Kenya Day 5
June 5th, 2010
*All information valid on the date of writing. Please check for the latest with other sources*
Continued from Kenya – Day 4
We pulled ourselves out of bed at 6 am. We had promised Newton that we would be ready by 8 am so we had to get to breakfast latest by 7.30. The air was crisp and clear and the mosquitoes still hovered near as we did our mosquito dance on the way to the restaurant. Tiny little mice like creatures darted in the bushes too fast for my camera. Baboons were also in the vicinity but we stayed far from them. Breakfast again as amazing as all the other meals here at the Sarova Lion Hill lodge, with all the usual goodies and more. As always, we could not do justice, the hour being too early.
We checked out of the lodge and loaded our bags back into the TLC wondering what surprises Newton would have in store for us that day and a wonderful surprise he had too. He informed us that we would be crossing the equator on our way, where we could have our pictures taken at the sign that said “EQUATOR”. How cool was that? Pretty cool we thought and were so excited at this prospect. Something we had not even expected or planned for, was to become the highlight of our already wonderful holiday.
He said we could opt to have someone explain the Coriolis effect at the equator for a fee (tip) of Ksh 200 and a certificate for Ksh 500 that would declare that we had been there. Being cheaper to take our own pictures as proof and since we had friends who would not doubt our claim, we opted only for the demonstration 🙂
So in anticipation of the exciting activities awaiting us, we set off 8.15 am on the track towards the main gate. We were welcomed again by the baboons who had risen as early as we had. We were at the gates at 8.30 am and we waved goodbye to Nakuru Park. The sign board said ‘Kwahiri’ (goodbye) right back to us as we headed out towards Nakuru town. Newton had a bit of work at the bank, so we sat in the vehicle waiting for him to be done. We drove through the town, past cycle taxis called boda bodas, where ordinary bicycles have a pillion seat and are used as taxis to ferry passengers. There were also motorcycle taxis. I had to take my pictures as we were moving but managed a reasonable shot.
We drove out of the town onto a very good road, lined for several kilometers by jacaranda trees. Newton was pleased to know that Bangalore had its fair share of jacaranda.
Passing by vast tea estates, Newton informed us that tea was the second highest source of income in Kenya after tourism. We also passed by coffee plantations, where the coffee was grown on plains and without shade, unlike their Indian counterparts which were grown on wooded, shaded slopes. Leaving behind acres and acres of maize on either side, we came to our first halt at 9.30 am at another Rift Valley view point. Here we found the Tree Hyrax, a little animal from the rodent family and we managed a rare shot as it sat quivering in a little corner near the wall. Another stunning view here of the valley and more gift shops. These were relatively smaller shops but had some really nice things, mainly soapstone carvings and curios. John from one of the shops approached me and with his pleasant talk and sense of humor, managed to get me to buy some pretty things that included soapstone wall plates with the map of Africa and its countries etched on it and the Great Rift Valley running through the east. It was a beautiful piece and I was happy to have found something unique here. He also managed to get me to take a soapstone rhino which he cleverly slipped in as a free gift, included in the price of the wall plates no doubt (of course I was not complaining :-). But the best buy here were little soapstone pendants in various shapes that John would etch ones name on. Great as personal gifts for friends. Here v2 found his very own little soapstone tusk pendant (in lieu of the elusive lion tooth) and his name was written on it with a sharp object, sending him into raptures.
From here we continued on and within a few kms we ran into a mob of protesters on motorbikes, shouting slogans and as they surrounded our vehicle, they pounded on the glass and metal screaming angrily. Newton keeping his cool, did not bat an eyelid and steadily kept driving through the large crowd. We held our breath and hoped for the best and luckily we were out of the mob in a few seconds. It was a scary few seconds though. Mob fury being as illogical as it is, no one knows what could have happened. Newton explained to us that this was not a political rally or protest but probably something of a personal nature. I don’t know from where he got this story but he assured us that this was not a common occurrence and it was usually safe to travel through all parts of Kenya. This experience left us a bit shaken . Imagine what our fate would have been had they attacked and taken away our passports and other important things. I would probably have been writing this story from Kenyan jail albeit with more interesting episodes to narrate 🙂 Well as funny as that sounds now, it was not funny then. Anyway we were soon going to be at the equator and thoughts of that pushed out the recent bad memory and we were filled with anticipation again.
At 10.30 am and 2 hours from Nakuru, we found ourselves at the Equator. It is hard to describe the feeling here. If not for the board proclaiming the location, it is just another place on this earth. A mere imaginary line passing around the earth’s middle and yet there was an inexplicable aura there and the ground felt special. There was an excitement that was felt by the tourists from all over the world, who had gathered there with us and we had goosebumps and a feeling of great awe that showed on all our faces as we took turns to pose for pictures at the sign and on the very ground that had Equator written across it!!!
