Friday, 20 May 2011


I am really chuffed to see the number of followers is going up. Thank you!!!! Please pass on to your friends...I would dearly love to find a publisher for my travel writing. :-)

Yesterday we went to a Garden of Eden. Lake Naivasha is a huge freshwater feature of the Great Rift Valley volcanic activity, part of the water is shallow marginal, and part is in a crater and about 38m deep. We made a picnic and drove one and half hours up a very well made road to the lakeside, stopping only to view the Great Rift Valley from the top of a huge ridge (8,000’) and then turned into the first ‘Resort’. It is all immensely well looked after. Our first wildlife was a pair of Superb Starlings in the carpark, with fantastically iridescent blue backs. Putting our picnic into a fridge in the restaurant, and after a delicious coffee with hot milk, we strolled down through some pleasure grounds towards the water and our waiting boatman.

On the way we met a goatherd, with a fine flock of cows, goats, sheep and a couple of bulls. He showed us how much they love a particular kind of tree, pulling a branch down to the ground and the goats absolutely rushed to it, like children at a party.

Our boatman Peter helped us into the long blue and white fibreglass boat, we had our lifejackets on. We set off, and within less than a minute he was pointing out various birds. I am sorry to say, I cannot remember all the names but we saw pelicans, yellow-billed storks, kingfishers of various brilliant kinds, a lark, various kinds of cormorants, ibis including the Sacred Ibis, gulls, fish eagles, a lovely little shy red bird (jamara?), plover, all these and more in their various groups. There is tremendous range of size among the different species of each bird.

The water hyacinth threatens the lake. The lake is rich in fish. None of the birds
seemed stressed by the boat, as long as we remained still and quiet, so we could go very close to them. Peter was intensely knowledgeable, and had fantastic eyesight, picking the birds out long before we could see them. He spoke quietly and deeply, turning the motor down each time we spoke so we could hear each other.

On the banks, we could see various animals – it is FANTASTICALLY exciting to see your first zebra, I can tell you. Thankfully there are few buildings visible from that part of the lake, though the wondrous volcano Logondo (which we saw from our plane when we flew in) rises up on the horizon.

Then we saw our first hippo, a solitary male, making a dark ripple on the shining water. A larger group were resting in the water on some sort of mud bank, all piled on top of each other. These creatures are mostly nocturnal, live on grass (eating 67 kilos of grass each a day), and very dangerous, so we kept a safe distance.

Peter took us to a landing point and after using the bush toilet (a pee in the bushes) we set off with another guide, John, on our walking safari. This bit of land (Crescent Island) was used for filming the safari sequences in ‘Born Free’ and ‘Out of Africa’, so the grazing herds they released for the films are still there with no predators. Thus you can walk without fear through the area and get very close to the impala, waterbuck, zebras, gnu (wildebeest). In the woods we found a small group of giraffes, looking at us in curiosity. They seem to have interbred, which was not thought possible, but the markings were clearly a mixture of Rothschilds, Maasai and Reticulated.

The whole appearance of Crescent Island is most reminiscent of Hampstead Heath, with the turf sometimes worn through into bare dusty soil. (One little gulch was a distinct grey colour, very different from the bright red soils we have seen everywhere else... this is the deposited mud on the old lake bed.) The hippos range quite far from the lake each night to feed, and we could see their tracks as they tend to walk in file. There are scattered bushes, and areas of trees. We saw one or two dead carcases, the meat picked away by birds.

This area was in living memory under the waters of Lake Naivasha, but for various reasons, the normal fluctuations of waterlevel have been exceeded, maybe due to extraction for the flower farms and greenhouses further along, or maybe just ‘climate change’. The lake has clearly diminished is size by a huge amount.

During this walk, which took about an hour and half, I was moved to tears. To be so close to such beautiful animals, and they being so unafraid, was a sublime experience. Of course it is not natural. In the real world these creatures would be hunted by man (their worst predator) and subject to lions and leopards. Nonetheless, this was paradisical, for me.

