DAY 210: FAREWELL… FOR NOW!


It seems even the best of things must evenually come to an end…

Sadly the end of our journey looms; we’ll be leaving Mombasa soon and heading back to Aus to resume “regular” life. This, therefore, will be our final blog entry…. for a little while anyway – no doubt the wander-lust will rear its head again at some stage in the near future and compel us to seek out more adventures. For now, though, the security and stability of jobs, regular income and sleeping in the same bed for more than 3 nights in a row, beckon….

 

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Kwaheri for now blog fans – the beach beckons!

 

People say travel changes you; certainly the travelling we’ve done so far has shown us a lot and changed our perspective on a few things. For example, it’s helped us appreciate how easy and liberating it is to live with very little. For most of the trip we’ve had less than 20kg of possessions each, which basically amounts to 3 t-shirts, 1 jumper, 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of jeans, 1 pair of shoes, some underwear and the barest of life’s essentials. Initially we were woriied about how we would cope, having so little; we very quickly realised, however, that the less stuff you have, the more freedom you have. And freedom, we’ve decided, is worth more than anything else. We’ve seen so many people close to us become so entrenched in the cult of stuff that grips most of the Western world that they lose the freedom to enjoy their life; the freedom to be the best them they could be. This trip has shown us that we don’t need lots of stuff to be happy – quite the opposite in fact. What we need to be happy is the freedom to experience life, not just live it. 

 

It’s a cliche, but we’ve also learnt that, as much as people around the world are different, they are also the same; and as different as the world it is, underneath it is fundamentally the same. We’ve seen how much of human history revolves around the same patterns – how the same desires and passions seem to repeatedly shape and reshape the world. We’ve seen how opulently people live (or have lived), whilst others live with next to nothing; and yet how happiness can exist independently of possessions and wealth. And we’ve come to appreciate that there is good and bad – wonder and tragedy – everywhere. We’ve had an amazing 7 months on the road and are soooooo grateful to have been able to visit so many great places, see so many cool sights, meet so many wonderful people and eat such awesome (and sometimes not so awesome) things. We’ve been left in awe by the wonder of nature in some of the places we’ve been to; in other places it was the wonders created by human beings in the name of art, religion and beauty that took our breath away.

 

Knowing our trip is coming to an end is achingly bitter-sweet: the sweetness of knowing we’ll be seeing our families and closest friends again soon, tempered by the bitterness of knowing we’ll be soon be re-entrenched in the mundane concerns of day-to-day life. It’s been so much fun having somewhere new to explore every day; having new foods to try, new people to meet, new languages and cultural nuances to adapt to; and most of all having something new to learn every day. For us the challenges of travelling have always far out-weighed the benefits – we just love the incomparable joy of being out in the big wide world. And whilst the routine of work, peak hour traffic, paying the bills and all the trappings of domesticity, can never really compare to travelling, we know that life in Aus is good and there will be plenty more opportunities to travel in the future. 

 

Thank you to all the fans who’ve been following us throughout the trip so far, and to those who joined us along the way. Your blog comments and emails have been great – knowing we had friends and family keeping up with our adventures helped us feel connected and somehow less disconnected from the rest of the world. We promise to keep blogging so tune in again to see where our wandering soles take us next…

 

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The sun sets on another amazing day. This travel thing sure is AWESOME!

 

 

DAY 209: MONKEY MAGIC


Diani Beach’s monkey conservation trust

In an attempt to recover from yesterday’s Christmas excesses we decided to go from a long walk along the beach today. On the way we came across the Diani Beach Colobus & Monkey Conservation Trust (www.colobusconservation.org) and ducked in for a visit to see some cute little (and big) monkeys up close. This not-for-profit animal conservation organisation established to promote the protection of primates indigenous to the coastal forest here in South-Eastern Kenya. The organisation was established in 1997 in response to an outcry from local residents about the high number of monkeys being hit by cars on the roads of Diani Beach. They take in injured monkeys, treat them and rehabilitate them to the wild; the trust also runs educational programs for local school kids designed to help promote awareness of animal conservation issues; and to address the monkey-meets-speeding-car issue directly they’ve installed “sky-ways” across the main roads here for the monkeys to use to cross the road safely. You can also visit the trust in Diani and do a short “eco tour” which allows you to learn about the work they do and see some of the monkeys they are currently rehabilitating. We saw a number of black & white colobuses, as well as a few vervet and Sykes’ monkeys.

 

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One of the partially rehabilitated residents of the Diani Beach Colobus & Monkey Conservation Trust.