After the photoshoot … Shoot, I had wanted to take more photos :-), we were introduced to Livingstone, our guide who would demonstrate to us the Coriolis Effect that would prove that we truly were where we thought we were.
Resisting the urge to say Dr Livingstone I presume, we followed him towards the Northern direction as he took his jug of water and bowl with a hole and a little matchstick with him. V2 was in charge of the video filming and Livingstone poured the water from the jug into the bowl and placed the match in it, its clockwise movement proving we were in the Northern hemisphere. He repeated the same at the actual equator and the match did not move at all and the water went straight down the hole of the bowl without rotating. At the South of the equator, the match turned anticlockwise. Of course K had to stick his finger in and stir up the water, messing with the momentum, much to Livingstone’s chagrin 🙂 Anyway happy with the tip of Ksh 200 he bid us goodbye and it was past 11 am when we headed out again.
A quiet and comfortable drive from here past beautiful landscapes and we were at the gates of the Mt Kenya National Reserve by 12.30 pm. Mt Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest in Africa, the first being Mt Kilimanjaro.
We stopped at the gates and Newton got off to complete the entrance formalities and I got off to take pictures. From here it was a couple of kms to the Serena Mountain Lodge. We had earlier been booked elsewhere by the agent but our friend Ramu had urged us to change to this lodge and it was a wonderful suggestion. Many thanks to him.
The Serena Mountain Lodge is situated on the slopes amidst the forests of Mt Kenya National Park, its green color camouflaging it well among the greenery around it and we did not realize we were there until Newton pointed out that we had arrived. We drove into the parking lot and from there our bags were carried by the staff as we followed them over a wooden bridge into the lobby.
At first view, the Lodge does not strike you as a remarkable place but its deceptively dull green log exteriors hide spectacular, stunning interiors made entirely of wood and it was one of the most beautiful lodges I have ever seen in my life.
It is situated at a height of 7200 ft and the mountain air was fresh, pure and very cold.
Here there were no game drives and we were expected to enjoy a relaxing time, time and rest that we sorely needed after our hectic last few days. Of course the lodge offers escorted nature walks through the jungle but walking through the jungle not being in our nature we did not participate (gosh that was an awful joke but I am rather tired now :-))
The main activity here, is viewing the animals that come to drink from the watering hole and the lodge is constructed with this purpose in mind. It is built on stilts that lift it above the ground (that is what stilts do, right? :-)) and has 3 floors and a terrace. Along with the rooms, the 3 floors have the reception and gift shop, the hotel office and the bar/restaurant respectively. All rooms face the water and the large glass windows in all the lobbies and rooms, facilitate an unhindered view of the animals and the forest behind. There is also an underground viewing tunnel that actually leads to the ground level, where the animals can be viewed from closer quarters. I preferred the view from the top though, especially the open terrace on the top floor which naturally offers the best 360 degree view .
There is a viewing deck on the 3rd floor located rather conveniently behind the bar. One can have a few drinks here and see a few animals that are there and even a few that are not, depending on the number of drinks 🙂
Speaking of seeing things, there is a register placed on a stand where guests are free to write down the names of the wild animals they have spotted for that day. On the previous day, one brave man had written “My Wife” Wonder what he drank that night.
Those who will visit the lodge someday, look for my entry. The first one on the 4th of June, 2010. Please take a picture 🙂
There is also a chart on the wall with the pictures of all the animals that can be been spotted at this lodge.
The watering hole is an artificially created one and is maintained by the lodge. When it rains the slush and mud get mixed up with the water and the staff painstakingly extract the mud and clear the water in order to enable the animals to access their drink. Apart from the main water, they have also constructed a circular concrete tub for the elephants, who apparently do not drink the water that the other animals have touched. Of course I saw a few bucks and buffaloes sneaking some from this tank but I don’t think the elephants were around at that time 🙂 There are a couple of boulders placed near the tub.
These are for the pachyderms,
To help them scratch their itchy rears
( While ending the line above,
I have quelled the urge to rhyme
In the interests of decency ,
I have refrained this time 🙂
And the elephants scratch most unabashedly, with a noise that can be heard all the way up.
Well after we had checked in at the reception, one of the staff called Carol (how fun was that), gave us a brief summary of the place as we stood by the large glass window, viewing the watering hole for the very first time. And as she spoke, we had the amusing and unafraid monkeys entertaining us on the other side the glass, peeping at us hopefully and staring at us most ill-mannerdly 🙂 Carol told us that they were called Sykes monkeys. Having been severely internet deprived by now, I named them Skype monkeys. We were warned to be very careful about these chaps and to keep all balcony doors and windows closed at all times and never to feed them despite their sad, hungry faces. If they got in they would create havoc and make away with our stuff. Cute as they were, we could do nothing much but gaze at them and get a few pictures and while we were chatting with Carol, v2 managed a very quick video of them generally monkeying around 🙂
In a little while we were shown to our rooms. The rooms were most beautiful, entirely done up in wood. Wooden beds, wooden floors, wooden pillars, wooden walls and mirror frames and wall decor, even the bathrooms were mostly wooden. So much so, that the normally wooden faces of my three companions, actually lit up at the sight 🙂 The decor was to die for and I fell in love with this stunning, aesthetically astounding place. Even the keychains were unusual, being made from animal horn that was painted and had the room number fixed on it.
