More Flamingos than Florida

Trip Start Nov 03, 2011
Trip End Nov 11, 2011

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Flag of Kenya  , Rift Valley,
Monday, November 7, 2011

 I had been dreading today. We had our longest drive yet. 7 hours until we reach our destination of Lion Hill Lodge on the banks of Lake Nakuru. We have this fantastic group that we are traveling with but 7 hours of cramped quarters and any animal might turn on one another. We had a good breakfast And After breakfast we drove south to Lake Nakuru which is the most famous of the Great Rift Valley lakes. It is amazing how quickly the time passed. We all were acting like a bunch of drunks. I got the giggles so bad they started saying I couldn't have any more water because obviously it had made me loopy. I couldn't tell you what we laughed about other than the random dik-dik joke but we laughed the entire time.

The roads are rough, really rough and poor Nick being one of the tallest in the van found that his head was about even with the "oh shit" handles. He knocked his head on that at least 20 times on the ride to Lake Nakuru and decided that it had caused brain damage. We started to call him Nick-Nick after that.  

We broke up the drive with a couple of stops. We stopped right on the equator. There was a man that showed us how water does flow differently on both sides of the equator... Yes the water does flush in reverse in Australia... This was a much more interactive experience where we walked to both sides of the equator with a funnel, a match and a pitcher of water. Water goes straight down on the equator line... They sold little certificates to prove you had been on the equator for 4 bucks. A little overpriced for a cheap xerox copy but I hoped it helped pay for the mans time that had shown us the experiment. There was also a little curio shop with people very willing to sell you there wares. Though they insisted it wasn't a hard sell it was more high pressured than a full used car lot. Someone latches on the minute you walk into the shop and follows you as you peruse the merchandise. The only way to escape is to head to the bathroom. Okay so I am a total weirdo but I had to take photos of the facilities. It is like a scene right out of a set designers mind. There are so many places in Kenya that I keep wondering if Disney Imagineers visited. Just some of the designs that are used in the Animal Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

I think we might have been running a little behind schedule. We stopped at Thompson's Falls with implicit instructions from Nicholas "no shopping" Actually I think he told us we only had 30 minutes here because we had to make it to the Lion Hill Lodge in time to have lunch. Nick has been quite the shopper on this trip so we teased him a little saying Nick that means you! To get to the falls you have to navigate through curio shops and shop owners imploring you to visit their shop. Having Nicholas tell us we only had a short time made it easy to pass them by... "sorry not enough time." Thinking we had run the gauntlet I was a little off guard once I saw the falls. As I stood rapt by the beauty surrounding me I found myself high jacked by two chameleons on my arm. A creative entrepreneur had placed two adorable lizards on my arm. Only 4 shillings to have my photo made with them. Of course I broke down and it gave me a few more moments to enjoy these beautiful creatures... it did make me wonder how often he had to replace them as he scared less animal friendly tourist and they flung them off the precipice into the falls or how successful he was using them as ransom for terrified women begging for him to take them off of them.


Thompson's falls are beautiful but like most tourist spots its tranquil beauty is in the midst of chaos with tribesman charging for photos and shop owners selling wares. Still I am glad that our drivers stopped for us to see this amazing natural wonder. As we are leaving I am caught up again with the love of my job. The hand painted signs are a perfect example of the theming that we try to capture at Animal Kingdom. There is a beauty to them, though rustic and primitive to copy something like this, to get the feel of it is not an easy feat.

The wildlife shows up in the weirdest places. As we arrive at Lake Nakuru National Reserve the first thing we see is a huge monitor lizard. Not an animal I expected to see. I associate these huge lizards with Islands in the south pacific or remote areas of Asia. I guess it makes sense that there are species of the lizard that live here. The one we saw was most likely a Nile Monitor but it could have been a Savannah Monitor. They look a lot alike. 

We arrived at Lion Hill Lodge almost too late for Lunch. Our group didn't even check in before eating. We left our bags in the care of the front desk and went straight to lunch. I still can't get over the meals on this trip. At each location I am more and more aware of what a fantastic deal we got. The accommodations are fantastic and all meals have been included. Everything is exceeding our expectations.

The paperwork was very specific about our luggage. They said that we had to have soft sided luggage that weighed less than 44lb. Cory and I took this to mean duffels because they were talking about how they had to be packed into the back of our van.  As things get packed onto the van I am pretty proud because Nicholas has used our luggage to fill in the last spaces available in the tight quarters. In fact even Nick who used to be an airline attendant commented on how impressed he was with our packing. I realize now that we could have gotten away with luggage with wheels. Each time the porters go to take our luggage to our room I feel guilty that we don't have wheels for them to pull it along especially when it is a hike from the front desk. Today our little villa is quite a hike and I actually apologize to the porter. Cory makes sure he tips him a little extra.

I wish we were staying more than one evening here. This place is amazing. Our villa is huge! The trip keeps getting better and better. The itinerary is laid out like a novel. The story keeps building and building, getting better and better. A little unpacking and Cory and I decide to check out the rest of the lodge.