  

 

Black & white colobuses are native to East Africa and are particularly threatened as their habitat is being destroyed by logging and to make way for housing and hotels here in Daini; they are often hunted for “bush meat” (i.e. meat from wild animals) as well. They’re beautiful creatures, with tiny pixie-like faces and long black and white fur. It was great watching them eat together, groom each other and relax in the warmth.

 

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A couple of black & white colobus monkeys check us out…

 

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…and decide we’re not a threat, so they just went back to eating passionfruit vine leaves.

 

 

Sykes’ monkeys are similarly threatened due to habitat loss and human/wildlife conflict. These blue-furred primates are much more inquisitive than the colobuses and ventured quite close to us. It made photographing them fun!

 

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An adult Sykes’, or blue, monkey.

  

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Who can resist a face like that??

 

 

Vervet monkeys are much more common here in Kenya and are pretty cute. Growing up in Mombasa vervet monkeys were a constant presence in our garden and I’d often come back from school to find a monkey sneaking into the house trying to grab a banana or some other piece of fruit from the fruit bowl in the kitchen. Like the colobus monkeys though, human development has encroached on the vervet’s wild territories, and they’re being is killed by electricity, speeding cars, dogs, poison and even bullets; they’re also trapped for use in traditional African medicine, as bush meat and for biomedical research. 

 

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This young vervet monkey had been brought in after being hit by a car.  He’d been ppatched up, rehabilitated and was in the process of being released into the wild to join oone of the local troops.

 

The Trust attached radio collars to the monkeys they release back into the wild (you can see one on the vervet monkey lying down here). These radio collars allow researchers who visit to monitor their movements  and gain a better understanding of their  behaviours in the wild.

 

 

Visiting the Diani Beach Colobus & Monkey Conservation Trust was the most exciting thing we did today – beyond that we just spent a whole lot of time swimming, relaxing on the beach and reading by the pool. Shane went down to the surf club and had some fun learning to wind surf, which was quite entertaining for me! A few weeks here will give us a great holiday from our holiday…

 

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Already working on our tans….

 

 

 

DAY 208: MERRY CHRISTMAS BLOG FANS!


Krismasi Njema!

Swahili Christmas salutations blog fans! Hope you all had a wonderful day, filled with the things that bring you the most joy. We had a great day that included lots of fun and laughter with family and friends as well as a healthy dose of sun, sand and tasty Christmas fare – Mombasa style (i.e. we enjoyed the most delicious Christmas dinner of freshly caught reef fish, giant prawns and lobster). More than anything for us today gave us the opportunity to chill out and start settling in for a weeks of relaxation before the next leg of our global adventure. For those of you enjoying a wintery festive season in the Northern hemisphere, here are a few photos to make you jealous…..

 

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Christmas morning 2013 dawns sunny and warm.

 

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A morning swim in the Indian Ocean – the perfect way to kick-start Christmas Day!

 

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Our Christmas Day portrait. That’s what it’s all about for us really: catching up with family & friends, & relaxing in style.

 

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Lobsters, prawns, fish – all freshly caught by the fisherman today and delivered to the door this afternoon. Does Christmas dinner get much better than this??

 

 

 

 

 

           

DAY 207: KWAHERI TANZANIA – WE’RE BOUND FOR MOMBASA


Flying high across the plains of Africa

After our final day’s game drive yesterday we left Tarangire National Park this morning and headed to Arusha Airport where we caught a small charter flight to Mombasa, Kenya. The flight took us above the clouds and directly past the main peak of Mt Kilimanjaro, affording us an amazing view of “the white mountain” (in Swahili Kilima = mountain & Njaro = white).

 

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East Africa’s great white mountain.

 

 

Luckily we were able to have a bit of a nap on the fligh to Mombasa as neither of us got much sleep last night. Seems one of the downsides of sleeping nestled in the depths of the African bush is that sometimes the bush’s smallest inhabitants find their way into your tent… Returning from dinner last night we found a couple of large, hairy spiders crawling around inside our tent. Not really a problem – we quickly put a squishy end to those… But then we saw a scorpion scampering towards us, tail raised ready to attack! That scared the crap out of us and even though said scorpion was quickly flattened with a shoe, it left us a little shaken. We then proceeded to shake and bash every square inch of the tent to make sure we had no further surprises during the night – the thought of waking up in the middle of the night with a spider, scorpion or other creepy-crawley in bed with us did not appeal. Unfortunately our mosiquito net had holes in it and as soon as we had settled in to bed the buzzing dive-bombers attacked. The rest of the night was therefore spent swatting at stupid blood-sucking bities, and tossing restlessly as we worried about being attacked by flying, crawling and creeping bugs. Add to this the sounds of elephants walking literally through the middle of our camp and hyenas cackling in the background and we barely slept a wink. *SIGH* Luckily we survived it all and were somewhat compensated by a beautiful bush sunrise around 6:30 this morning…

 

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Scorpions, spiders, mosiquitos…. and a glorious bush sunrise.

