Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thank You China

I'd like to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to the People's Republic of China. Why? Because they have constructed a really good road from Nairobi to Samburu National Reserve in central northern Kenya.
It used to be a miserable seven or eight hour trip of dust and potholes which was only made worse while the new road was being built. However, now that it is complete you can scoot from Nairobi to your lodge in Samburu in about five hours if you don't stop too long at the craft shops at Nanyuki. This is great news for me because as I've mentioned previously, Samburu is one of my favourite wildlife reserves. It's classified as a tropical desert and has a wide variety of unusual flora and fauna. There are Doum palms - the only palms with split trunks. Very picturesque when seen against the high orange rocky mountains at sunrise with a couple of reticulated giraffes striding by.

It's a hot and dusty place, but there are many comfortable lodges in which to rest your bones. The Sopa Samburu is a lovely mid range lodge. the staff are fantastic. The head waiter knew my first name before I had introduced myself and Fred - the manager made a point of introducing himself to each guest. Everyone is so friendly and helpful. and don't get me started on the food - delicious doesn't begin to describe it. Try the crepes with maple syrup for breakfast, but all meals have a bewildering variety, and of course one has to try everything. The dining room overlooks a waterhole where animals can been seen day and night. Security staff escort the guests to their rooms after dinner to make sure they arrive safely - uneaten by lions. In short, it is a very well run establishment and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

You won't see the "Big Five" at Samburu. There are no rhinos, but the other four are present - elephants, lions, buffalo, and leopards and on my most recent visit I saw more cheetah's than you could poke a stick at. Hop out of bed at night to trot to the toilet and you're likely to trip over a cheetah. Well, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but there were a lot of these elegant cats strolling around the reserve. There are no hippos either. This is because there are no permanent waterways. This can be hard to believe at times when the Uaso Nyiro River is flowing. It can be a hundred metres wide at certain points and it's difficult to imagine it ever running dry. There are some very large crocodiles though so I'd advise against swimming and paddling.

As a marvelous bonus on our last morning in Samburu we came across four African wild dogs. I never expected to see them, these wonderful animals are so rare these days. Only about three thousand in the whole of Africa. These four were running up and down the far side of the river, excitedly eyeing a small herd of impala on our side. The impala were snorting their alarm call and stamping their feet. Fortunately for them the river was too wide and fast flowing for the dogs to cross, instead they melted back into the sparse vegetation to look for an easier meal. The impala relaxed and returned to their grazing.

Not everyone visiting Kenya goes to Samburu because it's quite a long way north of Nairobi and most of the popular National Reserves are to the south, but it is well worth the effort and with the new road courtesy of the People's Republic of China it's now a lot less effort than it used to be.

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