Lake Baringo and Lake Borgoria
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This is the beginning of our three-week African safari trip that span four countries and eight national parks. We had dream of this trip since... I don't know, since we were little children? That dream must have deeply rooted in our heart since we heard our bedtime stories: lion the king, elephant the brave, zebra the coward, impala the quick... Yeah we've seen those animals, in zoos: listless, tired, and miserable inside the fence. Where is the energy, the spirit of the boundless savanna in those sleepy eyes? Finally in the summer of 2006, when we're both done with our PhDs, we got the excuse to squander our saving in five years of grad school to pursuit our dream, to visit the homeland of our childhood friends, the endless rolling grassland. In a sense it is also our own home coming, considering the widely accepted theory that the ancestors of all human walked out of East Africa millions of years ago. It was not a very straight forward trip to plan out really. We went through quite a bit of trouble to obtain visas to all countries, managed to take all vaccines for a large number of seemingly dangerous tropical diseases, laid out the itinerary, and booked all flights, hotels, and safari tours. There were no direct flights from the US to East Africa, so we had to stop by London, which is not a bad idea. And since we're visiting a number of exotic developing countries, every little detail such as when and where to exchange for local currencies, where and how to eat, how to make a phone call... had to be planned out and followed as closely as possible. Plus, we were to spend a considerable amount of time out in the wild, we better had our gears ready and armed ourselves to the teeth. So, with a set of heavy baggage and a light heart, we set off to the heart of Africa.
The first stop, Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Kenya is probably the most developed country in East Africa. Its capital, at first look, is no different from any other modern metropolitan. Then upon arrival we noticed the troop of security guards standing outside of our hotel in downtown Nairobi. One of them grab our luggage and look around cautiously before signaling the other guard to open the burly steel gate. So we know we're in Nairobi, also known as "Nine Robbery," one of the most dangerous cities in the world with one of the world's highest crime rates. Well, we did manage to walk around the city a bit without getting mugged (we visited a great handcraft market in downtown), but we didn't have the courage to bring a camera along. So no photos for the city, except for this world-famous restaurant, the Carnivore, to which we called a cab.
The Carnivore is a fancy BBQ restaurant that serves exotic game meats such as crocodile, ostrich, zebra, camel, antelopes...etc. Entering the restaurant, the first thing you see is this huge BBQ oven (2nd pic). That's the kitchen. Qing was trying to play innocent here, but no no no, don't you be fooled, we are all Carnivores! The waiter brought us a two-layer tray that filled with salad (Nah...) and sauces for different kinds of meats (Now we're talking). In a few minutes, our plates are piled with crocodiles, ostriches, camels, chicken wings, beef, ribs...
Natural Wonders. The first pic is Mt. Kilimanjaro (5,899 m or 19,340 ft), the highest peak in Africa. The 2nd pic is the Great Rift Valley, which is widely believed to be the birthplace of human being. A human skeleton (the "Turkana Boy") dated back to 1.6 million years was found here. Look at this exuberant green valley, it's certainly a beautiful birthplace.
On the road, we passed the Equator (2 pix), which means we're entering the Northern Hemisphere. In case you wonder what those little roadside kiosks are for, they are booths that sell honey, fruits, vegetables, and charcoals. In the next 3 pix, these women were selling honey, melons, and oranges to cars drive by. I bought some passion fruits from one of these booths (you better know the market price, or there'll be a ruthless rip-off). They're delicious, with a strong and special aroma.
First destination, Lake Baringo. With an area of 130 Sq km, Baringo is the north most lake in the Great Rift Valley. Fed by two rivers but no obvious exit, the water of the lake seep into the lava. Famous for its bird life, there've been 470 species of birds recorded here.
For the first night, we camped by the lake. Dinner was delicious, since we're very tired and hungry. The only problem was, our kerosene lamp attracted millions of little insects, which not only supplemented our dinner with extra protein, but also gave us a profound understanding on the word "bugging." Many of them are termites from this ant town (last pic).
Figure you can sleep now? You wish. After 8 pm or so, on every couple of feet there'll be a huge Cricket emerging from underground, screaming their love songs near their burrows. You wouldn't believe how incredibly annoying that shrilling decibel is unless you're right there, and there're hundreds of them around our tent. This must be the breeding season for crickets. To attract the females, the males scream by rubbing their front wings against each other. After a couple of hours, around 10pm, their songs gradually died down since all crickets seems exhausted. In fact they're so tired that you can pick one up from the ground without much resistance... But you still can't sleep yet. Better check carefully around the campsite to make sure it's free of more-than-just-annoying creatures such as Scorpions and Millipedes (last 2 pix).
Somehow we did manage to get some sleep and woke up early the next morning. It's time for a Boat Trip to the Lake Baringo.
