Lake Bogoria and Lake Baringo…
It was worth the drive, the thousands of flamingos in the lake. Pink and white just some metres away – against the backcloth of the rocky bushy escarpment. Getting closer, the flamingos took to the sky. Flying, they were all the more picture perfect. Lake Bogoria has lately become one of the few places in Kenya to see large numbers of these migratory birds. It was one of the reasons we set off in that direction after my visitors had toured other parks both in Kenya and across the border.
A Baringo tour is off the usual safari circuit – a different kind of safari. When you are looking at crocodiles playing statue – log like, a little visible above the water, with the hippos not so far away, and then you are in a boat – hopefully a speed boat, heading for one of the several islands in the water – that is Lake Baringo for you.
It is roughly a four hour drive from Nairobi to Baringo, and having had a night stopover in Nakuru, we only had half the distance to go. Nakuru towards Baringo is mostly farmland but the allures of our safari began at the equator. As if the “you are crossing the equator” sign is not uncommon enough, a short drive later there is the road sign warning of tortoise crossing. That was plenty of direction for us to stop and find out, and sure enough we met a heavy bell hind tortoise (yes we lifted it…..a little “help” from the road side)
The Baringo semi – arid vegetation is mostly acacia and grassland. Several years ago, the prosopis julifora locally known as “mathenge” was introduced to the area to add to the vegetation cover. When you arrive in Baringo, goats and sheep will be grazing. Honey vendors have their stands by the road side with their traditional bee hives hanging on trees not far away. Termites have also done their thing there – building “skyscrapers” in many places.
We traveled with the cool cloudy signs of the expected elnino – very much unlike the hot Baringo climate. This however did not dampen the super hot water springs and geysers in Lake Bogoria. It is a common practice to do some “cookery” there and we were no exception with our eggs that boiled in seven minutes.
Lake Bogoria occupies most part of the Lake Bogoria National Reserve. The geysers in the park were more than they currently are but have been covered by rising water levels. Contrary, reduced water levels uncover the geysers. Going up and down the escarpment road to the lake shore, it is plain to see the old road below also covered with water.
The saline, alkaline, shallow (about 10 m deep) Lake Bogoria has good feed for the flamingos. Both the lesser and greater flamingo inhabit the lake although the greater flamingo are fewer. It can be tricky to tell the two types apart at a glance, in a flock. The lesser flamingo is the smaller of the two with more black on the beak. The greater flamingo has more pink on the beak with a little black towards the tip.
The two local boys we chatted with by the shores of lake spoke from adventurous experience. They said a river flows into the lake from the escarpment. Lake Bogoria is said to be fed by river Sandai, river Esmos and a number of springs. We asked about big cats and the boys knowing the lake neighborhood like the back of their hand – perhaps going there every day, shared that somewhere in the escarpment there are leopards. We had already seen Zebras, Impalas, the rare greater kudu. The park’s grasslands and acacia woods also host warthogs, baboons, dikdiks, buffaloes, and hyenas.
Lake Bogoria and Lake Baringo 35km apart – have more differences than similarities. While Bogoria is salty and alkaline sitting on a volcanic location, Lake Baringo is one of Kenya’s fresh water lakes. The boat ride I went on (my first on the lake), led to the devil’s island – a rocky island with a variety of birds, acacia trees, and cut out paths for visitors to explore. The local community believes that the island is a haunted place hence it remains uninhabited.
On the other hand, ol Kokwe island – the largest of the nine islands in Lake Baringo is well inhabited and is best known as home to the njemps community. Located in the middle of the lake, the ol kokwe island even has a school and a dispensary. The exclusive island camp on the southern end of ol kokwe can be the ideal place to spend a night or two or enjoy a meal on a day excursion. The Tumbili Cliff Lodge situated on an elevated rocky hill at the edge of Lake Baringo is the best overlook to the goings on in the cool waters. Cool waters of which are said to have turbulent moments – waves – depending on the weather conditions.
Lake Baringo pairs well with the sun – more so with the sunset, for that perfect picture that is never the same from one day to the next, and if you are lucky, the silhouette of a fisherman on a boat will complete the set for a sunset picture to boast of. One thing the local boatmen like to show off is their prowess at calling the fish eagle from a distance with a fish offer. The bird knows to come acrobatically – swooping down to grab the prize.
That the Baringo lake areas are favorable birding locations is without doubt. 470 bird species have been recorded in the region. The water birds around Lake Baringo include – the goliath heron, pied kingfisher, and African fish eagle. We went on an early morning bird walk to the cliffs off Lake Baringo and saw the sungrouse, nightjar, woodpecker – savannah birds.
A Baringo safari is unquestionably a cultural safari. Living there are several culturally rich pastoral communities – the Tugen, Njemps who are close relatives of the Masai, the Pokot, Endorois, Turkana, Kalenjin. The Kabarnet National Museum shows the cultures of these resident people. The Kipsaraman Community Museum and local community cultural centres are some of the places to learn local history and culture. Farther towards pokot, you will see the locals dressed in their catchy traditional dress and ornaments.
There are places I owe a visit in Baringo. Just North of Lake Bogoria we passed by the Kesubo Swamp encircled by papyrus – it is said to have birds unlike any other space. The scenic Ruko Community Wildlife Conservancy on the eastern side of Lake Baringo is a park with some wildlife – the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe was re-introduced there. I learned that a lake 94 got formed after the 1994 elnino somewhere off the beaten road between Lake Bogoria and Lake Baringo. All of these I hope to find out on my next safari there.
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