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Why I Love Kenya

By Aleema Noormohamed

The sun rises in a cloudless sky letting the rays of light warm up my room on an early Monday morning; there go my Monday blues. The aroma of freshly ground coffee tempts me to walk into the coffee shop where I am greeted with a sweet morning smile and a request for my order, “A Malindi Macchiato and a chocolate croissant, warm please.” As the chocolate melts in my mouth, the day suddenly looks brighter than it did when I woke up. My taste buds have been tickled with sweetness and I continue to glide into my unfolding day.

I drive through the CBD (short for Nairobi’s Central Business District) an acronym that didn’t exist five years ago! I feel proud as I see tall buildings, billboards and fly overs, and I laugh as carefree drivers pass me without seeing what I see. Oh how Nairobi has grown. There is excitement as Vision 2030 unfolds its plans of development and innovation.

I reach the entrance of one of the most unique places in the world: the gates to a national park located in a capital city, the only one of its kind on the planet. As I drive through, everything around me comes to life. The leaves start to rustle as a whisper of wind begins. A giraffe looks at me as I drive right past him and the plains start to reveal themselves to me as I move deeper into the Nairobi National Park. I look left and see Pumba across the dirt path with little mini warthogs trailing after. I look right and a flock of birds take off as the vehicle ahead of me passes them. As I delve into the mysteries of the park, a stunning sight greets my eyes – the presence of wildlife with a backdrop of a city. Where else can I see this?

I am reminded of my trip to the elephant orphanage just last evening to see the one I had adopted. His name is Kithaka. I couldn’t stop giggling when I saw him and his buddies waddle their way around their caregivers. I got close enough to see the smile hidden beneath their trunks. What beautiful creatures!

Later, I enjoy a delicious meal at a camp in the national park (is it normal that the Nairobi Tented Camp is the only one in the park and it is surrounded by grasslands, wildlife and the bustling metropolis of Nairobi?) before I am whisked off to the airport for a flight to a game reserve – but which one should I visit?

Do I pick the northern lands of Samburu and Shaba, rich with the presence of northern specialist species known as the Samburu 5 – the Grevy’s zebra, Somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, and the beisa oryx among the Big 5 that we all know of – elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, and rhino? Or do I pick the World Heritage Site that has enfolded Lewa and Ngare Ndare into its realms of natural and cultural treasures? Not to mention its magnificent protruding peak in the name of Mount Kenya with its snow-capped topping.

But then again, there is the call of the Maasai Mara, world renowned for its magnificent Migration (which has already begun this year by the way) where I am guaranteed to see the dramatic dance of the wildebeest crossing, and may even capture an incredible cheetah chase. What of the different bird species that criss-cross the air, the jackal twins that do not leave each other’s side and the king of the jungle whose roar and stare paralyze your thoughts? I thought of dropping by the Laikipia region to catch a glimpse of the rare wild dogs and visit the chimpanzee sanctuary to see some monkeying about; but then again, the idea of watching a herd of elephants walk past me tempted me to turn to Amboseli with its landscape dominated by the towering and majestic Mount Kilimanjaro in a place of open plains, acacia woodland, rocky thorn bush, swamps, and marshland.

If I am going to contemplate Amboseli, I might as well think about the Tsavo National Park  (home to Satoa, one of the greatest elephants who ever lived, may his soul rest in peace). Tsavo National Park is the largest park in Kenya – so large it had to be split into Tsavo East and Tsavo West for administrative purposes. At least I know that I would see elephants, rhinos, buffalos, crocodile, waterbuck, kudu, gerenuk, Hunter’s hartebeest and more than 500 species of birds.  

Hmmm... Maybe I should pick something closer to home? I could just travel from lake to lake along the Great Rift Valley and let my journey take me through a contrasting world of landscapes and sceneries; from papyrus fringed Lake Naivasha with its abundance of birdlife, through to Lake Nakuru or Lake Elmentaita with its famous flamingo population (who are now searching for a more shallow lake), or the steaming geysers of Lake Bogoria and through the crocodiles and hippos of Lake Baringo and all the way north to the mighty Jade Sea of Lake Turkana.

I ask myself whether a beach holiday would best suit my mood. I must say the coastline is lined with exotic white beaches enveloping the inviting waters of the Indian Ocean, which holds the spectacular underworld of marine life. There is also the remarkable pull that the coast has in its enduring history with the traditional passage of the Arabian Spice Trade. The coast is lined with Arab and Portuguese forts, old towns and the ruins of ancient Swahili outposts. This is where the medieval streets of Lamu and Mombasa’s Old Town truly reflect the famous saying, “There is no hurry in Africa.” Life continues on – unhurried and unchanged for the last 400 years.

I eventually settle for a few days away in the Meru National Park, a wilderness region that is incredibly wild and beautiful. It straddles the equator and has 14 rivers flowing through it as one side stretches into the slopes of the Nyambeni Mountain Range and the other is spotted with doum palms. My nights are spent in a luxury alcove embedded in one of the Hills of Meru. The night brings with it an explosive starry sky and an increased beat of my heart as I hear the teasing sounds of the hunting hyena. My days are left to search for the prowling predators and I find myself face to butt with a target-marked waterbuck.

The elephant’s closest relative circles my path and the bush baby refuses to open its rounded eyes for my camera. I yield at unseen cheetahs and the hiding nocturnal creatures as I let myself enjoy the peaceful night that surrounds me. As I close my eyes and reflect on my dreams, I have barely touched the magic of Kenya; the Matthews Ranges, the Tana River Delta, Mount Longonot, Taita and Chyulu Hills, Shimba Hills, the Aberdares… Every destination guaranteeing the closeness of wildlife.

This is Why I Love Kenya.

Photos by Aleema Noormohamed and photographers at Porini Camp, Gamewatcher's Safaris.

June 25, 2014
Getting close to nature

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