 

 

After a quick breakfast we headed straight to Arusha to catch our flight to Mombasa. We’ll be spending Christmas and New Year’s with family and friends by the beach in Diani, on Mombasa’s South coast. They have a gorgeous house right by the ocean and have assured us we’re most welcome to stay and relax for as long as we want. This isn’t a great time of year to travel in Europe anyway so we’d thought we’d partake in their hospitality and fully unpack our backpacks for the first time in 7 months, put our feet up and just work on our suntans for a while. Kenya’s South coast is a beautiful part of the world with pristine white beaches, warm weather and some of the best fresh seafood available, so it won’t be a hard place to relax for a few weeks.

 

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This is home sweet home for the next few weeks. Our room is in the top left hand corner and has a private balcony. Very nice.

 

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We’ll be getting used to this view….

 

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…and to walks along this beach.

 

 

We’ve had an amazing 2 weeks on safari – both Kenya and Tanzania have provided us with spectacular wildlife spotting opportunities and the scenery hasn’t been half bad either. We’re so glad to have been able to enjoy the East African bush whilst it’s still (relatively) untouched; goodness knows how much longer places like Maasai Mara, Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area will continue to exist. With the human population of both Kenya and Tanzania growing exponentially and land being such a valuable commodity, it will only be a matter of time before human/wildlife conflict, as its termed, results in the complete detruction of many of the ecosystems we’ve seen. Talking to people who’ve lived in Africa for 50 or more years, they say they’ve seen dramatic changes in the numbers of animals and in the sizes of many game parks in their lifetimes. In another 50 years who knows if there will be anything left – maybe just a few fenced wildlife reserves, that are no more than glorified zoos. For anyone keen to see the wilds of Africa for themselves, we would definitely recommend it – do it now whilst there are still animals in the wild to see!

  

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Africa is AWESOME!

 

 

DAY 198: ELEPHANTS OF AMBOSELI


Sunrise over Mt Kilimanjaro

Sunrise this morning was just spectacular, and the all-day game drive we went on afterwards even better. We spent more than 8 hours driving through the Amboseli National Park in “safari mode”, “hunting” animals with the binoculars and “shooting” them with our camera. Elephants, hippos, hyenas, gazelles, giraffe, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest…. so many animals!

 

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Sunrise this morning was spectacular!

 

 

The animal we saw the most of was elephants – it was great! The increase in elephant numbers since the global ban on ivory trading in January 1990 has been fantastic. Elephants are really cool to watch – their intelligence is obvious* and their sheer size makes them impressive (African elephants can reach a height of 4m at the shoulder and weigh up to 7 tons). We saw lots of families of elephants moving through the bush, feasting on the fresh green grass and bathing in the mud pools (a coating of mud helps protect their skin from the sun and also keeps many of the bitey insects away). Elephants herds are led by a matriarch, usually the oldest cow, with up to 30 other females and calves. The baby elephants were so cute, even if they do weigh over 100kgs (we learnt that baby elephants are about 85cm tall and weigh around 120kg when they are born)!

*Elephant intelligence is comparable to that of primates. Due to their brain power and trainability elephants have been used as work animals, instruments of war and circus performers for centuries.  


 

 

We also got to see lots of hippos wallowing in the pools and even wandering around along the shores of Amboseli’s many small lakes munching on grasses. The hippopotamus really is a huge animal – they weigh up to 3 tons! With their barrel-shaped torsos, enormous mouths and teeth, nearly hairless bodies, stubby legs and tremendous size, hippos look quite awkward and cumersome. Don’t let that fool you though – hippos can easily outrun a human (hippos have been clocked at 30km/hour) and they are one of the most aggressive creatures on the plains, which actually makes hippos one of the most dangerous animals in Africa! Viewed from a (safe) distance, however, they are pretty cool.

 

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Hippos and elephants of Amboseli sharing the abundant grass.

 

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That’s one happy hippo family wallowing in mud!

