January 7th, 2022
Kenya, officially the Republic of Kenya, is a country in Eastern Africa. It encompasses savannah, lakelands, the dramatic Great Rift Valley and mountain highlands. It’s also home to wildlife like lions, elephants and rhinos. It is the world’s 48th largest country by area. With a population of more than 53 million (2020), Kenya is the 29th most populous country. Kenya’s capital and largest city is Nairobi while, its oldest city and first capital, is the coastal port city of Mombasa.
As of 2020, Kenya had the third-largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria and South Africa. It is bordered by South Sudan to the northwest, Ethiopia to the north, Somalia to the east, Uganda to the west, Tanzania to the south, and the Indian Ocean to the southeast.
European contact began in 1500 AD with the Portuguese, though effective colonization of Kenya began in the 19th century. Modern-day Kenya emerged from a protectorate established by the Brits in 1895 and the subsequent “Kenya Colony”, which began in 1920. Numerous disputes between the UK and the colony led to the Mau Mau revolution against British Rule in 1952, and the declaration of independence in 1963. After independence, Kenya remained a member of the Commonwealth.
Kenya is a presidential representative democratic republic, in which elected officials represent the people and the president is the head of state and government. Agriculture is the largest sector: tea and coffee are traditional cash crops, while fresh flowers are a fast-growing export. Tourism is a major economic driver.
In 2005, Kenyans rejected a plan to replace the 1963 independence constitution with a new one. As a result, the elections of 2007 took place following the procedure set by the old constitution. Kibaki was reelected in highly contested elections marred by political and ethnic violence. The main opposition leader, Odinga, claimed the election was rigged and that he was the rightfully elected president. In the ensuing violence, 1,500 people were killed and another 600,000 internally displaced, making it the worst post-election violence in Kenya. To stop the death and displacement of people, Kibaki and Odinga agreed to work together with the latter taking the position of a prime minister. Its current constitution was adopted in 2010 to replace the 1963 independence constitution.
In 2017, Kenyatta won a second term in office in another disputed election. Odinga again petitioned the results in the Supreme Court, accusing the authorities of mismanagement of the elections and Kenyatta and his party of rigging. The Supreme Court overturned the election results in what became a landmark ruling in Africa and one of the very few in the world in which the results of a presidential elections were annulled. This ruling solidified the position of the Supreme Court as an independent body.
Consequently, Kenya had a second round of elections for the presidential position, in which Kenyatta emerged the winner after Odinga refused to participate, citing irregularities. The historic handshake in March 2018 between Kenyatta and his longtime opponent Odinga meant reconciliation followed by economic growth and increased stability.
The shield and crossed spears on Kenya’s flag represent both the country’s heritage and the defense of its freedom. It is a shield used by the Maasai, a semi-nomadic people who herd cattle in Kenya and Tanzania. The white stripes are symbolic of peace. The flag was adopted after Kenya gained independence.
Tusker is a beer brand owned by East African Breweries, with over 700,000 hectoliters being sold in Kenya per year. It is a 4.2% ABV pale lager. The beer’s slogan “Bia yangu, Nchi yangu” means “My beer, My country” in Kiswahili.
WE’RE ON SAFARI!
After a horrific night of neither of us sleeping much at all, we met Elisha (the caretaker) who will be storing our excess luggage while we are “on safari”. We left our digs around 8:30 heading northeast to Lake Nakuru National Park. This park is famous for its flocks of flamingos as well as having game including at least three of the “Big Five”.
National Park No. 1 – Lake Nakuru
This park is flanked by rocky escarpments, pockets of acacia trees and is supposed to be gorgeous year round. It is home to both white and black rhino, lions, leopards, hippos and giraffes but its main claim to fame are the millions of flamingos that come here. However in 2014 rising waters forced them to flee and only in the past few years, have they begun to return to the south end of the lake as the north is still flooded out with many trees now in the water.
Doug was never able to get the maps we needed from Garmin for our GPS so we are relying on Maps.me – not the greatest but it will have to do. When we plugged in our destination it said 7.5 hours to go l72 km / 106 mi!
We got out of Nairobi and the A104 was in pretty good shape (unlike the roads around the capital city) but it’s only two lanes with an extra climbing lane sometimes; not fast. Lots of passing and we saw a few near misses but get this: no horns a’honking! While the driving is crazier than much of Latin America (besides being on the wrong side of the road) it is quieter ;-).
Weather is mostly cloudy and quite pleasant. Clouds increased over the day.
About ¾ of the way, we saw baboons on the side of the highway but had nowhere to stop for photos and later some zebra and a large ground horned bill.
So when Fran switched our destination to a different park entrance (and it was a good thing she did) our arrival time sped up considerably and we were at the park around 11:30. Tickets to parks in Kenya are not cheap and you pay a small fee to bring in your own vehicle. This park is $60 USD pp and about $3 for the car.
