Sunday, October 29, 2017

Intrepid Travel Gorillas & Game Parks - Day 2

We started as Intrepid means us to go on: up early and away by 7.30am, getting introduced to the truck we are to spend so many hours and kilometres in over the next two weeks. It is a Mercedes, but it’s mainly a truck: there’s nothing fancy about this vehicle. Its main purpose is to be functional, sturdy and reliable (or so we all hope – time, and distance, will tell). The interior would make Jetstar look like Business class. It’s a bit battered and dusty, and there is no air-conditioning – but this is Intrepid Basix after all, they never promised luxury, that’s why it’s cheap. What was immediately irritating though, and will become more so as the trip progresses, are the windows. Apart from apparently ingrained grime on the outside, they’re arranged in two horizontal panes, the top one sliding down for ventilation and for viewing. Fine – except that where the two panes overlap there is not only metal edge, but also a bar along the outside, both of them exactly at eye level. So to see out you have to either slump and do your back in or sit up exhaustingly straight (or perch on your rolled-up sleeping bag like a booster seat).
It’s especially frustrating because what’s rolling past outside is like a medieval cavalcade, in Technicolor, with a cast of thousands. It’s totally absorbing: life lived right there by the road, so vibrant, busy, cute, horrifying, real. Sweet little kids with big grins waving, sheep and cows tethered by one leg, women bent under huge bundles of firewood or straight-backed with a container of water on their heads, men chopping at the soil with mattocks. And lots of people just sitting, watching the world go by; or sleeping on the grass. Litter everywhere, much of it inevitably plastic (though bags have recently been banned in Kenya); roadside stalls with fruit and vegetables piled up in challenging pyramids; ramshackle shops with inspirational names (Open Happiness, Starring Stars, Kinyozi Wisdom); houses and huts of wood or brick or concrete or tin.
We headed out from Nairobi and along the Trans-Africa Highway that crosses from Mombasa to Lagos, though we'll be following only a small section of its 6,000+ km length. Our first stop was at a viewpoint over the Great Rift Valley - huge! visible from space! - where, to be honest, I was more struck by the cheerful man whose job it was to break rocks by hand with a hammer.
It’s Sunday and most people seemed dressed up, the women elegant, the men smart, the little girls in party frocks. There are churches of all sorts everywhere and, at our lunch stop, in a small hall nearby women were dancing and singing, loudly and without a break for a long time, shrill yet tuneful, their only accompaniment a drum.
It was our first proper Intrepid meal, and it boded well. Cook OT is professional, confident, organised and most definitely in charge: those of us rostered to be his kitchen hands meekly followed his instructions, chopping vegetables for salad, slicing meat. We ate our sandwiches in a vast souvenir shop, surrounded by huge ebony rhinos and buffalo, painted leopards and giraffes, art and jewellery.
Afterwards we saw the animals for real, or some of them anyway. Nakuma National Park is best known for its birdlife - notably the gorgeous crowned crane, as featured on the Ugandan flag; but we saw most of the usual suspects, apart from elephants. I was, of course, most thrilled to see white rhino, with calves – not indigenous here, unlike the black rhino, but introduced and in good numbers. We’d already seen zebra grazing along the road – the Great Trans-African Highway, from Cape Town to Cairo – and there were more here, with impala of course, warthogs, hyena, jackal, giraffe, eland, gazelle, water buck, buffalo, baboons and, at the lake, masses of flamingos parading noisily in the water.
We did the classic game drive crawl through the park, stopping frequently, winding up eventually at our campsite for the night, complete with snoozing buffalo bull less than 150 metres from our site. Having just heard all about how aggressive and dangerous they are, it added a frisson of excitement to setting up our tents, which are heavy but simple-to-erect dome tents. Then the campfire was lit, sundowners partaken, dinner prepared and eaten (sweet potato soup and chicken curry) and, after instruction to attend to nocturnal number ones outside our tents and to call for an escort (some chance!) to the loos for number twos, we went to bed in a silence broken only by the nearby waterfall.

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