Karibu, Kenya - the temptress-in-chief

Africa is seductive – and Kenya may be the temptress-in-chief

Sat, Dec 28, 2013, 01:00

Jambo! The all-purpose greeting rings round Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport, the hub of East Africa. It’s a chaotic, bustling mass of transiting humanity, but our driver Fred’s warm welcome and quick hands as he loads the bags into his high suspension, long wheelbase Toyota Landcruiser offer an instant touchstone of certainty: this is going to be great. Dodging the Kenyan capital’s infamous rush hour traffic jams courtesy of a nexus of off-road shortcuts, we’re soon arcing northwest away from the city, sometimes shepherded by plantations of tall Tasmanian blue gum trees.

Each town and village we pass through is a hive of rickety matatu action – the sometimes decorated, perpetually packed private minibuses that keep the population moving.

There’s a certain freestyle frisson to the driving, with the occasional pothole competing with random wandering wildlife to keep everyone on their toes.

Our destination on day one is Kiboko Luxury Camp on the shores of Lake Naivasha where the animal life is said to be magnificent.

The journey has already taken on an exotic quality, however. Herds of cattle and zebra intermingle and graze nonchalantly along the roadside, like sheep in Connemara and with the same apparent disregard for their own safety or that of oncoming vehicles. One or two unfortunate hyena haven’t managed to cross safely, but vultures will lead the clean-up crew.

We have been climbing steadily and, as we round another bend, suddenly the land falls away sharply, cleaving a vast escarpment to the west. This is the Great Rift Valley, which cuts some 6,000km from Syria in the north to Mozambique in the south of this enormous continent. The panorama is truly stupendous.

This is our planet’s dynamic, shifting geology played out on the grandest stage, as Africa is pulled asunder. The so-called Nubian and Somali tectonic plates are drifting apart by a couple of centimetres a year – if that isn’t too inconsequential a verb to describe a monumental, continent-breaking action.

One result of this geological divorce will eventually be a new sea – or rather a new stretch of an ancient one. Shifting plates also mean sleeping volcanoes and active hot springs.

From a human perspective, even more seismic events have been recorded here: this is where archaeological remains of some of our earliest ancestors have been discovered. We’re all children of Africa, born of the Great Rift Valley.

The tents of Kiboko Camp perch on stilts over Lake Naivasha’s shores, connected by a web of elevated wooden boardwalks. There’s a sound practicality to the rather romantic architectural expression: the freshwaters rise and subside year on year.

Some 400 species of birds are said to live here and it looks like they are all out to play when we arrive. From impassive great cormorants to circling fish eagles, brilliant pied kingfishers to the aloof black heron. It’s a squawking, honking, flapping, whistling, hooting ornithological paradise.

Our accommodation is made with canvas, zipper doors and taut tie lines, but that’s where the resemblance to my previous camping experiences ends.

These are luxurious, tall-ceilinged and spacious, with bathrooms, running water and electricity. There are mesh windows on three sides with fabulous views, and the whole front “wall” is really a series of three huge doors with canvas outers and mosquito mesh inners.

I zip closed the flap and start to unpack, only to find I’ve an early visitor: a simian fellow, hairy, sitting on a side table, cool as a cucumber. The vervet monkeys here are smart and cheeky. I go for my camera and he skedaddles. Only later do I discover he has methodically stolen four apples from my tent.

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Róisín Meets...Dawn O'Porter