Which basically means playing the Pogues while we wave at Masai tribesman as we drive by.
Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone! We hope you had a fine weekend parading and celebrating in true Irish fashion. We can't say that our weekend was as Guinness filled as previous years but we feel getting married in Ireland only eight months ago was suffice in that department. Today we rolled into a lush Tanzania and we hope to raise a glass of Tuskar to our favorite patron Saint tonight with long-time friend of the Irish, Skanky.
Last we blogged we were heading out of that emerald non-isle, Uganda and back to arid, western Kenya. As fate would have it, our trusty guide Skank had to attend his best mates wedding in South Africa so we were assigned a temporary guide, Andrew, for this last leg of Kenya. We had met Andrew briefly when we camped on his family's farm in Nakuru. This was indeed a fortunate turn of fate's hand. Andrew rules. He has lived in Kenya his entire life - his great grandpa and great uncles coming down from Europe to survey the land for the Brits. He knows the entire history of Kenya, every tribal ritual, every name of every flora and fauna and has a story for just about anything related to his native land. Even more of a bonus, Andrew spent most of his young adulthood as a photographer and videographer of Kenyan wildlife. He's the number one guy that movie producers and documentarians ask for when shooting here. He had great stories of working on Survivor: Africa, "The Long Way Down" with Ewan McGregor, taking care of Woody Harrelson when he wanted to tour the area (Andrew's definitely not a fan) and being on numerous sets for German, French, British and American filmmakers.
The Van De Walles are long time Survivor fans (shout out here to my Leahy cousins and Blake who also wear the buff) so I really appreciated his tale of how Mark Burnett (the producers) wanted to shoot an elephant trumpeting and giraffes running parallel to the Survivors car as they entered Samburu country. He made us feel less guilty about our love affair with the show when he told us they only had one chance to get the shot - it had to be done in real time. I always thought they'd do multiple takes until they got the shot but according to Andrew "it had to be filmed in real time or it wasn't considered authentic and therefore not used in the show." Using his knowledge of animal behavior and skills as a videographer Andrew was able to time the car so that it got between a mother elephant and her baby right as she reached the road. Cue trumpet. He also knew how to spook a herd of traditionally lazy giraffes into running right by it on their way to graze. This is just one of the hundreds of interesting tales we heard as we rambled through the countryside. Another claim to fame...he wrote his university thesis on how the traditional wildlife film should evolve to focus on the host vs. the actual wildlife. A producer from Discovery wanted to test his theory so they gave him a small bonus to film a show on snakes. In his search for a good host he followed a lead from a friend who had met a guy in Australia that knew a lot about snakes and was really charismatic. Andrew hired him and Steve Irwin (aka: The Crocodile Hunter) stepped in to the spotlight. You think this might be the first thing someone would say upon meeting you - "Hi, Andrew Nightengale here. I discovered the Croc Hunter" but no. It casually came up about three days into travel. The guy just ruled.
So we rolled around Kenya, Andrew took us through another part of Eldoret - even more war-torn following the violence - and we managed to snap a few unassuming photos of the damage to show you when we get back. Like all the places we've been in the Rift Valley, the locals were incredibly welcoming and warm and all the campsites were eerily empty. We went down into the valley for a stay at beautiful Lake Baringo. Lake Baringo, to those in the know, is famous for it's birds, crocs and hippos. Long time birdwatchers, Colin and I were in heaven. Okay, that's a total lie. Col and I can appreciate a good bird every now and then but we certainly won't be going to a Twitchers convention any time soon. We were more interested in the crocs and hippos. With Mr. Wildlife at our side we were able to get frighteningly close to the crocs. Like 2 or 3 feet close. Apparently the lake is riddled with fish so our prehistoric pals weren't craving a side of white legs. The hippos, which gaze right there at the camp site, keep to the water by day and come up by the tents at night to graze. That's right - COME UP NEXT TO THE TENTS TO GRAZE.
