After roughly 24 hours of traveling and a multi-hour layover in Dubai, I finally landed in Nairobi late in the afternoon. On the way to the hotel, the driver that had been sent to pick me up gave me some background information on Nairobi and Kenya and engaged me in a political discussion covering Obama’s potential reelection, the problem of endemic corruption in Nigeria (after learning of my ethnic background), and Kenya’s own upcoming elections. We had a great conversation, and I was almost sorry to see him go when we got to the hotel. After the normal front-desk formalities, I made my way to my room, where my as yet unknown roommate had already checked in. I was anxious to settle in and figured that I had enough time to change clothes and nap before my roommate returned. I was wrong.
Just as I had pulled off my pants, the door of the room swung open. Oh, no. Of COURSE this was the first impression that I would be making. Awkward.
“Hi,” I said nervously, “I’m just changing. Sorry that my pants are down right now.”
“Oh, sorry!” she replied, “I’ll just wait here by the door until you’re done.”
Embarrassed, I hurriedly pulled my pants back on and then properly introduced myself. Things went fairly smoothly from there, thankfully. I spent the rest of the day organizing myself, getting to the know the other members of my tour group, and preparing for the following day.
After an early start the next morning, we headed out for a walking tour of Crescent Island, near Lake Naivasha. The diversity of wildlife did not disappoint: zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, waterbucks, starlings, impalas; needless to say, I could continue this list for a few more lines. What’s more, even though I was glad to have invested in my brand-spanking-new, fancy, expensive camera equipment, even the people who had only brought compact point-and-shoots were getting great shots–the animals were shockingly close to us, so close, sometimes, that you could almost reach out and touch them (although, obviously, doing so would betray a serious lack of good judgment).
Our next stop that day was nearby Lake Londiani, where we went for a boat ride. I can honestly say that this ride was the best $20 that I have ever spent. We saw hundreds upon hundreds of both greater and lesser flamingos, huddled together in groups on the surface of the lake. As our boats approached them, the birds suddenly took flight in large clusters, filling the sky with beautiful formations of pink and white. As the ride continued, we came across floating pods of drowsy, sunbathing hippos. When one of them yawned, I gleefully snapped a picture–shout-out to the awesome Hungry Hungry Hippos game from back in the day!
From there, my group headed to Elsamere, where we learned about the author of Born Free and her conservation efforts. I must admit that I did not pay much attention to the informative DVD as I was too busy going through the day’s photos. My favorites were from just before the DVD presentation began. We had been having tea and desserts, wandering the grounds, when some black-and-white colobus monkeys made their appearance.
These monkeys had no fear and had no problem being bold enough to approach us if we got in their way. In fact, one particularly cheeky monkey brushed right past a little girl from another group as it bounded onto the roof of the house. The little girl gasped but was otherwise not too unsettled; her younger sister, on the other hand, had watched the whole near-miss in horror and immediately burst into tears, probably traumatized for life. One can only hope that she won’t need therapy (or, if she does, that her parents are putting aside savings now specifically for that purpose–it would be the responsible thing to do).
The following day, we went to Lake Nakuru. Various species of birds glided on the lake’s surface, taking off from time to time as we onlookers tried our best to capture shots of the birds in flight. Farther afield, we saw prancing ostriches; zebras patiently standing in line and taking turns at a watering hole; gazelles gamboling across an open expanse of grass; a small family of baboons grooming one another; water buffalo calmly cooling off in a massive mud puddle; impalas, separated by gender, each group staring across the road dividing them towards the other group, as if they were middle schoolers at their first dance; shy white rhinos lumbering about in the distance; a group of sleepy lions; and, partially obscured by yellow-flowered bushes, a duo of leopards, silent and still at first but eventually stalking away, growling, after too much attention from the excited and awestruck amateur photographers in my group and the other groups whose vans had pulled close to take in the rare sight.
In short, my first two full days in Kenya were wonderful. We hadn’t even made it to the Masai Mara, and we had already seen four out of the Big 5: water buffalo, rhinos, lions, and (very surprisingly) leopards. After our day at Lake Nakuru, my group swapped pictures and stories amongst ourselves, marveled at our amazing good luck thus far, and kept our fingers crossed that, the next day, we would spot the last member of the Big 5: the elephant.