Marsabit to Nakuru

Nakuru National Reserve

After three weeks in Ethiopia we left Addis Ababa and crossed into Kenya. Exiting Ethiopia had taken us hours, luckily entering Kenya we found a very different situation. The two official languages of Kenya are Swahili and English, so we found the workers at the border crossing’s English to be superb. The country has been independent from Great Britain for 51 years and has a much more western feel to it than the countries we had visited in Africa to that point. On the cork board a sign was up reading, “Either build your dreams or you’ll work for someone building theirs.” Reading any saying in English, much less an inspirational quote was a welcome relief from the month and a half of hearing broken English and reading poorly translated signs.

Getting through the border was quick and easy and we drove on to a border town named Marsabit to get some supplies for the truck. During our stop Sissy and I headed into a convenience store expecting a tiny room filled with mediocre cookies and maybe a few chocolate bars if we were lucky since the past month had conditioned us to expect that. When we walked in we were greeted by a larger shop than expected that was lined with things we hadn’t seen since Egypt (and some since Germany). There was Cadbury Chocolate, yogurt, lots of American candy, and juice among tons of other things, which was a very pleasant surprise. We headed off to our camp as we still had a ways to go and it was getting a bit late in the day.

We found Camp Henry just after dark and were pleasantly surprised that it had warm showers. We were the only people at the camp on a very windy night, so we set up our tents next to a wall to block some wind and had a shower while dinner was being cooked. On the trip we take turns making dinner, luckily Sissy and I were off that night so a warm shower and relaxing a bit was nice, plus the camp had wifi for the first time we’d had it in four or five days so we got to catch up with the outside world a bit.

The next morning we headed back to Marsabit to grab some last minute supplies, and since our bowl of cornflakes didn’t hold us over very well, Sissy and I went to a restaurant for a second breakfast. We were pleasantly surprised when we were asked to pay $1.80 US for our French toast and omelet. We jumped back on the truck and settled in for a long drive day. Along the way we saw locals wearing more and more traditional clothes, with large beaded neck coverings and carrying large sticks around. Our camp was just outside of Samburu National Reserve and was right along a river.

Samburu
Our camp outside of Samburu National Reserve at sunrise.

Samburu

The next morning we woke up early and hopped on our truck to drive into the reserve for a safari. The drive took about five minutes to get to the park entrance, and once we entered we were met with tons of wildlife. We expected to see zebras, elephants, and long necked gazelles, which as the name implies, are gazelles with giraffe-like necks. We saw each of these soon after entering, along with dik diks, which are the world’s smallest member of the deer family and are the size of a small dog, impala, and water bucks. As we moved along we spotted a few giraffe in the distance when our guide got a call telling him there were lions with a kill in the distance.

Samburu National Reserve
A lone giraffe stood in the open as we made our way to see tons more.
Impala Samburu
A couple of dueling impala that we saw as we entered the park.

We took off to where he was told the lions were and sure enough, under a scrubby tree there were two lionesses eating a fresh kill. We watched them chew away for a while, hoping they’d come out to say hi, but we ended up needing to be content with our view of them hiding under the tree. We drove onward to the river where we found tons of giraffes and elephants taking turns crossing and drinking their fill. After watching the animals for a bit we headed to a lodge in the park for a bit and found the grounds to be amazing. There were vervets running around near the river, with beautiful cabins along the edge. We asked the price per night out of curiosity and were told $300.

Samburu Lion
One of the lionesses eating their recent kill under a tree.
Samburu Elephant
One of the many elephants we saw in Samburu.
Giraffe Samburu
A giraffe wandering toward an acacia tree on our safari.

We drove out of the park and back to our campsite where we decided to clean our truck from top to bottom for the first time in our month and a half of travels. We scrubbed the truck inside and out, and pulled out every plate, spoon, fork, and knife to be cleaned. I commented to Sissy that Mexican food sounded amazing as we cleaned, but didn’t think much of it. After an hour and a bit Calypso was beautiful again and we were surprised with a Mexican dinner that a few of our travel companions made! It was my favorite dinner out of the 50 or so we had to that point, and I slept very well that night.

Naro Moru

The next morning we slept in a bit and headed off to our next stop, Naro Moru around 8am. We had been told how nice the campsite would be, and that it would be a much needed break after our tough northern portion of the trip through Africa. When we arrived we were greeted by a fancy lodge, some very aged and a bit torn up tennis courts, and a nice pool all being looked over by Mt. Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa. Our campsite turned out to be a field of dry grass a bit away from the nice lodge, and upgrades from our tents to rooms were pricey at $24 for a dorm bed or $107 for a twin room. We set up our tent and headed to the lodge to grab a beer and swim in the pool. Interestingly the charge to swim in the pool was $2 per person, which wasn’t a lot of money, but a bit annoying as we were paying to camp there already. We’d quickly learn that at the Naro Moru River Lodge everything had a price. Swimming was $2, using the torn up tennis court was $10, the squash court was also $10, and a piece of firewood was $5.

