The day started with an early rise and departure on to our next destination – Sweetwaters Tented Camp just outside the town of Nanyuki. We retraced our tracks part of the way back toward Nairobi before turning off onto a dirt road for 30km of “free Kenyan massage” as our guide Godfrey liked to call the countless miles of unpaved tarmac.
On our way we were able to stop at a school and interact with the kids and teachers. The school has been open for about one year, and we were their first visitors from outside the area. The principal, Patrick, eagerly rummaged through a box of supplies from which he produced a guest book for us to sign and write in. The kids were SO EXCITED and happy to see us. We were able to tour the classrooms and experience the environment the children learn in.
There were three classrooms within a single concrete building, positioned in the middle of a dirt field. Each classroom had four to five wooden desks that the kids would share – about 17 kids per classroom. On each of the walls were chalkboards covered in pictures, letters, numbers, and words. Nothing fancy and very simple. We were told that education has become very important and that those who go to school learn English (it seemed as though most people spoke English).
Justin and I had brought along a few soccer balls and red playground ball that we were able to give to the school. The balls were welcome replacements for a pile of 4-5 deflated balls in the corner, and a refreshing alternative to the old motorcycle tires that the kids had been rolling around the playground during recess. We also gave the teachers a map of the United States for the classroom and showed them where we are from. Ann and Bob had a bunch of bracelets, glasses, toys, crayons, and coloring books that they handed out. The kids really seemed to enjoy the fun glasses. It was so heart warming to see their faces and looks of pure joy. It’s amazing what we take for granted here in the US.
Once we said our goodbyes and left the school, we had a short 20-minute drive to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy game park and our destination for the night: Sweetwaters Tented Camp. When we pulled up it was instantly jaw dropping and very authentic. Large grassy areas with beautiful yellow fever acacia trees spread throughout the property. We were greeted by a very cheerful crew of people and accompanied to our tent. This was definitely a “glamping” experience. We had a gorgeous view of the watering hole and savannah, and were able to watch a variety of animals, including a charming giraffe, graze around the area all from the comfort of our tent.
The restaurant and food at this resort were quite spectacular, with a buffet style that catered to a variety of taste buds and palates. We had lunch, enjoyed some down time, and headed out on our afternoon game drive.
At the beginning of the drive we were able to stop at a Chimpanzee sanctuary that was founded by Jane Goodall. It was quite interesting walking around and learning about the chimpanzees, most of which had been rescued at some point in their lives from the entertainment industry, circuses, cages, and other inhumane situations.
Along our drive we came upon a male and female lion that were lying on the side of the road, only feet away. Godfrey explained that they had just finished mating and would do so again, as they mate about 20 times per day (poor female). As we were getting ready to drive away, the lions decided to put on a show and mated again right in front of us. It was quite interesting, to say the least.
Continuing on, we crossed paths with a black rhino (very endangered species) and were able to see a cheetah and her cub stalk, chase, and kill a gazelle. It was an adrenaline pumping experience for us all, and one that took about 30 minutes of slow and deliberate stalking for what amounted to an 8-second chase and kill.
Our time at Sweetwaters was a bit short and we all agreed that we could have stayed a few more days. The tents were comfortable (they even put large hot water bottles under the comforter during turn down service to combat the cool evening temperatures at 6,000 feet above sea level) and the environment just felt like home. Unfortunately, after breakfast we had to pack up and get on our way to our next destination five hours away – the Sopa Lodge at Lake Naivasha.
On our way we stopped at the equator and watched a fascinating demonstration about the earth’s rotation. One entrepreneurial local who called himself “Professor McKenzie” proceeded to give us a demonstration using a pitcher of water, a large funnel, and a matchstick. Just 20 feet north of the equator, the match spun clockwise as the funnel drained into the pitcher. 20 feet south of the equator, the match spun counterclockwise. And right on the equator, the match didn’t rotate at all.
After some souvenir shopping at the equator stop, we were back on the road and had some time to make up. Unfortunately, we were met with a minor delay when a simple inspection station (they are common all over the roads there, and are intended to keep unsafe vehicles off the roads) with a braggadocious police officer put a wrinkle in our plans. The officer called into question the safety of one of the tires, as well as the reflective signs on the back of the vehicle, and wanted a $5,000 schilling (about $60) bribe in exchange for allowing us to proceed on our journey.
Corruption is rampant in Kenya, but our guide Godfrey is a man of integrity and was unwilling to pay the bribe out of principle and because it would only perpetuate the problem. Besides, tourism is vital to Kenya’s economy and tourists, while not immune to the law, are generally not supposed to be detained for such minor infractions (whether valid or not) while on safari. While driving to the police station to settle the matter, Godfrey called the Kenyan Tourism Police on his UHF radio. Once we drove back to the police station, he called the KTP on his cell phone (a whole other story…I can’t even get service everywhere in Bend, but cell phones work EVERYWHERE in Kenya) and the chancellor of the organization gave the police officer a stern talking to. That put a quick end to what had become a 90-minute delay, and we were finally back on our way.
The property extends out to Lake Naivasha, a huge lake that is home more than 400 species of birds and thousands of hippos. At this particular resort, they warn all guests of hippos and water buffalo (the most dangerous animal in Africa), both of which can pose a threat. Although hippos are vegetarians, they are territorial and will charge/stomp to kill. After dark the hippos come out of the water and onto the property grounds, where they graze on the grass throughout the night. Thus, after dinner we had to be escorted by a guard for safety. We were able to see the hippos both in water and late at night from our balcony. Boy, are they remarkable creatures.
One of the security guards actually took Justin and I on a private walk “off the beaten path” to show us the hippos and teach us a bit about their lifestyle. The guard’s name was Kapatipu and he grew up in the Masai Mara, but now works at the resort. He told us his age (28 years old) and about his wife and two young kids whom still live in one of the Masai villages. His work requires him to stay and live at the resort for 3 months at a time, allowing him 7-10 days in between to go home and be with his family. It is tough to imagine this lifestyle, but apparently it is normal in Kenya – a way of life that they feel very fortunate to have.
Another exciting moment was watching the giraffes roaming and eating around the grounds of the resort. As Justin and I were making our way to dinner, four giraffes passed right in front of us, including a baby. They were so beautiful to watch and their movements seemed very Dr. Seuss like. Watching them run was even more impressive as it looks as though their legs should break with each step – yet they are very graceful. I am still amazed that we were only feet away from these magnificent creatures.
The best is yet to come…