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Lake Nakuru: One final game drive

I have a secret to tell. Something that fills me with immense shame. Here it goes.

By the time we reached Kenya, I was kind of over safaris.

It feels good to finally get that out there. Those of you who’ve been with me from the beginning might remember a certain starry eyed overlander who said she would never tire of seeing elephants up close. I stand by that, because even in Kenya every elephant forced me to have to pause and catch my breath. I guess what I’m saying is I just didn’t have the same level of excitement about going our all day game drive around Lake Nakuru as I did way back in Etosha. I’d been spoilt, plain and simple!

Lake Nakuru National Park is famous for its flamingos, and although my friends back home will smile knowingly upon reading that. However, I’ve somehow managed to log 7 months of travels without alluding to my flamingo obsession. This particular game drive drive also happened to be our last real wildlife spotting opportunity of the trip. So with the promise of vast quantities if flamingos, and a leopard sighting still eluding me, I joined the others in the wee hours of the morning and headed off on our very last game drive.

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Lake Nakuru had experienced some big floods in the lead up to our visit, so a lot of areas were off limits. One of the entrance gates was still actually underwater! But it’s a beautiful park, and well worth a visit no matter how jaded an animal enthusiast you’ve become.

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We didn’t see a leopard, and the flamingos, though plentiful, turned out to be tiny blips on the horizon of my zoom lens. But what we did see was spectacular.

We saw lions, with all their exuding power and pride.

We saw rhino in numbers far greater than we’d been blessed to see this whole trip.

We saw not one, not two, but an entire pack of hyenas. We saw baboons harassing unsuspecting tourists whilst they tried to picnic. We saw some truly unique bird life (we’re all birders these days). We even saw two giraffes, duking it out, crashing their necks together in violent dance. Who needs a leopard when you’ve been lucky enough to see all that?

 

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Kenya dig it?

See what I did there? Eh? Eh?

Crossing the border into Kenya, I had the very really feeling that this would be our last taste of the Africa I’d so fallen in love with. Ethiopia and Sudan would be unlike anywhere we’d been so far, and I felt the desperate need to latch onto and savour this crazy, colourful, chaos that had become my home.

In the lead up to our time in Kenya there were numerous bombings in Nairobi. Suffice it to say there were a few nervous overlanding parents scattered across the globe. The reality of the mood in Kenya, however, was starkly different to the western media’s portrayal. Beyond the odd metal detector and car boot check as we made our way into shopping centres, there was very little to give away what the city had been going through.

I must admit, I was immediately divided in my opinions of Kenya and whether it would have a lasting place in my heart. I struggled with the blatant wealth divide, which was more obvious here than anywhere else on our trip. Later on in our Kenyan travels we would enjoy a $45 meal right across the highway from the largest slum in Africa and that divide would really hit home.

Kenya’s general affluence means that it’s not a cheap place to travel. It is a playground for wealthy tourists, boasting some of Africa’s premium safari offerings – I’m talking glamping on crack, none of this overlanding business. It lacks, I think, some of the make-do charm of its neighbouring countries. The upside, however, is that there is no shortage of things to do and see. There’s a tonne of fun to be had and I could easily have doubled my time in Kenya without managing to cross off everything on my wish list.

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Photo by my dear friend Sonja Haeni

 

Our first campsite may have been one of my all time favourites, had it not been the mosquito camp from hell. It was a sweet little spot called Dunga Hill. The aforementioned hill overlooked Lake Victoria, and was topped with a grand old tree decorated in fairy lights. The perfect spot to take in sunset beers and the Football World Cup. Sadly, it was in fact the mosquito camp from hell, so one beer was enough before I scurried to the relative safety of my tent. A lovely, if somewhat itchy start to our Kenyan adventures.

We were warned that it was quite common for hippos to venture into the campsite at night, something which had Lottie and me a little nervous given our last hippo encounter in Botswana (also known as ‘That time we got charged by a hippo and somehow lived to tell the tale’). Fortunately, this overlander had lost any sense of propriety ages ago and had her undies strung up all over the campsite. If that wasn’t going to scare hippos away, nothing would!

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Uganda: Bed Rest and Booze Cruises

It seemed my body was ready to crash by the time we got to Uganda. It held out just long enough to tick the Mountain Gorillas off the ol’ bucket list before things started heading down hill. It’s hard to say for sure what tipped me over the edge, but I have a sneaking suspicion our play date with the kids at Lake Bunyoni was one hell of a germ party!

I took some serious time out at our next stop in Kampala. While the rest of the group sought out a cinema and bowling alley, I spent the day curled up on the couch watching storms clouds roll in over the outskirts of the city.

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The next couple of days are a bit of a blur of snot, coughing fits, bed rest, and a whole lot of self pity. Luckily we were camping at the most bizarrely modern hostel you could imagine. A huge two story complex complete with hot showers, lap pool, sprawling green lawns, and its own wood fire pizza restaurant. In the suburbs of Kampala of all places! Naturally, I managed to heal just in time to join the rest of the group on a booze cruise to celebrate Nick’s 30th birthday. What can I say, where there’s a booze cruise will there’s a way.

Jinja, our next stop, is famous for two things: white water rafting and booze cruising. Nick’s birthday was the final one of the trip so we felt kind of obligated to make it one to remember (or not, as the case may be). Not that this group of riff raff needed much coaxing in any situation where a bar tab is concerned. The cruise lasted a mere two hours, but I can only assume that we were stuck in a time vortex, because while we boarded with a civilised level of birthday cheer, we elited two hours later on a whole other level of “party”.

For the sake of everyone’s dignity, I’ll allow what happened on the booze cruise to stay on the booze cruise, and share some of the earlier and somewhat classier photos of the evening.

The two days that followed were filled with little more than rest and relaxation – exactly what I needed as I suspect Nick’s birthday took me a few steps backward in my recovery. Most of our group elected to go white water rafting, but despite throwing myself from as many heights as possible so far in Africa, I drew the line at potential death by rocks and/or drowning. I spent my day instead wandering out to the local village in search of a Nutella chipati and getting my eyebrows done in the local “salon”, which I’m pretty sure was just the nice young lady’s bedroom floor (luckily, her eyebrow game was on point).

For the record, everyone came back raving about the rafting. By all accounts it was money well spent. For the less adrenaline-seeking junkies reading, you will be happy to know that you can still enjoy the Nile just as much from the banks of Jinja. I mean look that view!

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Jinja was our final stop in Uganda, before we made our way to the Kenyan border. Sadly I didn’t get to explore Uganda anywhere as much as I would have liked to but sometimes you have to listen to your body, right? What little I did see though was more than enough for the country to etch it’s way into my heart. From the idyllic mountain scenery, to the beautiful kids, to the mighty Nile – it’s easy to see why Uganda is such a favourite on the East African travel scene.

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Did I mention you can cross the equator in Uganda?!