Off beaten roads, Kenya Safari

Off beaten roads, Kenya Safari

We were in Nairobi, and then shortly we were not. Driving into the Great Rift Valley at the start of the ‘off the beaten road, Kenya Safari,’ the face of nature quickly showed. In Naivasha, on our way to the Crescent Island, a bird of prey – the great sparrow hawk, was feeding on another bird – a cattle egret. It was a peculiar picture. Crescent Island is a private park where you get to walk with the animals.

The Lake Naivasha picture is dominated by yellow backed acacia trees here, there, everywhere, and at the Crescent Island also. The giraffe at the island park hinted at wanting close-up shots with us. They came right at us and posed. If only they could stoop. They are used to visitors.

A little elevation at Crescent Island gives a view of a big part of Lake Naivasha. I ‘read’ the droppings on the ground. They said – giraffe, mongoose, zebra, hyena, impala… There are a lot birds around Lake Naivasha. You will see them, you will hear them, and you will tick your check-list because Naivasha is one of Kenya’s best birding locations. Patched on the acacia trees the fish eagle called. The cormorant and the grey heron were there. The swamp hen was in the water. A blacksmith plover ran around as the superb starling flew about.

When you are on a walking safari and you notice the rare escort of four buffaloes, you will quickly remember the park rule that says ‘beware of wildlife, they can be unpredictable.’ You may want to do everything else apart from being calm but calmly is how we walked away from them to a different path heading for our vehicle. They walked parallel to us almost up to where the cars were. We were not running away, we had finished our safari walk at Crescent Island. They were an unexpected farewell party.

You will meet the colobus monkey in Naivasha, especially if what you have is more than a stopover. After years of meeting them, this ‘off the beaten road, Kenya Safari,’ was the tour that gave me adequate time and chance to have good pictures of the colobus monkey. They had a snow white young one. The young later grow into the adult black and white color.

The ‘off the beaten road, Kenya Safari’ went off the familiar upon leaving Naivasha for the town of Njoro. For me who had never been on a farm safari, it was new experience. Kenana farm is a full basket – a dairy farm with much to learn and explore. The Kembu cottages are where visitors stay. They are unique cottages with unique history. One of them – the Cobbs carriage, was a hardwood railway carriage now well refurbished. Another is the Beryl Markhan cottage. Built in 1914, this relocated revamped cottage is the childhood home of author and pilot – Beryl Markhan, the first woman to fly solo east to west of the Atlantic ocean.

At Kenana farm you will find Kenana Knitters. A grass root business dedicated to changing lives stitch by stitch. The Kenana Knitters’ ethos is ‘to make a significant social impact in rural Kenya by empowering women to take charge of their lives through dignified work in a safe, family-friendly working environment.’ The high quality organic handmade items made by the women at Kenana Knitters are sold in Kenya and several other countries, providing the women with an income that has improved their lives. Kenana farm was a convenient center for us for a day trip to Baringo, and then to the Masai Mara National Reserve afterwards.

I had been looking forward to my next trip to Baringo – Lake Baringo precisely. Keeping with our ‘off the beaten road, Kenya Safari’ tradition, we journeyed through farm lands on tarmac – initially not a smooth ride at all, but evening out after. It is about 130 km from Kenana farm to Baringo. Look out for the equator line on the way. We stopped for pictures at the equator sign. Ours was a day safari to travel back to Kenana later in the evening. We did not take the time to visit the official Mogotio equator point. Well made, it is also an information station.

The Marigat area has a number of tortoise crossing road signs. True to the signs, and for the second time on a Baringo safari, I made it my business to help a tortoise across the road. Trying to cross a slight elevation appeared difficult for it. I noticed that it had quite a big injury on the back. My guess – it must have been run over by a vehicle.

The Tugen Hills are on the left as you drive to Baringo. The typical roadside scenery of this arid/semi arid land is of livestock especially goats along the way, and locally made hives hanging on acacia trees and the honey thereof being sold at the roadside. Charcoal also. You will see an impressive number of termite mounds like chimneys rising from land.

Just before the kampi ya samaki turn off, a female ostrich appeared to lead the way. Male birds are better colored than the female. The female ostrich and the young are grayish brown and white. The male is black with some white. Our greeter was definitely female.