Mt. Kenya
Naro Moru lies in the shadow of Mt. Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain.

After a brisk and very brief swim in the pool as the water was icy cold, we inquired about the local caves we had read about, the Mau Mau caves. We decided we’d visit them the next day, and lounged around for the remainder of that day.

The next day we set off for the Mau Mau caves in the morning, excited to see what we had read about. I have a bit of a soft spot for caves, so I was very excited to read what Wikipedia had told me were, “Caves used in the resistance against the British Army in the liberation of Kenya from colonialism. There were 200 fighters killed in the caves and their remains are still inside today.” After 45 minutes of confusion between the two drivers and guides, we headed off on the half hour drive. We paid our $6 entry fee to the guide, who went into a random looking house, and came back out with a receipt of sorts for us. We walked another 5 minutes up the road and descended down into a forested area.

Mau Mau Caves
Sissy heading to the Mau Mau caves under the dense forest.

Before reaching the caves our guides pointed out a “tree rat”, which looked like a large otter, just down from the path. As we walked up to the caves we saw a wide opening in the cliff and a bit of trash strewn about the entrance. Our guides told us that the caves were named after the Mau Mau fighters that first resisted British colonialism and fought their way to an independent country by 1963. They told us that this particular cave had been used as a hospital during the fight, and was constantly under threat since some locals were employed as spies for the British.

We crouched down and waddled into the cave with bats flapping around and flying past our heads. Our headlamps illuminated a crevice we could walk in while slightly hunched over as the rest of the cave was too short to do anything but crawl in. After about 20 meters we reached the end of the cave and turned back around. Outside we were led down the path a bit further and shown an area where a British bomb had been dropped from a plane and destroyed some of the cliff side. Disappointed in the tour, I began to doubt if these were the same caves we had read about, but regardless we headed back to camp a bit dejected.

After lunch we decided to walk along a nature trail that was at the camp, which was supposed to be a half hour walk past a river and through some local scenery. We walked along the trail for a while, but only saw scrubby brush and dead grass. We finally came along some type of outdoor workout course, and I got to see just how out of shape a few months without working out had made me. I huffed and puffed through some pull ups, dips, and push ups, and we headed back to camp for the evening.

Nakuru

The next day we drove on to Nakuru, which is a bustling city of 300,000 on the edge of Lake Nakuru and Nakuru National Park. We were pleasantly surprised by the camp we stopped at, Punda Milias Nakuru Camp. Inside the large security gate we found big green grassy fields shaded by trees and multiple covered areas with sinks installed. We were asked if we wanted to see the optional bandas (part tent part room structures) or cottages, so we figured we might as well look. The bandas were nice with a bunk bed in each and power to them, and the upgrade price was $6 per person. While they were nice, we didn’t feel compelled to upgrade. The manager then offered to show us a cottage, so we followed along down a long path, past a small swimming pool, to a hidden round house that was absolutely beautiful. The sign on the house read, “Hippo House” and just below it was a large hippo skull.

Munda Milias Nakuru
Our house for the night, the Hippo House!

Walking inside we were met with a good sized living room with a built in kitchen, then walked through a set of double doors to the large master bedroom. The en-suite bathroom had large conch shells along the floor and a hot shower. I asked how much it would cost, knowing we couldn’t afford it, when the manager answered that for us it’d only be 3,000 Kenyan shillings. The conversion to the dollar is about 100 to 1, so we were amazed to hear it was only $30 for a night. We said we’d take it and settled into our new home for the night. Later that evening we had an amazing dinner which the camp provided in their on-site restaurant before heading to bed early as we had booked a safari for early the next morning.

Punda Milias Nakuru
The master bedroom just beyond the living room.

We grabbed some breakfast around 6am and jumped into the waiting Land Cruiser fifteen minutes later to head into the national park. A traveler had told us back at Samburu that he had seen the big five in Nakuru (lion, cape buffalo, elephant, rhino, and the elusive leopard), so we were excited to start the trip. When we got to the entrance of the park we paid our $80 each for the entrance fee and headed in. On the way in one of our fellow travelers called out, “Rhino!” however it ended up being a metal cutout of a rhino built into the fence.

Metal rhinos aside, we ventured around for hours seeing baboons, tons of flamingos, crested cranes, zebras everywhere, giraffe, warthogs, and our first rhinos of the trip. Around midday we stopped for lunch at the main lodge in the park and found another beautiful lodge with a restaurant overlooking the pool and the park behind it. We saw baboons running by, rhino in the far distance, and zebras while we ate outstanding food that set us back about $5 each. A member of our group explained how a mocha was made, and we all fueled up on mochas – we even shared one with the waitress as she didn’t know what it was despite having offered them to us!

