Kenya: roadtrip Lake Bogoria

From moloch to nature – and back again

This is part 5 of my Kenyan travel diary; part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4
All those letters, don’t you have a video, so I don’t have to read them all? Sure we have:

Back in Nairobi, I check in again with Edu and spend the night in, I’m starting to feel the constant back-and-forth and I’m not really happy to be in this moloch again, where everyone tells you not to go out alone, at least not as a white boy as unsavvy about Africa as I still am.

Animal tranport kenyan style, I was very much taken by the warmth these guys were projecting towards their animals.

Animal tranport kenyan style, I was very much taken by the warmth these guys were projecting towards their animals.

It turns out I totally botched an appointment with the regional directer for worldwide bicycle relief and I’m starting to say goodbye to my high-flying plans of making a movie about bikes in Kenya. Maybe I can use some of the footage for other stuff, but a three week holiday is way too short to do something like that. Maybe I’ll just try again one day, probably with a crowdfunding campaign to back me up.

Breeding butterfliey in Karen, Nairobi

Breeding butterfliey in Karen, Nairobi

So it turns out I have even more free time on my hands in Nairobi then anticipated, I’m supposed to meet my erstwhile travel-mate two days later at an as of yet unspecified location to go on a roadtrip. So I surf the net for stuff to do and find a butterfly research institute that breeds more than a 1.000 species in a giant greenhouse. I call Mwangi our dependable driver to get me there. I have an adress and a local, so what can possibly go wrong? Well, for one thing, the damned institute doesn’t exist anymore and I haven’t even realized that all the praise, that was heaped upon the place was at least 4 years old. Damn, 1,5 hours in this f*#+*ng smog and dust for next to nothing.; after some convincing, emphasized with a small “donation” to the guards, one of them shows me what’s left of the place. The whole compund was bought by some rich european guy who made it not only his home, but the headquarter of his NGO (the name escapes me right now, and since this trip my notebook died a gruesome death in a river). Their focus is more on big animals, but they still breed some butterflies, mainly for museums, schools and other educational collections, but with a sideline in creating a more gene-diverse and hardy butterfly population in East-Africa by crossbreeding different sub-species from Kenya, Uganda and Tansania.

Karen Giraffe Centre

Karen Giraffe Centre

Unfulfilled and with a substantial hunger for more “nature” I let myself be convinced to spend a visit to the Karen Giraffe Center. Long story short – another ripoff. 12 $ to walk up some stairs to a pavillon so I can look at american college girls getting their faces licked. Reading it like that, it doesn’t even sound so bad, but trust me it was.Thoroughly frustrated I call Edu to ask when he would be back and if he’d like to have a drink with me, preferably somewhere high up. We made to the 1st-floor terrace of a bar, overlooking a parking space with mandatory car wash, afterwards he takes me to a “muslim deli” (his words) where we get some delicious meat filled chapatis (some form of pancake).

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Feeling halfway pacified again I’m hooked on the idea of more drinks in a neighbourhood bar to watch Arsenal play. By that point my only worry is, whether I’ll be sufficiently drunk to forget this day. The bar is a small courtyard wedged between low houses on three sides and the street and a bigger house on the fourth. Two of Edus mate are already on site and halfway through a bottle of whisky, so it seems we’re all on a similar schedule re “getting seriously drunk”. We order another bottle and attack the problem with intense commitment, although Im trying to pace myself a little, being in unfamiliar surroundings in a big city of which people keep reminding me how dangerous it is. The Bar is filling up, Arsenal wins and the atmosphere becomes somewhat festive – at least for the part of the audience who didn’t root for the opposing team. Premier League football is something of a national pastime, nearly everyone I met was following one of the big clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea taking the lead among them. The only German Teams anybody knows are Dortmund and Bayern München, while no one has ever heard of Hertha BSC. It seems that fandom is taken a bit more seriously than I am used to, there are stories of regular suicides and riots after important matches.
Brain and tongue lubricated I strike up conversations with some artists/photographers when I suddenly realise that all the people I know have fallen asleep on their chairs. Not easily worried I try to wake Edu. Turns out, Edu is very good at getting his strength back on short notice. While no shaking and talking of mine arouses him, after exactly one hour he is back on track, sober and energized. To be honest, the same can’t be said of me, and the rest of the evening is somewhat lost to me.

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suddenly I felt very self-conscious with everyone I know sleeping.

Early the next day I take another local flight to Kitale. There I get in a car with a driver that we rented for ca. 70$/day. the idea is a 3-day-roadtrip back to Nairobi to take a closer look at Kerio-Valley, the Elgeyo Escarpmet and Lake Bogoria, all part of the Greater Rift Valley. We leave the relatively dry hilly land around Kitale and start climbing the escarpment that rises nearly 2.000 m above the plain. On it’s foot we pass the famous town of Iten which “produces” a higher number of long-distance runners at champion’s level than any other region on earth.
If premier league soccer is the national pastime, becoming a rich and famous marathon runner is the golden kenyan dream – at least for the 5 million people of the Kalenjin tribe who have long dominated the podiums at important races.

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Beautiful down the great Rift Valley

The higher we climb the greener and more familiar the landscape seems. Fantastic views open in the hazy air on our way down again towards Lake Bogoria, two guys make a quick extra buck performing death defying jumps into a narrow canyon, termite mounds line the roadside like strange chimneys, erosion forms tableaus that could be from another planet and some big bird circles lazily overhead. Once again I’m overhwelmed by the beauty of this country and the stark contrast with the poverty her people have to endure. Unfortunately we’re on a busy schedule if we want to reach Bogoria before dusk. Finally at the entrance it takes some convincing to make sure I won’t pay the full price of 30$ for just an hour in the National Park. In the end the bulk of my camera equipment make for a plausible story that casts me as a longterm journalist resident.

Erosion taking it's toll after trees have been cut down makes for an otherwordly landscape.

Erosion taking it’s toll after trees have been cut down makes for an otherwordly landscape.

One of the first things I notice is, that there is not much water left in the lake, which is quite acidic to begin with. Trees at the shore are all dead and the only birds I see is a rather large population of Flamingos that are mostly white since they’re not eating as much shellfish as their Floridan counterparts. On our search for the famous hot springs to cook the eggs, we brought specifically for this purpose we aquire a local guide with a motor bike. The dirt tracks through the park demand everything of our car’s suspension and more than once I fear the final bang announcing the end of it’s capacity. Surpisingly though the car just aquires a lot of dirt but keeps working. Of course it gets dark halfway through our meal and the guy with the motorcycle has to lead us to the other end of the park where he is some kind of gate keeper. I’ll be forever grateful, without this guy we’d have hade to spend the night in the car with no water or food – no chance we would ever have been able to find our way out again alone. After another two hours on dirt roads we covered a total of maybe 70 km in four hours and take a room in a small motel, dirty, exhausted and full of new impressions.

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We decide to cut the roadtrip short and get back to Nairobi the next day. Since I’m somewhat depleted and a little frustrated I decide to turn the last 6 days into a real holiday. I jump on another plane to Mombasa and accomodate myself in a 4-star resort at the Indian Ocean halfway between Mombasa and the Tanzanian border.

Next up: part 6, chillin on the Indian Ocean and getting a culture shock.

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