If your only images of Africa include arid flatlands or dense jungle, you should find your way to Lake Naivasha.
On our third full day in Rift Valley, our coordinators held a meeting on their own to discuss and compare experiences before meeting with GTL staff and Board Members. This meant that we needed to make ourselves scarce. Fortunately, we have secured the world’s best tour guide/driver/general conversationalist, John, for the second year in a row. He told us to put aside all of our original ideas and climb in the van for a rude out to one of two fresh water lakes in this region. We have learned to follow instructions like this, so we headed out in t-shirts and jeans while our poor coordinators retired to a meeting room.
Honestly, the drive through Rift Valley alone is worth your time, but we knew John had brought us somewhere special when we pulled down a long dirt road and emerged on the sun dappled bank of Naivasha.
The ground was the delicate green of young grass shoots, and yellow acacia trees, their barks glowing in the light, offering shade for families and tour groups clustered beneath their leafy awnings. It could not have been much more than 75 degrees-a gentle breeze brushed our bare arms and stirred the flocks of birds that chattered from every tree.
The lake had overflowed its original banks, creating a lush margin of wetlands where young acacias became softly swaying islands in the clear water. A hippo dozed forty feet away among the branches.
We spent only an hour touring the lake in a small skiff. captained by Peter, but we saw as more wildlife and natural beauty than many have seen on three day safaris. Peter tells us that this relatively small lake is home to over two thousand hippos- we saw about 8 of the, shifting and snorting beneath the water and raisin their heads to gaze curiously our way.
We came within easy view of two juvenile Masai Giraffes, water bucks, a kingfisher who fluffed his crest as we floated beneath his tree limb, spoonbills and sacred iris fishing a few feet from us, and African fish eagles who swooped down to grab s fish Peter tossed to them.
Peter himself was quiet at first, but grew more talkative as he saw that we were interested in the Lake and its inhabitants. This incredible bit of our world is Peter’s passion, and he knows fine details of hunting patterns, species traits and mating habits.
We are tourists this day, plain and simple. And there is always a sneaking suspicion as you travel to famous sites like this one that what you are seeing gas been compromised in some way in the interest of drawing more tourism money. I have no doubt that some if that could be found behind the scenes of Lake Naivasha. However, this country and many of the people who belong to it also have a deep appreciation if their environment. Guides like Peter go through extensive training. Masai villagers work hand in hand with the national parks Ministry to prevent poaching and watch over healing animals in the wild. Ten percent of all farmland in this area will be required to be given over to shade trees under new laws, and the penalties for forest destruction or unauthorized hunting are stiff.
We in the US are prone to thinking that the “developing world” either can not or will not care about its natural environments beyond the customs or traditions of the past-as if the effort to understand and protect our world is a luxury. But I suspect Kenya is not the only country fighting to eradicate poverty that acknowledges a deep connection between the well being of its people and the health of its environment. For me, that makes moments sliding silently among the denizens of Lake Naivasha all the more astounding.
A special thanks to Peter and to John for once again being right.