Nakuru National Reserve
One of a few cape buffalo skulls on the edge of Lake Nakuru.
Nakuru National Reserve
Flamingos lined the shores of the lake.

Over the next few hours we saw even more wildlife with plenty of impala, water bucks, and gazelles joining the other wildlife we had seen. Our driver was radioed that there were lions ahead, so we took off to spot them, only to come across a lioness lying in very high grass a ways off. We could make out that she was there, but only barely, and after a bit we drove forward in search of leopards. About 100 meters away from the lion sighting our driver stopped and pointed out and area to our left. A lioness was making her way across an opening not too far away, and heading to where the other lioness was. We drove back to see if we could get a better look, and to our delight she stopped at the bottom of a tree, looked around, and jumped up onto a branch. She climbed along the branch for a bit, finally resting near the top of the tree to escape the afternoon heat.

Nakuru National Reserve
The lioness that climbed the tree next to us as she lay to escape the heat.

We watched the lion in the tree for quite some time before moving on, where we ended up seeing the group of white rhino we had seen before lunch walking along the edge of the lake. We spent the next few hours searching for leopards when I asked our guide, “How many leopards are in the park?” He responded with, “Four or five” which was not the number we wanted to hear over such a large area with big areas that couldn’t be driven through. We continued the search in vain and left the park after some time to head to our next destination, a large volcanic crater we had been told about.

Nakuru National Park
A few of the large group of white rhinos that walked by us near the lake.

A member of our group had been able to add the crater onto our existing drive for an extra $5 per person, which was great since that day trip would’ve been much more had we booked it separately. When we arrived at the crater about half an hour after leaving the park we were a bit disappointed by what lay in front of us. We were more on what appeared to be a mountaintop than the rim of a crater, however you could make out feint walls along the valley below that did in fact show that this was a volcanic crater once upon a time. There were a few geothermal plants in the area, drawing on the energy of the million year old caldera, but if you had stumbled upon the place accidentally I’m not sure anyone would think, “Hey, that’s a volcano crater.”

Nakuru
The view from the rim of the crater looked more like a valley than a crater.
Kenya Sign
The sign at the top of the crater showed that a month and a half into our trip we were under half way to Capetown before our detour to Rwanda.

Despite the lack of magnificence of the crater, we all had a great day and happily paid our $20 each to our driver back at the camp. We had been told there would be a group of 85 staying at the camp that night for a team building exercise for a local real estate company. By the time we got to the camp they were all there, some already at the bar helping themselves to some beer. We had another amazing dinner at the camp restaurant and finished just before the large group was set to start theirs. As the night wore on the restaurant became louder and louder, and someone from the realtors group put up a very large boom box for karaoke.

We went to bed around 9pm or so, which had become normal for us due to the 5am wake ups we had become used to, however we continued to hear music blaring and poor versions of Lady Gaga songs being sung until we finally slept. We were awoken around 2am with music still blaring and some disturbance coming from a member of our group partying a bit much with the other group. We slept again for a bit until around 3:30am we heard more commotion from the other group and some cars leaving the campsite accompanied by some yelling. Needless to say we were a bit tired the next day.

Rubbing sleep from our eyes we set off on a nature hike in a conservancy just outside the camp fence with a few members of our group and a local guide. On our walk we came across zebras, giraffe, impala, and water bucks, however all were a bit skittish and minus a few giraffe, they tended to run whenever we got remotely close. I asked our guide why they ran so quickly since in some places you can get right next to the same animals and they don’t mind. He informed us that poachers were common in the conservancy which led the animals to fear humans.

Giraffe Nakuru
Sissy checking out some of the giraffe in the distance.

After our hike while eating lunch the manager of the camp came by, apologized for the previous night, and told us that we could all upgrade into bandas or rooms at no cost. We immediately settled back into the hippo house, very happy to be back in such a great room. The manager had told us the night before that the normal rate for the house was 130,000 UGS, or $130, but his co-manager had mistakenly given it to us for $30, when he was supposed to have made us a deal at $50. We were very happy to pay $30 for two nights in the end and slept very well that night.

The next day we reluctantly bid farewell to Punda Milias, to Nakuru, and to Kenya as we had a long drive day ahead of us to get to the border of Uganda and then onto our ultimate destination for the day, Jinja. We would be back in Kenya later, after spending time in Uganda and Rwanda, but for now we settled in for an almost 17 hour day of driving and sitting at the border to Uganda. It would have been a simple exit from Kenya and entrance to Uganda but our driver was almost arrested due to an insurance misunderstanding, and then the Ugandan border control was out of ink for their printer, which resulted in another hour delay. Luckily Uganda had the source of the Nile, zip lining into the river, tons more monkeys, and great food in store for us, check it out!