Kenya – May 1999
I am always intrigued by the travel guides referrals to various lakes in the Rift Valley as being ‘the best’ lake to see flamingoes.
There is no best spot because the flamingoes migrate up and down the Rift soda lakes continuously, depending on how the weather has affected the lakes over the previous few months. The majority of flamingoes move between Lakes Turkana, Bogoria, Nakuru, Elemantaita, Magadi, Natron and Ngorongoro. The flamingoes are in search of an algae that thrives under certain conditions.
Over the last twenty months, Kenya has had an unusually long rainy season, diluting a lot of the soda lakes to levels where the algae cannot sustain these huge stocks of birds. Lake Bogoria, however, is usually too salty and caustic for the algae to survive, but with the rains the lake’s levels have risen by around two meters, diluting the salinity to perfect conditions.
In January, around 8 million flamingoes were on a single soda lake, an unbelieveable spectacle. Presently there are 5 – 6 million on Lake Bogoria and the others are starting to breed on Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania.
Lake Bogoria is well worth a visit. It is a National Reserve which means it belongs to the local tribes (whereas a National Park is government owned) and is a great example of how wildlife and mankind can both harvest from the same ecosystem without great conflict. The major industry there other than tourism is honey hunting. The natives’ hollowed out tree trunk hives are clearly visible throughout the reserve.
On the lake shore is a lot of geothermal activity. The springs are so hot one can boil an egg, wrapped in a sock on the end of a long stick, in them. Eleven minutes in the boiling water and voila, a perfectly hard boiled egg.
I own Kembu Campsite in the Rift Valley in Kenya, and from this ideal base one can hire mountain bikes at US$15 a day and cycle to Lake Bogoria. It takes five hours to cycle there, and we recommend that you do this over a full day as there are plenty of scenic resting spots en route.
Spend a day around the lake and then on the following day either cycle back or load the bicycle onto a local mini bus and cover the major amount of mileage uphill to Kembu by car. It is important to travel light in these high temperature areas, and Kembu Campsite provide a secure storage for your belongings you don’t need to take with you.
Over the last weekend in May, somewhere in Kenya is the annual ‘Rhino Charge‘. This is the ultimate in 4×4 eventing. Each entrant is given twelve grid references in the middle of nowhere and in a ten hour period they must reach all dozen goals.
The winner is the vehicle that can perform all this within the shortest mileage. It is a great spectator sport as well as nobody in their right mind would do what these cowboys get up to. They would rather drop their vehicle off a cliff and haul it up the other side of a gulley rather than putting on the extra mileage to drive around an obstacle.
Whether it be flooded rivers, deep ravines or impassable mountains, these guys display some incredible ingenuity in completing the courseand it is well worth watching.
Briefing: Saturday 29th May
Event: Sunday 30th May
To ensure that nobody gets to practice or make maps of the terrain in which the event is to be held, its location is kept TOP SECRET until ten days before the event. This year it will be at the Northern end of Lake Baringo. The event will be within half an hour’s drive from the meeting point.