Now, some of you (Sinead Gildea) might recall the Time magazine article of a few years back that said Hippos are the second most dangerous animal to man. I certainly recalled this as Colin and I sat in our tent, eyes wide, listening to the various grunts of numerous hippos outside. Andrew made sure we knew what to look for should we need a bathroom break at 3am. He pointed our flashlights at a couple of big beauties just grazing away. Yeah, I think we'll hold it until the morning. Thanks. Needless to say these hungry, hungry hippos stuck to grazing and didn't add us to their death toll. I think Peter, our travel bud, and Col and I were all extremely relieved when daylight finally arrived and the hippos retreated back into the Lake.
That morning Andrew took us to his favorite spot on the Lake where we engaged in a little bird and hippo watching amidst reeds and lilypads. We purchased a few tilapia from local fisherman (there were approximately four on the entire lake) for breakfast. Again, a lie. We actually used them to lure the fish eagles - basically an American Eagle that enjoys fishing. The boat driver would wave a tilapia, the eagle would soar over from an island, the boat guy would launch the fish and the eagle would swoop down and grab it. I could have killed an entire morning with this simple game but the eagles soon had their fill and we needed to move on as well.
Next stop - Lake Naivasha. After a delicious lunch of sweet and sour pork we made our way to the next campsite. If you like monkeys, you'd enjoy a stay at the Fisherman's Camp on Lake Navasha. Monkeys galore. Anyway, Lake Naivasha is right next to Hell's Gate National Park - a natural geothermal spot where you can rent bikes and ride into the gorge. Sounds good...until 15 minutes into the ride when you realize it's called Hell's Gate for a reason and you are riding mountain bikes that really have no gears or seat padding. Makes for a long time in the gorge. On the positive side you are right there amidst the wildlife (sans large predators) and we were pretty much the only ones there so it was rather peaceful. When we reached the gorge we hired a local guide to walk us through it. Attention movie fans: This is the gorge that was a) used as the sketching place for the scene in The Lion King where Mufasa is killed and b) featured prominently in the movie Tomb Raider. It's also home to many flash floods so we did the shortened version of the tour.
Our guide, another amazing guy, was from the Northern Somburu tribe (sorry for the spelling) and was another one of those "holy cow" stories. Twin brother shot by cattle ranchers, forced to quit school to watch the cows, started teaching younger children by a tree while the cows grazed, raised money for a school, made his way to Navasha, started this guide thing, funded another school there, stopped his sisters from being married off and is paying for their schooling himself, saw 8 of his friends brutally murdered in the recent conflict, working towards changing attitudes of men regarding how they treat women. And he's only 22! Sean - you are 23 - let's pick up the pace pal.
After our exhausting ride we returned to camp, freshened up and made our way to Elsamere - home of Joy and George Adamson of Born Free fame. Had some tea and small cakes (that would be a cookie, right Dad), looked at some pictures of their life, agreed that yes, we are all born free and basically called it an afternoon. Good times. The next day Andrew took us on a tour of Nairobi and dropped us off at our campsite to wait for Skanky. It was a sad goodbye. If ever you need a tour guide through Kenya call Andrew. I promise you won't be disappointed.
We reunited with our guy Skanky and we're now officially back on track with him...which is quite a different track indeed. Unfortunately Peter had to make his way home to Britain so we said cheerio to him last night and headed off for Tanzania this morning. I'm currently sitting in a bakery in Arusha, full on meat pie and Coke, waiting for Skank to do whatever it is he does when he wanders off. Tomorrow Col and I head off to the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater for some full-on wildlife action (as seen in the Buhrfiend's award winning video). We will be camping in the bush for two days so we won't have any access to email. Supposedly camping "in the bush" is a lot like camping in Baringo... only any animal can wander up to the tent. Gazelle, giraffe, lion. Yeah, should be a fun one. We are just hoping the honey badgers take a pass. Don't know what that is? Perhaps the scariest animal in the bush in our opinion. Look them up. They are about the size of a small Labrador and can take down a Cape Buffalo. Awesome.
Well, have a great St. Paddy's Day! Next we blog we'll be on our way to Zanzibar - Spice Island! Quick shout out to our niece Annie who just turned one. Happy Birthday, Annie! And a couple shout outs to our blog suscribers: Rich, Elizabeth, Josh, Uncle Norm and Lauren. Way to go the distance with us.
And we're off.....