Above: Evening light on shores of Lake Naivasha. Copyright Desire James Wainaina
Published: 20 April 2019
Grey shafts of light stream from the clouds to the lake casting an ethereal glow in the late afternoon. Fishermen stride into the freshwater lake on the floor of the Great Rift Valley. In the cooling day, shy waterbuck emerge from the grove of yellow fever trees nibbling the soft grasses along the swampy shores as dainty jacanas on long skinny legs trod the floating mass of water hyacinth while the cormorants deck the trees ready to settle for the night.
The fishermen spread their nets, passing the pods of hippos by a few feet. It never fails to amaze that the men risk their lives for their livelihood. As the sun reaches for the horizon, the water turns from a silvery grey to liquid gold. If it wasn’t for the hippos and the buffaloes it would have been stunning to just stand and gaze at the cosmic splendour of the night. But l’m not risking an encounter with these heavyweights.
Walking back to camp through the forest with Jennifer Oduori whose sharp eyes never miss a bird – she’s another walking-talking birder – she points to the herd of impala settling for the evening and reels out a slew of birds from their call. In comparison, l know when an owl hoots – a new hobby l’m taking up in urban Nairobi, trying to trace owls when they call. It’s called owling: looking for owls at night – but again if you want to do it – never disturb wild animals.
So back to camp. I pitched my tent closest to the forest edge. Being the eternal romantic, l want to see the forest in the dawn light.
It’s a clear evening sky and the campfire’s lit. Fleur Ng’weno who at 80 has the luminous eyes of an 18-year-old and always eager suggests looking at the heavens. Finding a dark spot away from the camp fire, a few youngsters from the birding group join in.
Our Universe is an amazing theatre. Fleur who writes the night sky column in Nature Kenya’s newsletter aptly called ‘Nature Net’ points to – and some think she’s saying serious so that everyone can be quiet.
“Sirius and Canopus,” she points, giving clear instructions to the planetarium in constant motion. They are the two brightest stars in the early night sky in the early months of the year.
Navigating our way using the two bright stars as point of reference, we’re onto Orion – the mythical warrior named by ancient Greeks. It’s an easy constellation and anyone can learn it in seconds.
I sign on to a skymap app and l’m bowled over what’s happening up there with Orion the Hunter.
It’s about Orion’s shoulder – from our vantage point it’s the right shoulder – the star Betelgeuse. Ancient Arabs called it the shoulder of the giant. It’s bright, it’s orange and – hold your breath – 100,000 times more luminous than the sun!
Everyone knows that we’re moving around the sun but Betelgeuse is the Usain Bolt in the cosmic arena. It’s a star in a hurry moving through space at 30km per second and in some distant future will move out of Orion’s constellation.
The camp cook sounds the sufuria for dinner and camp stories are exchanged. I stride to my tent for it’s a 5 a.m. call for the annual water bird count organized by National Museums of Kenya, Kenya Wildlife Service and Nature Kenya. Suddenly an electric red-hot pain shoots through my body. Five drops of rain have the siafu raging out of the earth for moisture. Why they have to operate at night is not nice. I hasten back to the campfire in pain with the crawling insects now in my hair and biting – a dozen hands reach out to pull them out of me in the glow of the fire and torches.
When everyone is assured there’s not a single one left on me, l carefully walk back with my torch shining on the ground.
A red army of soldiers has surrounded my tent!
The guys from the kitchen hurry with a debe of hot ash and surround the tent with it. A few ambers fly into the night air and l wonder if that can set my tent ablaze.
Meanwhile Fleur in her tent a few feet away sleeps on in nightly bliss.
Camping at the Kenya Wildlife Campsite at Lake Naivasha
It’s totally idyllic – forget about the siafu – they are part of a camper’s life.
Join a group like Nature Kenya. It’s just one amongst many for people who enjoy the outdoors.
There is running water and basic toilets and showers.
It’s inexpensive and you can do a lot from here like go boating, spending a few hours in Hell’s Gate National Park or hike up Mount Longonot.
Let me know if you have any questions.