May 6, 2012
Shihipol, the Netherlands
When we got back to Nairobi from Mt. Kenya and still had not seen a lion I thought I would give us one more chance. I booked game drive through Nairobi National Park, which is just on the outskirts of Nairobi, for dawn on Thursday. It seemed like a good idea at the time but our flight from Zanzibar was canceled and we had to book a later flight getting us into Nairobi too late for dinner and too late to get a good night’s sleep before the dawn trek to the park.
Well, it is not much of a trek. About 20 minutes from the hotel. Nairobi National Park is an amazing place. It is on an animal migration route just outside of Nairobi. The north end of the park is fenced to keep animals and the city separate, but the city runs right up to the fence. The flats at the edge of the park have a spectacular view across the savannah and herds of roaming animals. The south end is open so animals can migrate seasonally. Overhead the flights from Kenyatta International Airport glide toward the runway. This is not a tranquil wilderness. But it is filled with animals. We were greeted at the gate by a troop of baboons and throughout our 4 hours in the park we saw giraffe standing tall against the skyscrapers of Nairobi in the background, herds of antelope, gazelle, impala and other creatures ran through the park. We found zebra, and the most remarkable, three rhinos. A white rhino slept by the road and twitched an ear when the Toyota idled by, otherwise he was undisturbed. The two other rhinos were a mother and baby black rhino, the endangered ones. Both had their horns. The sight of a baby rhino is a joy to park rangers. Two park rangers who spent the night on watch for poachers (they were armed with AK 47 assault rifles) hitched a ride with us back to park headquarters.
There are songs and stories about the lion being the king of the jungle, or about “in the jungle, the quiet jungle” but the lion is a plains animal, or at least savannah. My goal was to spot the King, but sightings of this King, for me, are rarer than sightings of Elvis. The rangers told us that they could hear the lions roaring all night, but for us, no luck. We were skunked. Or as Bruce Cockburn sings “Wondering Where the Lions Are.” I had to content myself with taking a picture of a lion silhouette on the park gate. The woman who arranged the trip told me she couldn’t believe that we were at the Mara, Sweetwater Reserve. Mt. Kenya and Nairobi National Park and did not see a lion. She said we her only customers all year that had not seen a lion in the Nairobi Park. We saw cheetah and baby rhino on our travels, which are harder to see than the lion, but no lion. She couldn’t believe it.
So our trip to Africa ends. I have a few random notes. The flight from Nairobi to Zanzibar takes you past Kilimanjaro, which has fresh snow. This is the rainy season. At night, for the fly-by, the pilot turned off all the cabin lights so we could see the moon on snow crest of the mountain.
Then there are the signs in Nairobi. My three favorites were advertising the Montezuma and Mona Lisa funeral home, one at a gate saying “no hooting,” and the one in our hotel parking lot which gets points for honesty.
“Parking for Fairview Guests, Fairview Conference Participants and Fairview Restaurant Patrons only. Other vehicles will face clamping in addition to outrageous parking fees!” So there.