Saturday, March 22, 2014

Expedition to Lake Nakuru National Park

March 18th
At seven am sharp we all piled into our land cruisers and began the long journey to Lake Nakuru national park. Everyone was so sleepy that the car was basically silent for a couple hours as people attempted to catch up on much needed hours of sleep. Daniel Kaaka was our driver and he did a wonderful job of keeping those of us who couldn’t sleep entertained. I, of course, took advantage of the quiet for a quick cat nap. We stopped at several places on the way to Nakuru but the most memorable was a little strip of stores. It was there that we all grabbed our roll of toilet paper from the car and headed hesitantly into the local bathroom. Sure enough, it was a hole in the floor surrounded by unidentified liquid, most likely from patrons that used the stalls before us. I rolled up my pant legs and popped a squat (When in Africa right?). Afterwards I got the opportunity to purchase a hot dog (kind of) and a mocha milkshake! That thing was so delicious; the hot dog was a little weird and I found out later that it was actually a chicken hot dog. Regardless it was a nice dose of American food (or dessert, whatever).
                After the full ten hour drive (yes ten), we finally got to our home for the next week!! On the drive into the park we actually witnessed a leopard slinking away into the brush! Apparently it is extremely rare to see them in the wild so we all took that as a good sign for the week to come. At the camp we were given two bandas for all the girls so I had twelve roommates for the week; it was kind of like summer camp. There was a lot of snoring happening so not a lot of us were able to sleep well but it didn’t slow anyone down in the least. Anna and I smushed our beds together and somehow arranged our mosquito nets so that we could kind of snuggle each night. It was a nice change from the solo twin beds back at KBC. Of course, I had to get used to her hand reaching out in the dark in an attempt to find my hand! Not ready to sleep yet, I was wandering the compound with a few other students when our flashlight caught something in its yellow glow. Staring back at us, no more than twenty feet from the fence, was a pair of glowing feline eyes. A female lioness was barely visible in the black shroud of nightfall but we could make out her sleek form as she slowly paced away from us. It was then that it finally sunk in that we were living in the middle of a national park for a week!
                On the first day we had a field lecture on invasive plant species in Lake Nakuru National Park. Of course, it’s difficult to get thirty college kids who love wildlife to think about plants in a national park…Somehow we made it through with decent notes in hand. After that we had the privilege of listening to a guest lecture by one of the senior researchers in the park, who was a woman (which made all us girls feel pretty empowered). It was interesting to finally have a tangible park to compare with the Amboseli Ecosystem. Especially because Nakuru is a fenced park, whereas Amboseli is not; this makes for some drastic differences in the local ecosystem. Later that night we finally got to go on a game drive! We basically got to just drive around looking for any animals we could find. The next morning we had a field exercise with Kiringe where we got to drive around and count animals again. We were lucky enough to witness a troop of baboons scatter due to some unseen predator stalking them.
                Every single night we got to have a game drive simply for the purpose of trying to see new wildlife. It was nice to sort of be a tourist and not have to worry about counting all the animals we saw for academics or anything. It was on one of these game drives that we actually saw our first group of lions!! We were driving along and I noticed a bloody carcass on the ground. When I mentioned it to the group they all turned their attention in that direction. It was then that someone saw the lions, lying lazily right behind their kill. The group instantly hushed and we each took about a hundred pictures. The views got even better over the next few days! We witnessed a lone lioness attempting to hunt a small herd of Grant’s gazelle. Unfortunately for her, the large male in charge figured out her game and quickly spurred his herd into movement, all the while guarding his females. It was like Animal Planet in real life, only better! The best lion moment, however, was when we witnessed a breeding pair of lions interacting. We watched the male court the lioness, flirt a little, and then mount her. We got to see their mating process and even saw their behavior after the fact! It was an incredibly fantastic thing to actually see in the wild.  On the last game drive, we saw four lionesses alongside two giant males interacting on a giant hill. The lionesses seemed to be lounging lazily but their eyes and ears were alert to any new noises. We realized that they must be searching for a new hunt and we got really excited to see one take place again. Three of the females got up and trotted across the front of our trucks with a warthog in sight. Unfortunately they missed their target, but the hunt was still exciting to watch. I spent the entire week looking for the elusive striped hyena to no avail. One day I’ll see those beautiful creatures.
                The nightly activities were almost as much fun as the game drives! On one of the nights, Lucy’s rap was a game inspired by the show “Whose line is it anyway?” It was hilarious watching everyone act out their assigned celebrity. There was Oprah, Britney Spears, Shrek, Eeyore, and the SAM Mike was even tasked with impersonating Ms. Frizzle! That last one was scarily accurate, but a real person acting like her just looks inebriated! It was hilarious. Another night, we all met by the campfire to hear some of Shem’s stories from when he was completing research in Nakuru, many years ago. He said we were a lucky group because he doesn’t often share his stories with groups of students. It was nice to just sit around a campfire and listen to the man that had become something of a pseudo-father figure to us over the past six weeks. He was certainly a typical crazy college student back then, just like all of us!
                On the day before we headed back to KBC we got to visit another lodge! It was nice to relax, order some food and get a drink or two. I attempted the pool but I thought my limbs would fall off from the frigid temperature so I quickly abandoned the water for the hot sun. The next morning we woke up bright and early to pack up the white rhino again and head back to camp. This time, the ten hour drive seemed to fly by just a smidge faster than five days before. Maybe that’s because we were driving back to two assignments and three finals, or we just slept most of the way. Either way, we made our stops along the way, only staying for a few minutes at each one to save some time. It was a fantastic week that I hope to never forget and hope that there are 7 or 8 more like it in the near future!
Asante sana for reading!


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