 8-9 lions laying in the shade watching the humans watch them. 

The hot sun beat down on the car, it was like a sauna, but we couldn't take our eyes away from the scene in front of us. The lions relaxed in the shade for some time and we watched them roll over, scratch and yawn.  They didn't have a care in the world. And why should they? They are the Lion Kings, on top of the food chain. They had very obviously just consumed a rather large lunch. They looked so lazy, that some didn't even bother opening their eyes to check our arrival! And some just looked too satiated and fat to even wake up fully or walk. We pulled up, turned off the engine and watched in silence for quite some time. 

They didn't seem to notice or care. It was incredible. These are the world’s dangerous animals, but apparently not after a feast. It wasn't important that we didn't see a chase translating to a kill, just being close to these wonderful hunter-killers was privilege enough

There is nothing funny about being on foot in the Masai Mara with so many lions around. Even in the vehicle, when this huge male lion approached us it was pretty disconcerting. At first he was so well camouflaged we didn't even see him, by the time he was only a few feet away from our vehicle, we’d seen enough…

This day was meant to be a Lion Day! Next we saw mom lions with cubs! What a sight, what a treat! 

After months of huge anticipation and many attempts at getting a glimpse at these young cubs, the day finally arrived, and boy did I soak in all the goodness! To see many little bundles of lion fluff bounding towards your vehicle across the grassland is an absolute dream come true. 

Baby lions look so cute and innocent; it’s hard to remember that in a few months’ time they would happily rip your throat out. These sweet looking miniatures, learning the tricks of the trade from mum, are mesmerising to watch. We sat observing them playing for a long time, constantly requesting Sammy, not to drive off yet, as the heart couldn't get enough of these cubs.

Go. Save your pennies and go! Africa is so amazing and you’ll never experience anything like it anywhere else. The people were lovely, the animals extraordinary—seeing them in their environment up close is so different than any zoo experience. The vast and endless sky—breathtaking. Over and over again I just found myself saying “Thank You God for your beautiful earth, for letting me experience this, and for all Your blessings!”


The Great Wildebeest Migration

They say this migration is one of the 7 new Wonders of the World. For now, I can merely rave about the raw power I witnessed, as thousands of wildebeest stampeded through the Mara River. Nothing quite prepares you for this visual spectacle. 

The stage on which this show is set is loosely termed the Mara Ecosystem, pretty much defined by the dominant migration. The principle players are the (approx) 1.5 - 2 million wildebeest, supporting roles from 350,000 gazelles and about 200,000 zebras. These wildebeest are predated upon by the lions, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs who await the annual coming of the migration with eager anticipation

Thousands and thousands of wildebeest scattered across the plains, muster up the courage and slowly form lines as they channel towards the imminent river crossing points. These crossings are the most dangerous stages for the migrating wildebeest, with the river current often sweeping the animals downriver and into the opportunistic jowls of the waiting crocodiles.

Now is as good as any a time to introduce our driver and guide, Sammy boy! He has been leading the Park Safaris for over 20 years  He was our go-to safari man for his encyclopaedic knowledge, his eye for spotting game and his wealth of anecdotes about each and every park in Kenya. He was a tall man, with a sunny smile and a great sense of humour :D  Suddenly the now-familiar ringtone of Sammy’s phone crackles with static, within seconds Sam accelerates across the plains, bouncing up and down over the land. We had no idea what was going on. It turned out that the wildebeest were clustered around the river’s cliff side edge, and primed to cross. The walkie talkies were ablaze with excited chatter, Sam, unlatched the roof of our jeep so that we had an unobstructed view of the grasslands around us, we exchange bemused looks amongst ourselves, listening to Sammy’s Yoda-like responses :D

After a few minutes, we caught sight of the flowing muddy waters of the river – perhaps 15 metres wide at that point. The river was flanked either side by crumbling dusty cliffs. Amongst the trees that populated the riverbank, 8-10 jeeps and minibuses jostled for prime viewing points on the river’s edge. Sammy expertly weaved his way through a great vantage point. He turned the engine off, and we gazed at a group of wildebeest huddled around the cliff edge towards our right side – impatiently shoving and pushing each other. The wildebeest at the front peered precariously over the edge to the swirling torrent beneath. Crocodiles floated under the surface, vultures circled above opportunistically and downstream the chewed carcasses of the dead wildebeest had been washed ashore. The jungle flies were all around us buzzing most irritated

As the minutes passed, more and more wildebeest arrived at the cliff top, with the group at the front struggling to resist the relentless pushing from behind. And then suddenly there was a burst of activity. The first wildebeest could resist no more, and was pushed over the edge, beyond the point of no return. Plumes of dust shot into the air, as the wildebeest accelerated down the steep cliff and then through the rushing water of the river. It jumped up and down through a cloud of white splashing water, fighting against the current of the river, nervous and crazy with fear. And barely after about 15 seconds of intense activity and panic, it finally emerged at the other end safely yet exhausted. Within those few moments, the calm of the river had become a mass of churning white water with the first wildebeest providing the catalyst for a line of followers, one after the others, accelerating through the water with their lives dependent on it.

On the near side of the river, the successful crossers stood panting, shaking off the excess water from their sodden coats, and peered back watching out for friends and family

We saw a 100% safe crossing, no 1 beast got swept downstream. Watching from the side seemed like a sick voyeurism – picking out who would survive and who wouldn't  Darwinism was playing out in front of our very eyes. And after a flurry of activity – no longer than 15 minutes in all – calm returned to the river. I found myself clapping happily seeing all the animals had safely crossed over, not a single injury or any other incidence. Some in the car lamented the fact that they wish had seen a kill (crocodile) – am glad I didn't.

The rivers and indeed the few isolated lakes in the African Savannah, are terrifying to the wildebeest firstly because of the animals’ fear of the water itself and the creatures it may hide, and secondly because water generally means vegetation, and thickets that may conceal predators. Yet the wildebeest have an inherent instinct to trek in a certain direction at any cost – despite their terror. It was just another stage albeit a major part of an otherwise perilous journey, for the wildebeest. This below image was provided by our Korean friends who saw yet another day (after we left) of the great migration

Wildebeest arrive at the Mara River in their tens of thousands, and gather waiting to cross. For days their numbers can be building up and anticipation grows but many times, for no apparent reason, they turn and wander away from the water’s edge. Eventually the wildebeest will choose a crossing point, something that can vary from year to year and cannot be predicted with any accuracy. Usually the chosen point will be a fairly placid stretch of water without too much predator-concealing vegetation in the far side, although occasionally they will choose seemingly suicidal places and drown in their hundreds.

We lived our dream trip, saw this beautiful great migration. We are richer and blessed for it. I can continue to dream about it for a long time to come.