Wednesday, March 13, 2002

We left The Ark this morning, and took the bus trip back to the Aberdare Country Club. We met up with Pepe and Thomas and the vans, and continued northward. We passed by a thorn tree filled with weaver-bird nests (below left), and what Pepe jokingly called a Kenyan strip mall (below right) by the side of the road.

Thorn tree filled with weaver bird nests Kenyan strip mall

Our next stop was at the equator! That's me in front of the sign. And if you don't believe that I was really there, I am the proud owner of a certificate commemorating the big moment. Note the official seal of the Jambo Equator Curio Shop in the lower right corner -- so you know it's official!

Jon standing on the equator My official certificate!
Click for a larger version.

We were given a demonstration of the Coriolis force by "Professor" Joseph (below). You walk 20 meters to one side of the equator and see the floating stick rotate clockwise as the water drains from the bowl. Then you walk 20 meters to the other side and see it rotating counter-clockwise. Right on the equator, it doesn't rotate at all. I don't know about anyone else in our group, but being on the equator was a very cool experience for me!

Professor Joseph demonstrates the Coriolis force at the equator

We continued on and soon crossed the equator again as we turned south towards Nakuru, Kenya's third largest city. We were also losing a lot of elevation, coming out of the highlands and down to the floor of the Great Rift Valley. As we passed through the city, I couldn't resist snapping some shots of these school children below. Every school has its own uniform, and there was a shop for these uniforms in just about every town we went through, regardless of size. Note that the kids at right are carrying Minnie Mouse backpacks.

Schoolkids in Nakuru Schoolkids in Nakuru

Adjacent to the city is Lake Nakuru National Park. Here, we had our first opportunity to put up the roof on the safari van. This is a very nice feature that allows you to stand up and have an unimpeded 360 degree view. But, it also makes you a little vulnerable as we quickly discovered when we were attacked by monkeys!!! As we were stopped at the park entrance and Pepe was off paying our entry fee, several monkeys jumped into the van and stole our snacks! They knew exactly what to go for, too -- unopened bags of nuts, candy bars, and a cereal snack were quickly grabbed. While cowering, er, defending the back seat, I did my part by valiantly shaking an empty plastic bag at them, to no avail. Paul bravely (?!?) grabbed back his package of cookies from one. The monkey bared his teeth and hissed at him, but we all got to enjoy the "monkey cookies" later on. Ha! Take that, monkeys!! The park rangers soon came to our rescue and shooed them away with a laugh.

Our safari van Attacked by monkeys!!!

Grateful to be alive, we continued on toward the lake. Along the way, we passed some marabou stork (below left) and a few waterbuck antelope that were butting heads (the birds in the background are pelicans).

Marabou stork Waterbuck antelope

Lake Nakuru is known for its flamingos -- literally thousands of them! The lake is very shallow, and its alkaline waters are perfect for the algae which the flamingos feed on. It was a very impressive site, and we weren't even here for their peak numbers -- as many as two million birds come here at one time! Below right is their tracks in the mud surrounding the lake.

Flamingos on Lake Nakuru Flamingo tracks on the shore

Many other animals call the park home, as well. We saw quite a few during our game drive around the lake, including zebra and baboon (see the baby?).

Zebra at Lake Nakuru Baboon at Lake Nakuru

Speaking of baboons, we drove up to an overlook called Baboon Cliffs and had a great view of the entire lake. The faster-speed film I was using didn't register the color, but the entire lake was ringed with a pink haze from the flamingos. Below left, Mark and Paul are snapping some photos. Below right are some of the other folks in our group: Kristi, Gary, and kids Zack (far left) and Adam are from Minneapolis. Back in Nairobi, they had gone to Carnivore with Mark, Wendy and me, adding some great company to a memorable meal.

Mark and Paul photographing Lake Nakuru From left: Zack, Adam, Kristi, Gary

And here's the sibs, trying not to fall backwards over the cliffs: from left, Jon, Mark, and Wendy.

From left: Jon, Mark, Wendy

We came back down to shore level and continued on around the lake, seeing more animals. Lake Nakuru National Park is a sanctuary for black rhinos. To protect this very endangered species, it is the only park we visited that is completely fenced in. We encountered several grazing rhinos right next to the road. Pepe said we were really lucky, as they're usually only seen off in the distance. We also had our first close encounter with a lioness here! She crossed the road right in front of our (stopped) van. Word from the other safari vans in the area was that she had killed a warthog right before we arrived, and was going to fetch her cubs to feed on it.

Black rhinos at Lake Nakuru Lioness at Lake Nakuru

There's a nice-looking lodge at Lake Nakuru. We lunched there, and our original itinerary had us spending the night as well. However, Rhino Safaris started using a new lodge this year, so we drove about 10 kilometers to the newer Lake Elementaita Lodge. Unlike Nakuru, the land around this lake is privately owned, so we only saw it from a distance (the lodge is a good mile or more away from the shore). The grounds of the lodge were beautifully landscaped around our bungalows and the main building with the dining room. Below left is the view toward the lake; below right, Mark and Jon are on our bungalow's porch.

The beautiful grounds of Lake Elementaita Lodge, looking towards the lake Jon (left) and Mark on the porch of their bungalow at Lake Elementaita Lodge

However, it turned out to be our least favorite accomodations. The rooms had no window screens, so the staff sprayed a foul-smelling insecticide in the rooms when they were turned down, and you slept under mosquito netting (you have to be cautious about mosquitoes in Kenya -- malaria is a serious problem there). Several people in our group felt ill the next morning, and blamed the chemicals. Our room also had a rough flagstone floor which, while charmingly Hemingway-esque, was awfully rough on bare feet in the middle of the night! I think our disappointment was compounded by getting to see Nakuru's lodge -- it just gave off a better vibe somehow.

Still, there was no denying that this had been an incredible day! Every day just seemed to get better and better on this trip. How could tomorrow possibly compete with what we'd already experienced....?



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