From a distance we saw some black monsters emerging from the water. Those are Hippos (3 pix). Those who stayed close together are families. Our guide warned us not to dip our hand into water... I understood immediately - I saw a Nile Corocodile slowly swim by us (1 pic).
Here are some birds we saw near the shore. An African Jacana (3 pix) can be easily recognized by its exceptionally long toes. They generate sufficient surface tension that enable them walk on floating vegetation and even water. The local were so impressed by this trick that they call it the "Jesus Bird." Ladies might like this bird for a different reason - jacanas are polyandrous, meaning one female mates with several males and then the males are left alone to hatch and raise the chicks :) In the last 3 pix is a Little Egret (white, 1 pic) and a Gray Heron (2 pix).
Two kinds of Kingfishers. The 1st 2 pix is a rare, colorful, and very fast Malachite Kingfisher. Too bad I couldn't get a good shot at it. The bigger black-and-white Pie Kingfishers (last 3 pix) are more common.
Feeding. Here's the fun part. We're gonna watch some magnificent fishing birds to prey. First, we had to buy some fishes - fresh fishes, since these birds are rather picky. We met a couple local fishermen from the lake. They fish on small boats made of Ambatch, a kind of foamy, soft, but lightweight wood. They stuck a piece of these ambatch wood into each of the fishes they sell. Our guide explained that it's for the fishes to float on water so that it'll be easy for the birds to spot and catch. After the photo, don't forget to tip them, or they won't let you go :)
Our first customer, the pretty and vigorous African Fish Eagle. We had to cruise around the lakeshore to search for one. Our guide whistled to call, and there's a reply echoing from far far away! Soon a fish eagle appeared, glided over us, and rested on a tree. On the first sight we almost mistaken it for our endearing American Bald Eagle. A closer look reveal somewhat different facial features and beak.
Our guide held the fish high, whistled again, and suddenly threw the fish up and onto the lake. He explained that the fish eagle has excellent eyesight and won't miss a thing. Sure enough, the moment the shiny little silver fish made a parabola, we saw the eagle spurted from the tree, glided over the lake, dived for the fish, grabbed it, and pulled away. All that happened in less than a minute.
The fish eagle glided around a bit, found a comfortable spot and enjoyed its breakfast. They're very smart, our guide said, they know how to clean up the fish and get rid of the piece of wood we put in the gut.
Our next customer, the Goliath Heron, the largest heron in the world. It stands tall (>1.4 m or 4.5 ft), spreads wide (wingspan > 7 ft or 2 m), and weighs about 4 kg (9 lb). Like most wading birds, it caught the fish with its long bill and swallowed it down, together with the piece of wood! We could clearly traced the fish as it moved down the bulging long neck.
More birds in Baringo. Our campsite was haunted by an Verreaux's Eagle Owl. This is one of the largest owls in the world, with length up to 28 inches, wingspan up to 6.5 ft, and weigh averagely 9 lbs. Verreaux's eagle owl sleep very lightly and is often active even in daylight hours. They prey on small animals such as rats, pigeons, hares, mongoose, and some times even hedgehogs.
A Water Thick-knee (2 pix). A Reed Cormorant (1 pic). A Red-billed Hornbill (2 pix).
More birds. Weavers and their nests (3 pix), the 3rd pic is a Buffalo Weaver. A Go-away Bird (last 3 pix).
A pair of Ostriches (2 pix). An African Drongo (2 pix). Hadada Ibis (2 pix).
Reptiles. The 1st 4 pix are two very gentile Tortoise we found our the camp site. They're about the most good-nature and friendly animals you can find. Had loads of fun with them. The last two pix is a Leopard Turtle trying to across the road. As always, it has the right of road.
Nile Monitor Lizard is the largest and most widespread lizard in Africa. Large monitor lizard reportedly can be over 2 meters long and weigh up to 20 kg. The name "monitor" come from a superstition that the lizard can give warning to the presence of crocodile, which is of course incorrect. Monitor lizards are not very picky predators. Their eat pretty much anything they can put in their mouth, from snails, insects, fishes, reptiles (including snakes and young crocodiles), small mammals... They're as vigorous as they look, reportedly more dangerous than crocodiles of the same size when they felt threaten. The long tail is a very effective weapon.
As a side trip, we visited Lake Borgoria, a shallow soda lake averagely 9-meter deep. It has no outlet so intense evaporation leads to high concentration of salt and minerals. It's unsuitable for fishes, but rich in blue-green algae, food for flamingoes (1st pic). The lakeshore is rich in geothermal activities, with warm springs and geysers everywhere. The boiling water looks scary, but the locals seem to enjoy a hot bath there (last pic).
Some of the wildlife in Lake Borgoria. A Rock Hyrax (1 pic). A Cape Ground Squirrel (1pic). A Superb Starling (1 pic). A sparrow (2 pix).
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