Flamingos at dawn on Lake Elmenteita, Kenya
What better way to spend wet and windy days than trawling through old photos: scenes of times past when we lived in Kenya. So all thanks to Tina at Lens-Artists who this week sends us off on a treasure hunt through the photo files. Images may include sunsets, sunrises, birds, mountains, expressive portraits and a host of other things – in combination or otherwise. For the full list, follow the link at the end of the post and be inspired by Tina’s own treasure-hunted photos.
Meanwhile, I’ve chosen photos taken at different times but in a single place where we often stayed – a tented camp on the shores of Lake Elmenteita – a 2-hour drive up the Great Rift Valley from Nairobi. The camp had gone now, but the 46,000 acre wildlife sanctuary that surrounds the lake may still be visited. It is now the Soysambu Conservancy, the land still owned by Lord Delamere, whose grandfather, in the early 1900s, was one of first British colonial settlers in Kenya.
The Eburru massif is still volcanically active. The light here changes every second.
The pioneering Delamere ranch at Elmenteita was never successful, the soil too thin on volcanic bedrock and lacking in vital minerals, a fact well known to local Maasai herders who had long avoided grazing their cattle around the lake. Their name for the place could have offered further clues. In Ki-Maa Elmenteita means ‘place of dust’, their oral accounts telling of times when the lake blew away completely, leaving only a dust-plain.
These days the water levels rise and fall, but in any event the lake is both shallow and intensely alkaline, being one of a string of soda lakes along the floor of Kenya’s Great Rift. The waters are rich in crustacea and insect larvae which support large flocks of Greater Flamingos, and also blue-green algae that keep even larger numbers of Lesser Flamingos well fed. On rocky islands beneath the rugged cones and scarps of the Eburru massif pelicans breed. While around the lake, in marsh and acacia scrub, some 450 bird species have been spotted. The sanctuary is also rich in all manner of plains game: gazelle, eland, impala, waterbuck, zebra, giraffe, warthog, dik-dik, buffalo. And then there are monkeys, aardvarks, spring hares, zorillas, porcupines and rock pythons.
My memories of course are forever fixed in the 1990s, and as an antidote to the kind of nostalgia-wallowing that inevitably overlooks the modernising needs of Kenyans, I should just mention that the volcanic steam vents of the southerly Eburru hills are now being exploited on an industrial scale to generate geothermal power as part of Kenya’s greener, cheaper energy initiative.
Now for my ‘treasure’ trawl:
Who scattered those rose petals on the lake?
I’m including this photo because it shows that East Africa can have very dull weather, often for weeks in July, August and September when it can also be quite cool. The bush is very dry during this period – the main rainy seasons being the short rains in late October – November and the long rains late March – June: if they happen, that is; some years they miss altogether. This last year there have been life-threatening deluges across East Africa. The other striking feature here is the exploded volcanic cone across the lake, traditionally known as the Sleeping Warrior, but also dubbed Delamere’s Nose on account of the original pioneering lordship’s hooter that so impressed the locals.
Paul Kabochi, camp ethnobotanist and medical herbalist. There was not much he did not know about the wilderness, the ways of its wildlife and the healing properties of plants and trees. His animal tracking expertise was often called on by the BBC in the making of wildlife documentaries. The times I spent with him, walking through the early morning bush, or out on night drives, are fused in my heart.
Paul Kabochi and Jo Bickerton on an ethnobotany walk.
I think it was at this point that Paul invited my sister to stick her finger in the top of a harvester ants’ nest. Jo, newly arrived in Africa, but quick as a flash, balked and suggested he might stick his own finger in the nest. This is not the best of photos, but I love the body language: total engagement in more senses than one.
An unexpected portrait:
This tiny Kirk’s dik-dik is not much bigger than a hare. They are rarely spotted during the day, so I was lucky to see this one; even more that he stayed to have his photo taken. Unlike most larger antelope, dik-diks live in monogamous pairs, staying closely together, the male marking their territory with dung middens and secretions from the conspicuous glands at the front of each eye. Each couple generally avoids their immediate dik-dik neighbours, though when boundary disputes do occur they can lead to fierce combat between the males.