Finally! my first Lake Baringo boat tour. The jetty at kampi ya samaki is where you board the boats. We rode in speed boats but I wondered what the man on a small locally made canoe would tell about the Nile crocodiles, there – somewhere, in the water – and the hippopotamus. Our Lake Baringo guide presented us with something you may want to ask for on a boat trip there. He took us to a spot to whistle call the fish eagle. Knowing the game, two birds, one at a time, accepted to play, swiftly descending for the fish the guide threw at them. It was spectacular. Be sure that Lake Baringo will show you birds. Over 450 species are said to be there.

The faster way by boat from kampi ya samaki to the Ruko conservancy is a must take instead of the longer drive by road. The 19,000 acre Ruko conservancy is located eastern of Lake Baringo. Local community scouts take visitors on a walking tour around. Some of the rare Rothschild’s giraffe were translocated there from other parks. That, and the impala and baboon were some of what we saw. We were advised to stay away from ostriches sitting on eggs to hatch.

The desert rose flower somewhat brightened the conservancy as it did the rest of Baringo. A Ruko Conservancy visit had been on my ‘to do list’ for a while….. Maybe on another ‘off the beaten road Kenya Safari’ it would be more appealing because it was not. Probably in another season and not the dry season we visited, the Rothchild’s giraffe will be better fed.

Lake Baringo is said to have 8 islands. From Ruko conservancy our next boat ride was to Ol Kokwe Island located right in the middle of the lake. It is the largest of the Lake Baringo islands – home to the Njemps (also known as Ilchamus) community. On the southern end of Ol Kokwe is the island camp. The menu at the camp is impressive, reading much like any other the elegant hotel.

One of the Lake Baringo islands had hot water springs, another had cows. We asked how they got there and apparently they were made to swim – close to 2 km from the lake shore for pasture. They would be the only dwellers there for a while.  We missed the local cultural and history experience of the Njemps, Tugen, Pokot, Turkana and other communities in Baringo.

Rough road with a lot of dry spell dust is what we experienced on the drive from Njoro, through the Mau Narok, to Narok. It was an adventurous, absolutely ‘off the beaten road route that eventually got us to the Masai Mara National Reserve. In the Mara, there is always something everywhere. The plains game just cannot hide. They are always there – easy mark for the pick of the carnivores.  On our first game drive on this ‘Kenya Safari’ we found a cheetah having had a big meal of one of the grazers. We always look forward to the hunting chase so when my colleague radio called about a leopard stalking, we rushed there, of-course keeping within the park speed limits. However, the leopard was young, hunting ‘un-seriously,’ attempting, but never really going all out for it.

Cows still lying in their enclosures in the Masai homesteads meant that it was early- a cloudy dawn. We were on a morning game drive. You can choose to set off early enough in Kenya parks. Spread out against the Masai Mara sunrise – the zebra, a few wildebeest, impala, warthog, topi. The lions were also up but not yet looking to eat.

We saw the groups. A big number of ostrich on the second day afternoon game drive. Before our arrival, it had rained – desperately needed rain. A herd of elephants still enjoyed a pool of rain water on our day 3. We found them on our way from a visit to a Masai village – a colorful occasion. In Masai Mara, remember to ask for this experience of song and dance.

We spotted the loners. On our way to see a cheetah family feast, a serval cat emerged out of the camouflaging yellow grass. It can be fairly rare to spot a serval cat. We stayed with it. Meanwhile, voluntarily, the cheetah’s kill passed on to two silver backed jackals. A hyena appeared to claim a share, and not politely. The little that was left for the vultures caused a scramble. Masai Mara has things going on. Follow the Mara River; it can get busy and dramatic. We found the Nile crocodiles in the Mara River almost as big as they were during the wildebeest migration season. The river is also home to healthy hippos.

The last day of the off the beaten roads, Kenya Safari was all about taking in the landscape, the flora – scattered trees, the Oloololo escarpment – a 400m slope widely seeable. Masai Mara National Reserve can boast of having shown us plenty on this ‘off the beaten road, Kenya Safari.’ We can brag of having spotted the legendary lion Scarface, and clan. The rhino, black rhino, probably watched us from a distance somewhere. It eluded us.

Off Photo Credit – Kenana Knitters Pictures –

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