It’s a magical wonderland.
Crimson ribbons fly across a lustrous lake for its entire length. It’s the pink flamingos – more precisely the Lesser flamingos – of Bogoria, the caustic cauldron just north of the Equator in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. In between the shorter more glamorous birds we see few of the less glamorous Greater flamingos.
The first we know of Bogoria is from the reports of the ill-fated Bishop Hannington en route to Uganda. He camped along the shoreline on 18 September 1885. And then towards the end of 1887, Count Teleki and Colonel Von Hohnel camped at Bogoria on their march to look for the mysterious lake further north, that is Lake Turkana.
But they had run short of grain and to stock up they sent their lead guide the indefatigable Dualla to Kikuyuland to look for surplus grain that the Kikuyu would sell to the desperate explorers.
While Dualla was away for a month, Teleki shot wild game every day – buffaloes, rhinos, zebras, hartebeest, ostrich – his companion Hohnel wrote ‘I counted eight separate herds of buffaloes each containing many hundred, rhinoceroses, elands, waterbucks…that l forgot all about my observations and gave myself up entirely to the delight of watching all these creatures in their life in the open. All the caravans lived off the land like vultures.
But surprisingly, they never mention the flamingos which have now turned the lake’s shoreline pink with flotillas in the lake and the crannies.
In the 1950s, the late Leslie Brown, a provincial administrative officer and a naturalist of repute became totally enamoured with the crimson birds and became the first biologist to study the lesser flamingos objectively, reporting of the spectacle on Bogoria. In the ‘Mystery of the Flamingos’, he wrote, “Personally l hope that no one will fully ever rationalize flamingos and that they will remain the supremely beautiful, elusive, opportunistic and unpredictable being l think they are. Anyone who tries over a long period of time to rationalize what they do, is asking for trouble.”
Today, the saline lake is listed as a Ramsar site making it a wetland of international importance and an Important Bird Area globally recognized as a rich birding area like the neighbouring Lake Baringo. Both lakes are on the rise again after the recent rains and the roads shifted to higher ground – it’s quite amusing to see the tarmac lead straight into the water at many points.
By the time we reach the famed hot springs of Bogoria, we can only see them as tiny bubbling spots but still steaming hot with school kids carefully boiling their eggs in them.
The only big mammals we see now are a few baboons and a herd of impalas different from the accounts of the early explorers of the lake surrounded by rhinos and buffaloes.
But we do see a pair of monitor lizards by a black headed heron hunting for insects.
Leaving the lake to drive to Baringo, the freshwater cousin of the caustic Bogoria, we stop at the copper-coloured cliff wall in search of the Black eagle also called the Verreaux’s eagle. They have nested on the cliffs for generations but we see none. Turning the corner for Baringo, we look at the Carpet viper at the Snake Park, a really cute little snake but highly venomous. It’s coiled and rubs its body together to make the “sizzling” warning sound. We move on to the non-venomous friendlier sand boa and then our guide brings out the python. In one little corner of the world, there are so many different things to see.
It’s a scenic drive from Nairobi to Bogoria through the Great Rift Valley, passing the freshwater Naivasha, saline Elmenteita and Nakuru. All are frequented by the flamingos.
You can camp at Bogoria. Or treat yourself to a beautiful stay at Island Camp Baringo on Ol Kokwa Island. It’s where Mary Leakey had her archaeological digs in the 1940s including finding the bao game etched in the rock that was played by our ancestors a few thousand years ago.
There are also a few lake shore hotels ranging from budget to high end. The road is good tarmac, five hours from Nairobi to Bogoria or Baringo. Lots to see en route.
FYI: The alkaline-saline lakes of East Africa are vital for the survival of lesser flamingos – listed as ‘near threatened’ – providing food and a breeding ground for them. They only breed at five known sites spanning four countries – Botswana, India, Namibia and Tanzania – with Lake Natron, in northern Tanzania, being the most important breeding site accounting for 75 per cent of the global population.