As we leave our room we are startled to see baboons. One is only 3 feet away. We also hear a bit of commotion. Nick who had laid out all of his shopping finds on his bed to inventory them had left his door open to get a little breeze. So focused on his stuff he didn't notice that a visitor had entered through the door. He looked up to find a huge baboon staring back at him. He said he must have dropped 5 years off of his life. You can imagine how surreal it was and it took him a few minutes to respond but he was jolted back to reality when he realized that not only was the baboon standing next to his backpack but that the baboons friend was following the first one into his room. He bravely shouted "GET OUT" The baboon arrogantly ignored him, walked over to the tea set sitting on the desk and picked up the sugar bowl, gave Nick a dirty look and walked out of the bungalow. What a story! Man Nick gets to have all the fun!

Nick had teased that he would hold off on the gift shop until the rest of us had a chance since he had bought out entire stocks of bracelets in the last one. I jokingly teased Cory, "We better get to the gift shop before Nick gets there." Guess who was already there when we walked in. Nick was at the counter paying for "his last purchase" of the trip. Yeah right.

After a couple of purchases of my own Cory and I head down to the van. We all loaded onto the van for our afternoon game drive in Lake Nakuru National Reserve. I felt overwhelmed with appreciation and ended up thanking our little group for being such an amazing group. I thanked them for always being on time. I had read forum horror stories of people on safaris that were late for every game drive, who asked the drivers to drive around looking for cell phone signals and I was so appreciative of a group who had been so courteous to one another.

The first thing we saw as our afternoon drive began was a White Rhino. That was number 4 of the big five. We had already seen the Elephant, Cape Buffalo, and Lion. All that remained was the elusive Leopard. I think something about that list triggered the hunter in some of our van mates. Suddenly the Leopard began an obsession. I take a little more of the Buddhist approach. It is about the journey not the destination. By this point I have figured out that Nicholas is a great driver. If there is an animal within sight he will take us to it. His raport with the other drivers is amazing and he stops to chat along the way and even drivers with other companies tell him what has been spotted and where.

It is so funny. When we first got to Kenya and we saw that single barely recognizable silhouette of the giraffe as we left the airport we were enthralled but half way through the trip we can't be bothered with a zebra much less a water buck. Baboons still impress us and next to the road is a troop in the trees. As we start to take pictures the ones in the trees start to drop stuff on our heads. All I can think is that I hope none of them decide to relieve themselves.

I am suddenly pulled back to my job when we see the saddle billed stork. We have a pair of these that sit out on Discovery River. They are always in the same spot and when we are out checking on the props on the river they are the one animal that we are guaranteed to see. I think that Animal Kingdom is that reason that I am so excited when we see the Thompson's Gazelles. We have a herd of them at DAK. One of the spiels on the safari ride has Wilson Matua talking about the Thomies. There is something about his accent that makes the word Thomies stick with you.

Nicholas got word that there were a mother and baby Rhino on the other side of the park so we go bumping and jarring over the dirt roads. This gets the Adrenalin pumping and when we see them in the distance we are rooting for the pair to head our way, lift their noses out of the tall grass, give us the shot. We are hunters armed with our cameras stalking Africa's big five.

Maybe that is why some of our group are becoming obsessed at this point with the Leopard. Nicholas just wants to please and the most vocal in our van are mentioning the leopard constantly. Nicholas is starting to spend more and more time searching for the leopard and we are starting to pass up some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Lake Nakuru is known for its flamingo population and we are yet to slow down enough to get even a picture of the shores of the lake.

Finally Nicholas stops the van on the shores of Lake Nakuru for us to get some shots of the famous flamingos that visit the lake by the millions. We are able to get out of the van and walk around a little. The lake is alive with birds. There are flamingos, pelicans, cormorants and ducks lining the shores. In the distance you can see the zebras and rhinos. I am slightly jealous of the professional photographer who is alone with her driver in her Range Rover. She is spending hours just photographing the birds in flight. 

As soon as we get back into the vehicle the hunt for the leopard begins again. The zebras are framed perfectly against the lake and the mountains surrounding the Rift Valley but I have to shoot fast because  we only stop a few minutes before darting into the trees looking for leopards. I am not proud of it but I am starting to really get ticked. I feel like we are missing out on the moment trying to chase the future yet all I do is whine to Nick about it. Eventually I get frustrated enough to say, "Its about the journey, not the destination." I also assure Nicholas that we will still rate him as the best driver ever even if we do not see a leopard. This seems to slow the leopard hunt down a little and we at least stop to get photographs of some zebras that are right next to the road. The zebras seem unfazed by our van and stand grazing withing 3 feet of where we stand. It is in the same grouping of trees that we come upon a baboon troupe. Its a big troupe and we get to watch their human like behavior. Two women with their little babies talk about their day as the rambunctious youngsters climb all over them. I can't get over how close they are to us. Amazing.

Today is the first day that I have felt any disappointment. We wasted over an hour looking for a leopard that we never saw. Even with that disappointment the day was amazing. I am overwhelmed with the beauty of nature. Nature has a sound too and I don't know how to share that. There is a small pond near the restaurant. There are tree frogs that sing but they almost sound mechanical. They sound like the clink made by glass bottles clinking together. What a beautiful sound.

Dinner at the Lodge was delicious. We have gotten to the point that Simba One is inseparable. We all sit together at dinner and talk about what an amazing day we have had. Cory and I get back to the Lodge and they have lowered the mosquito netting. It is so romantic. The nights here are pretty cool and they have placed a hot water bottle in our bed to make sure that it is warm for us. 

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