 

 

The other highlight of the day was seeing a clan of spotted hyenas tearing into the remnants of a wildebeest. Hyenas are omnivorous and are happy to dine on both fresh and not-so-fresh meat – they are pack hunters and famed scavengers, happy to dine on the leftovers from other predators. With their sloping backs, long front legs and awkward running gait, hyenas have a distinctive profile and make some truly terrifying sounds – they yip, laugh and cackle like no other animal in Africa. Not that the clan of hyenas we saw were making much noise – they were all too full after feasting and were just lying around in the sun with their full bellies pointing skywards! Once they had all had their fill the only action we saw was when one of the hyenas get up, walked over to the last piece of the wildebeest and picked it up. She carried the skull and spinal column across the road, right in front of us, and then set about crunching through the vertebrae to get at the last bits of juicy flesh. As the photos below show, it was pretty grizzly, but totally mesmerising.

 

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We even got to have a picnic lunch up on top of a hill*, watching all the animals on the plains below us going about their business. The view was amazing – green grassy plains, wetlands dotted with elephants and hippos and flocks of birds making the most of the late rains. A great place for a picnic!

*Good visibility is a must if you’re going to hop out of the vehicle when on safari – we certainly didn’t want any animals sneaking up on us whilst we were busy enjoying our sandwiches!


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We had lunch on the top of that hill.

 

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The awesome view we enjoyed over lunch.

 

 

Around 5:30pm we made our way back to camp, tired but very happy after our the day of driving and animal spotting. The views along the way were great – the scenery here is breathtaking. Today was actually our last full day in Kenya (tomorrow we cross the border into Tanzania), which is a little bitter-sweet as we’ve had a great time these last 10 days here. Still, Tanzania will no doubt be a whole new adventure of its own!

  

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Tomorrow we’re headed that way – down into Tanzania!

DAY 197: DRIVING CROSS COUNTRY IN KENYA


Farewell Lake Nakuru, hello Amboseli National Park!

We left Lake Nakuru National Park early this morning and drove all the way across Kenya, through Nairobi, to Amboseli National Park. Famous for its populations of elephants, Amboseli is the second most visited national park in Kenya (aftr Maasai Mara) and a favourite of ours. The views of Mt Kilimanjaro aren’t bad either…

 

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Mt Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest stand-alone mountain. This huge dormant volcano is 5895m high and diminates the landscape where ever you are in Amboseli. This was the view from our tented camp. Not bad hey?!

 

 

In terms of distance, Lake Nakuru is only about 380kms North-West of Amboseli, but in terms of driving time the trip took us over 7 hours (not including an hour stop-over in Nairobi for lunch). It seems that, when driving in Kenya, we invariably average around 50-60km/hour at best due to the state of the roads and the amount of other traffic on the roads. It made for a long travel day, but we were still keen to go for a (short) game drive when we got to Amboseli National Park.

 

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Driving cross-country in Kenya is slow going, though the scenery isn’t bad.

 

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The vast plains and verdant wetlands of Amboseli National Park.

 

 

Amboseli National Park is 392 square kilometres in size and lies at the heart of an 8,000 square kilometre ecosystem that spreads across the Kenya-Tanzania border. The park is famous for being the best place in Africa to get close to free-ranging elephants; it also offers spectacular views of Mt Kilimanjaro, which is just across the border in Tanzania. We’ve been to Amboseli before and loved its big skies, wetlands, underground springs and vast tracts of plains populated by thousands of animals. We were lucky enough to see elephants almost as soon as we set off on our game drive and the animal spotting just got better from there!

 

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The elephant spotting started as soon as we were in the park and just got better from there…

 

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Just us and the elephants!!

 

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They are awesome creatures to watch.

 

 

In particular we saw lots of birds – including numerous ostriches and water birds. With all the rain that’s been falling around Kenya in recent weeks Amoboseli’s wetlands are all very wet and therefore teeming with birdlife. Amboseli has an endless  water supply from underground springs that originate from Mt Kilimanjaro’s ice cap, however, the climatic pendulum swung towards drought in the late 1990s (which is when we were here last) reducing many of the swamps to parched dust-bowls. Which is why we were so excited to see the wetlands in full bloom (so to speak) this time! Some of our favourite bird photos from today are included below.

 

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The biggest bird brain of them all: the ostrich. (This is a male – the females are a mottled brown)

 

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Black-headed weaver bird.

 

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The beautiful crested crane is Uganda’s national emblem.

 

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The African golden weaver bird.

 

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A Goliath crane – these guys stand about 150-160cm tall and mainly eat large frogs and catfish.

 

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This excitable guy is a Cori bustard.

 

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That’s one majestic eagle!

 

 

After the game drive we headed back to “home base” (another wonderful tented camp)) and settled in by the campfire to watch the sun set over Mt Kilimanjaro and the African bush. It was a beautiful end to a long but blissful day. Looking forward to exploring more of Amboseli National Park tomorrow!