Lunch was on the terrace and we went unprepared for the chill winds that blew. Too tired to return to fetch our coats, we just partook of a buffet that was laid out on long tables. The food here was not bad at all. In fact I would have been sufficiently impressed had we not been spoiled at the Lion Hill. There were a limited number of items and I was certainly glad that I had not much to choose from 🙂 One little live counter, a reasonable big salad bar, the ubiquitous cheese board and the breads and the few main dishes that were mostly Indian. Sauces and dips were held by wooden giraffes with bowls carved out of their sides, these being the most innovative containers I have ever seen.
We had a relaxing lunch and spent a while enjoying the superb view until we could bear the cold no more. There were not too many guests at the lodge that day and at lunch we were accompanied by only one big group who seemed to be Japanese and they had the most amazing cameras to prove it 🙂
Back to the room and at the viewing window, to gape right back at the Sykes and to gaze on the waterbucks and other similar animals that were at the watering hole at all times. As v2 and I took some pictures, K and v1 played chess. Yeah who plays indoor games on a holiday right? But the atmosphere was so quiet and clear, I guess chess champions find it most conducive to play a game or two 🙂
In the evening we set out to explore the lodge. One has to be as quiet as possible here because sound carries easily in these surroundings and could scare away the animals. Some lodges in the area do not permit children below the age of 7 so it would be good to check before booking (I assume one of the reasons could be that they could get noisy). The wooden corridors were carpeted to reduce the sound of our footfalls and we were instructed to “hush” by the numerous signs everywhere. Tea and coffee were available at the 24 hour table and like the giraffe bowls, the containers for the sachets of tea, coffee, sugar etc, were wooden animals most amazingly carved out of single pieces of wood. Even the bottles at the bar were held by a life sized statue of a man carved from one piece of wood. Everything was so beautiful here I wanted to take it all home.
We sat at the viewing deck and as the day drew to a close, the animals began visiting the area. The exterior of the lodge like I mentioned, is made of logs that are painted green in order to blend in with the surroundings and encourage the animals to approach without fear. The watering hole is lit up by electric lights to enable us to view it at night. There was a raised platform on which one of the staff climbed on and placed a piece of meat. This was to attract the smaller animals and soon enough we had the Large Spotted Genet appear and it climbed up the ladder and proceeded to chew on the meat. This it did for most of the night, not permitting 2 of its friends who had also arrived, to so much as get a glance of the treat. The little cat fight could not be filmed since it was rather dark and we are not professionals. Herds of buffaloes came and had their fill, departing rather early, probably making way for the several elephants that heralded their arrival with trumpeting. They came with calves and all and stayed on even after we went to bed. The big ones scratched themselves on the boulders meant for that purpose and I greatly regretted not being able to film this hilarious spectacle due to the lack of sufficient light. We had a few more tourists viewing along with us by now, along with the earlier group that we lunched alongside with. They were awfully noisy in their excitement and I tried my best to ‘shush’ but to no avail. I guess “shush-ye” probably meant something completely different to the Japanese 🙂
Indians are usually branded as noisy but as I noted that day, we had some serious competition.
Dinner was at the indoor restaurant and it was a sit down set meal with the salads and accompaniments on the buffet table and the main course served at the table. We had a choice of vegetarian, or fish or lamb. Choosing lamb was a mistake since it was probably one of those that had climbed all the way up the slope to the lodge, building muscle in the process 🙂 V1 was luckier and smarter to have gone with the Tilapia the signature fish of our holiday. Anyway, the waiter was gratifyingly remorseful and offered to change my order but I was not too hungry so I gave it a pass.
During dinner we had someone come to the tables and ask if there were any animals we would like to be woken up to see during the night. We were given a list of animals to choose from and we opted for a leopard and hyena wake up call. I also chose to be woken up for a possible morning view of Mt Kenya since the clouds had covered the skies and view of the mountain all day.
The temperature was very low outside but the wooden building kept us reasonably warm and the customary hot water bags that were slid under our sheets did their tiny bit. It was a comfortable night that we spent and there were no calls throughout, until very very early in the morning when 2 Egyptian Geese decided to call, squabbling in their harsh grating tones and providing the background score for my pre dawn slumber.
Continued at Kenya Day – 6