John, our guide, said he had been in the Born Free film, one of the little boys who drummed to keep the lions away, and it was his grandfather who, in the film, was the lion handler. He said the whole area is getting into a partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Trust, who will give them training - it ought to be a two-way process as he himself was very very well informed about the local history, geology, wildlife, etc. The project will get some sort of certification, and ultimately theguides will be able to establish both a fee-structure for their services (voluntary at present), and also – more importantly – a scheme to include local people. This will involve further training and the whole idea of common interest – so the ordinary people can become stakeholders and learn to value these marvellous animals and places.... I do not wish to sound condescending at all, but the manifest barriers here, between the haves/have nots, the amount of barbed wire, the gap between the rich few and the many very very poor is not just shocking but potentially dangerous. Tourism is the main source of income for the country as a whole. The people we have talked to have been unfailingly polite, kind, welcoming, gentle. But there is an undeniable difference: we have money (choices), and they (to a large extent) do not. Our maid at the house, Catherine, has never been to Lake Naivasha.

I should add, on our boatride back to the resort, Peter bought a couple of fish from some guys and then, with a marvellous shrill whistling sound, summoned some fish eagles from the trees. He threw the fish out onto the water, and the eagles swooped down to scoop them up. Again, not natural, but still magnificent to see. Beautiful. We learned, not all the boatmen know how to do this, so we were lucky to have him. It also turned out, this was the same man who had taken our daughter Lucie and her boyfriend Matt out on the lake last year, and remembered them. Amazing. They remember him too, because a hippo got too close to the boat and they were afraid of a capsize.....

We came home along the lower road, with more stupendous views, this time of the volcano. The driving is terrifying. The tarmac drops off on the left to a verge of ruts and sand. The road is used indiscriminately in both directions by vehicles trying to pass the slow lorries and buses. The cars range from total jaloppies to lush new people-carriers. Driving means weaving in and out. There are monster pot holes and speed bumps. The police set up road blocks (for weekend money, says our host). Being in a car with UN plates we are not stopped, but otherwise it’s one in every twenty who are waved down. Probably 20 K shillings if you’re black, 30 if you’re white, that’s what I’m told. Pay up or go to jail. (125 Kenyan shillings to the pound).

We swam in the unheated, immaculate pool when we got home. Around us, the immaculate garden. Out there, less than a mile away, the shanty towns of corrugated iron: Posh Hotel, Jesus Saves, Best Stores, David Armchair, Mama’s, Lion Bar, more names later.... No running water, no sewarage systems.

In the evening we went to eat at Lord Errol’s, a resto run by a Swiss guy marking the ghastly life and death of Josslyn Hay, part of the so-called ‘Happy Valley’ set, murdered by who-knows in 1941. This was the same social scene which Karen Blixen, Beryl Markham, Lord Delamere etc moved in... for the most part spoiled rich sybarites, with louche manners and every kind of arrogance. No doubt they loved Kenya, and they left their mark, recreating Surrey in the hills around Nairobi, and extracting wealth.... oh dear, I am drifting here into areas I don’t know well enough to write about. Nor do I really want to know. The restaurant is in a rather lovely Australian kit house, built in a marshy bit of ground which the owner drained and made into a water-garden. You eat under cover on a large open verandah, with the tree frogs serenading you. The polished floors of the whole building are a marvel. The food was totally European in style, though I ate ostrich, which was perfectly cooked and delicious. The service was fit for royalty, including a ceremonial lifting up of silver dish covers which look like bosoms.

Today we are going to a ceremony to bless some icons which our hostess has helped various people to make in the last year or so, in her iconography classes. The religious life of the country is I think probably very interesting, ranging from unchanged Stone Age beliefs and practices to the most ‘developed’ formal religions. Catherine told us at breakfast that an American has prophesied the end of the world tomorrow at 6 o’clock and as a result a local man has sold and given away all his possessions and given sawdust to his children.

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