 

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Our fabulous tented accommodation.

 

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The main dining room from whence we watched…

 

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…sunset over Amboseli.

DAY 196: HUNTING RHINO IN NAKURU


Africa’s most endangered large mammal

We awoke this morning to a fresh pot of Kenyan coffee (delivered to our tent by a smiling waiter – how cool is that?!), a beautiful sunrise and a RHINO AT OUR BACK FENCE! We didn’t actually see any rhino yesterday (much to our disappointment), but the gods saw fit to reward our our patience this morning by encouraging one of Lake Nakuru’s rhinos to have its breakfast virtually in our back yard. It was so cool being able to stand just inside the camp’s fence and watch the rhino munch away on grass, whilst the sun gradually rose above the horizon. Totally awesome!

 

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This guy was having breakfast just out the back of our tent this morning.

 

 

There was a time when rhinos were a common sight throughout much of Africa and Asia. These rather placid, shy and innocuous mammals are now, however, one of the most endangered species in the world. Rhinos have been hunted to near extinction simply because they have the misfortune of having a horn that, when ground up, reputedly has medicinal properties. Unfortunately the Far East Asian market for rhino horn persists, despite the steep decline in rhino numbers in recent decades and international attempts to curb demand. As a consequence rhino can be incredibly hard to see in the wild. Lake Nakuru National Park is one of the few places where these huge herbivores can still be observed in their natural habitat – which is one of the main reasons we’re here!

 

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Meet the Rhino Family. This is Mum & Dad, and Junior is just out of camera-shot.

 

 

As well as our early morning rhino encounter we also saw a family of rhino grazing in the park during our all-day game drive today. These beasts are part of Lake Nakuru’s 100-strong rhino population, which are protected from poachers by kilometres of electrified fencing and armed rangers who patrol the national park and have orders to detain or shoot poachers on sight. In the wild, adult rhinoceros have no real natural predators other than humans. Although rhinos are large and have a reputation for being tough, they are quite passive and very easily poached; they follow a predictable routine – visiting the same water holes daily – and can be easily killed while they drink. Unfortunately poaching has increased globally in recent years, with over 1,000 animals killed this year alone in Africa. The animals are killed for their horns, which, unlike those of other horned mammals (which have a bony core), only consist of keratin and thus can be easily ground into a powder and consumed. It’s tragic to think that an animal weighing 1-2 tons can be killed just for its horn! Which is why some champions of rhino protection are advocating the surgical removal of rhino horns from animals still in the wild to protect them from poachers. It’s sad really and from our perspective we’re just grateful to be able to see rhinos in the wild while they still exist as a free-living species.

 

 

 

We saw heaps of other animals, including jackals, water buck, buffalo, gazelles, zebra and a lot of baboons. These large, communal-living primates are very common around Lake Nakuru and are quite habituated to humans. They were fascinating to watch – so many of their expressions and behaviours are so human-like! The baby ones were especially cute!

 

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Baboons can weigh as much as 40kgs and stand up to 140cm tall. That’s one big monkey!

 

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Fully grown adult males can have canine teeth up to 5cm in length. This guy is quite young and hasn’t got a full mouth of teeth yet.

 

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Despite how fierce they can be, baboons are still pretty cool – some of their behaviours and facial expressions are so human-like that it’s freaky (or is it that some of our behaviours and facila expressions are so baboon-like that it’s freaky?!).

 

 

As expected, many of the animals and birds we saw today are water and/or wetland dwelling creatures. Unfortunately, however, we couldn’t drive all the way down to the lake-front as the level of Lake Nakuru has risen so much in recent years that the road that used to wind its way along the shore is now under water! The level of the lake has fluctuated greatly over the past few decades, with the entire lake almost drying up in the 1970s but then rising consistently over the past 30 years. The rising water levels have certainly changed the face of Lake Nakuru national Park; as well as submerged roads we saw road markers and buildings (constructed in the early 1980s to house the park’s rangers) under water. The locals are blaming it on climate change, though it’s hard to say for sure as the level of Kenya’s Rift Valley lakes is notoriously variable.

 

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Here you can see where the roads used to be and how much the lake level has risen from the trees.

 

 

All in all we had a great day exploring Lake Nakuru National Park and are loving this whole safari “thing”. Tomorrow we head off on a long drive through the heart of Kenya, to Amboseli National Park, where the elephants outnumber people and Mt Kilimanjaro dominates the landscape. Tune in tomorrow to see whether we make it down to Amboseli without incident!

 

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We head out of Lake Nakuru National Park tomorrow, bound for Amboseli in Kenya’s South-East.