After buying your ticket, you drive up to the gate, the guy does something with it (?) and records your vehicle plate and you’re on your way. When Doug was paying for the ticket he was told that only the east side of the park is open due to the aforementioned flooding. We asked the fellow at the gate for a recommendation of what route to take (there are no park maps – surprise, surprise – not!) and he gave us a suggestion. We could find most of the roads on Maps.me so we had some idea of where to head.
We saw zebra immediately and then lots and lots of them and so many water buffalo.
We drove down the east side road all the way to the bottom and about ¾ of the way down, began to see giant white pelicans, cormorants, fish eagles and Egyptian geese along the water’s edge. The park road is not in great shape but it forces you to go slowly and observe around you.
Before reaching the south end, we began to see small flocks of flamingos.
We saw impala, water buck, eland and a couple of springbok aka Thomson’s gazelle. The causeway at the south end of the lake was full of large flocks of flamingos and pelicans; we saw some African water buffalo, grey crowned cranes, lapwings and more.
As we had to do an out and back route, we saw much of the same on the way back to the gate but added in warthogs and a marabou stork to our “animal checklist”. At one point Fran was staring at a large animal, thinking it must be a water buffalo but it seems too large and has no horns; it was a rhino! How exciting and there was no one else there but us.
About a half hour later, we were back at the gate and made a pit stop to use the restrooms. There was a large group of children there with their teachers there and Doug got out his balloon pump and made them each a balloon. Not many spoke English but they were enjoying themselves.
Fran found us an AirBNB in the town of Nakuru and enroute we stopped for something to eat at a hotel restaurant; here we tried a soda recommended by a friend, Belinda. It was kind of like ginger ale.
We followed the AirBNB directions to our condo. We weren’t sure we were in the right place but a nice young man helped us and told us to follow him up like five flights of stairs! By the time we got to there, we finally heard from the host and we were told we couldn’t stay there due to a maintenance issue but she had another apartment around the corner. We were not impressed; she could have told us an hour earlier as we’d booked it around 2:45 and it was now nearly 4:30. So we hoofed it back down with most of our bags and found the other building and a fellow named Joseph helped us get parked and let us in. It’s an okay apartment with no AC (like the other one had) on the first floor (here, like in Latin America, the first floor is what we would call the second floor) but it will do for a night.
We heard from the French accountants today and they sent some documents that need printing, signing, scanning and return both by email AND post so this could prove interesting. Doug went out to find somewhere to print them. We signed them and Doug emailed them back after scanning them, asking if regular post is acceptable as a courier will be expensive.
Yesterday we heard from the RV place and they’ve done the required inspections and a few things need repair and the owner has agreed to pay for them – phew!
After yet another crappy sleep (we get sleepy early but force ourselves to stay up until about 9 to try and get used to the eight hour time difference; they say it could take eight days!), we packed up headed east to the city of Nanyuki outside Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
Enroute we crossed the equator for the first of money times:
We drove up and up to over 2400 m / 8000’ and then back down some.
We booked another AirBNB and after getting a bit lost trying to reach it, checked in. This time it was an apartment building that had an elevator so we didn’t mind being on the 9th floor. It was rather funky with pink and blue lights in the living room but the bed was comfortable and the Wi-Fi was good. The kitchen was rather poorly equipped but the amazing views of Mount Kenya in the morning made up for that.
After getting everything in the apartment, including putting water bottles in the freezer for tomorrow’s day trek, we made our way to the non-profit Mount Kenya Animal Orphanage. Now this is somewhat like a zoo but it is all rescued animals and here you can see the extremely rare Mountain Bongo – there are 70 living here and less than one hundred left in the wild. Its numbers have dwindled drastically due to loss of habitat.
The mountain bongo is a critically endangered subspecies of the bongo, one of the largest forest antelopes, with a reddish-brown coat, with black, white and yellow-white markings. Both males and females have long, slightly spiraled horns. Bongos are rarely seen in large herds. Bulls are mostly solitary, while females with young form small herds of up to 10. They are mostly nocturnal.
Some of the animals are the sole occupants of their pens, but if they weren’t here being taken care of, they would be dead. Some were brought here as abandoned infants and others were injured in the wild. Some get re-released into the wild but that’s not a high percentage.
We paid our entry fee at the office (about $20), and a personal guide named Benson took us on a walk through the sanctuary.
Visited the 3 cheetahs, two leopards, a wild pig, a caracol, various monkeys,
We even saw a “babmon” which is an animal that was born after a baboon and another monkey mated; it was brought here because it would have been attacked and killed in the wild.
We got back to our apartment. There is secure parking on the 2nd and third floors of the building but it sure didn’t seem like it was meant to be a parking garage. There were so many columns to weave around it was difficult to maneuver our small Rav4.
We had a cold beer on our balcony but Mount Kenya was covered in clouds.
After a light dinner we watched some tv and went to bed. Fran had booked our tickets ($90 each) for tomorrow’s safari day and we were up early to get to the park around 7 when it opens. However, for both of us it was yet another bad night’s sleep.
(As always, there are more photos in the galleries on this site.)