02.28.2012 - 02.28.2012
We were treated to a late morning in bed —which was good because it’s always harder to sleep through the second night. Breakfast was included and it was a full buffet with a mix of American and African fare.
We were told to meet at 9:45 in the lobby and everyone was there and rearin’ to go. The group was split into three groups to ride in the vans. Four mid-aged ladies who are travelling in a group (mostly retired school teachers) are sharing our van. All of the luggage was fit into the van and off we went to the Elephant Orphanage on one edge of Nairobi. We knew we must be getting out of the city center when we saw the olive baboons running down the road in front of us! And then we reached our first stop.
The David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage was established some years ago as a place to raise up baby elephants whose mothers were killed, primarily it seems by poachers or farmers. Each baby elephant is paired with a human “maternal” partner. The elephant and the human live together in a “dorm room”; this is because baby elephants are totally dependent on their mother until they are at least two years old. The similarities between elephants and humans were astounding. Elephants nurse until they are nearly two; they are fed soymilk formula because they don’t tolerate cow milk very well; they sleep on a mattress (an area of scraped and softened dirt in the wild); and they must be kept warm with a blanket because they are susceptible to pneumonia (in the wild, the older elephants surround and cuddle with the babies to keep them warm).
We were introduced to two groups of elephants: the “infants”, from four months to one year old, and the “toddlers”, from one year to three years old. The infants stuck really close to their handlers, especially the four month old. The toddlers were more independent, in fact, they held their own bottles and then wrestled in the dust mound. All in all, this was a delightfully entertaining, and totally educational stop. On the way out of the compound, we stopped and visited a rhinoceros.
Back on the bus, we headed out of the city to the northwest. Our destination for the day is Lake Naivasha. The lake was formed by a volcano millions of years ago and lies in the Great Rift Valley. The Rift Valley is a huge tear in the earth that extends from Lebanon in the Middle East down across western Africa beyond southern Kenya. It dropped several thousand feet down and is usually less than 100 miles across. Much of the trip took us through the outer neighborhoods of Nairobi, many that are poor...some even shanty towns.
Once we finally left the outskirts of the city and entered the country, we began to see more small fields, cattle, and goats. At intervals, small “towns” of ramshackle buildings would spring up...butchers, bars, markets, repair shops, and hotels (not like any most of us have seen before). As the road began to wind around the hillsides, fantastic views down into the great valley opened up in front of us. We made a short stop at a roadside market overlooking the valley. Most of us succumbed to the marketing abilities of the local folks and bought a souvenir or two. Back on the bus and we were down into the flat lands of the unique acacia trees, wide grasslands, and the occasional goats. After 25 or 30 minutes of seeing the same scenery, we became less aware of what was around us...and that’s when the herd of zebras ran across the road in front of our van!
Yes, it seemed that we were finally into the heart of Africa.
A few more miles and we had reached our destination: the Lake Naivasha Country Club...a beautiful resort on the shore of the lake. While our guide checked us in, we ate lunch. Then we were led to our individual cottages. We had only a short time to settle in and then we headed for the boat dock.
A part of our tour included a boat tour of the lake. Six to a boat and off we went across a good portion of the several hundred acres that the lake covers. Just off the dock, we spotted our first hippopotamus. This was just too cool, watching them bite and blow and munch…in some ways, not so different from watch moose, except when you see one hippo you will see half a dozen. But the hippos — although we saw several herds around the lake — were just the beginning of our wild life tour. Throughout the boat ride, we saw dozen birds — including the lofty Africa fish eagle — and when we paused alongside an island, a herd of impalas was joined by zebras, wildebeests, and water bucks. As Susie said, if you were to rate days on a scale of 1 to 10 — this was an 11.
Back from the boat ride, it was down time...time to sit on the veranda of our cottage and watch the monkeys playing in the hammock on the lawn. Then a happy hour at the main lodge while the giraffes and hippos graze on the lawn (and hopefully, the local leopard that has been frequenting the parking lot doesn’t show up!), and then a leisurely dinner.
And tomorrow...the “Road Across Hell”.
Note: The African elephant is the largest living land mammal. Of all its specialized features, the muscular trunk is perhaps the most extraordinary. It serves as a nose, hand, extra foot, signaling device and tool for gathering food, siphoning water, dusting, and digging. The tusks are another notable feature of both males and females. Elephants are right or left-tusked, using the favored tusk more often, thus shortening it from constant wear. Tusks differ in size, shape and angle and researchers can use them to identify individuals.