Day 594 – 15 October, 2016
Going to Africa was always part of my plan, but until recently I had been unsure how to tackle it. It’s not an easy place to travel alone logistically and of course, there are some safety concerns as well. I desperately wanted to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda, but also to see as many other sights as my budget would allow. After visiting Tanzania in 2012, I had been lucky to spot 4 of the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhinoceros) and it was definitely the most magical place I had ever been. I eagerly committed to an overland Africa tour with Acacia Africa. An overland tour traditionally means that you pile into a fully loaded safari truck to drive on potholed roads in horrendous traffic to some of the most beautiful and remote destinations in the world. We would be camping in two-man tents and sharing the responsibility of camp duties, alternating between cooking, dish cleaning, or truck cleaning.
Thirteen intrepid travelers were on board – 7 Aussies, 2 Kiwis, 2 Brits, 1 Canuck, and me (guess that makes me a Yank?). We were 8 women and 5 men. I had grown quite accustomed to being the oldest almost everywhere I go so that was no surprise, the youngest was at the ripe age of 20. I genuinely enjoyed the company of every single one of them, which is quite rare for me! Almost immediately, we became like a family breaking bread together and bonding over trivialities like lack of wifi reception and over nuisances like camping in the rain. Our two-man crew consisted of Crispin, our guide, and Hominy, our driver, both from Zimbabwe. The truck would be journeying for 58 days all the way to Capetown from Nairobi. My journey would end on Day 18 back in Nairobi after seeing the mountain gorillas and chimpanzees and a short safari in the Masai Mara. Many members of my “family” would be continuing for the entire two months and I felt a pang of jealousy that I would finish so early (especially since I’m certainly not in a rush!). But the truth remains that an overland journey all the way to Capetown would have killed my budget and I had plenty of other exciting adventures up my sleeve anyway!
Our first day was a relatively short five hour drive from Nairobi to Lake Nakuru National Park. With his hearty belly laugh, Crispin had informed us that the ride would be bumpy, a “free African massage,” he said. We were jostled like ice cubes in a martini shaker even as Hominy tried to maneuver around the larger dips in the dusty road. It didn’t take long until we grew familiar with the rhythmic bumping and grinding of the highway ahead of us and could take in the scene outside our cloudy windows. Mahogany-colored children with the biggest smiles would wave at us and would cheer when we waved back. Women in brightly patterned dresses carried jugs of water or baskets filled with corn or bananas on their heads. Many of the men, dressed in button-down shirts and trousers, projected a formal appearance even while leading a donkey strapped with the day’s harvest. It is a simple life, with a heavy burden of poverty and struggles, but almost everyone wears a smile. This is what I remember from my last visit to Africa – it is a happy place with generous and hospitable people. I love it here!
Lake Nakuru is historically known as being one of the best places to view a pink haze of flamingos on the horizon. Camera crews used to come here and would chase the flamingos into the air so they could capture a pink wave of flight over the lake. Three years ago, following an extremely tense rainy season, the lake had flooded, turning the salty water that feeds the flamingos into a mostly fresh water catchment. Consequently, the flamingos had gone and still had not returned. The water had retreated a good distance, but the old gatehouse bridged a former road that was still entirely submerged. Dead trees peppered the lagoon like a watery graveyard. I can’t imagine the devastation after so much rain.
Flamingos would be a no-go, but there was plenty of other wildlife on the docket – zebra, buffalo, baboons (one of which accosted our vehicle and rifled through Julie’s bag), vervet monkeys, several types of antelope, warthogs, and the prize of the day….SIX…count ’em…SIX rhinos! This was the one coveted sighting I had yet to indulge in Africa. The white rhino had so far eluded me and it was a huge thrill to see so many of them in one day. I felt slight hope for the tireless conservation efforts for these beasts. Elevated demand for ivory in China and Vietnam has brought poaching to an all-time high and rhinos are increasingly at risk of extinction so I was happy to see a robust population at Lake Nakuru.
As our game drive drew to a close, I was in pure bliss to be present, to feel utter contentment at my fortunate life. The endless plains stretched beyond the horizon and the sun danced in and out of the clouds. I would be in Africa for about four months, but much of my itinerary is still a blank page. I can’t wait to see where the potholed road leads me.