Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ndere Island

“You live in Kenya!?!”  I get that incredulous exclamation every time I mention where we live on visits back to the US, from moms at the park, commuters on the train, old friends.  I always wonder what they're thinking. Generally, people seem either envious or bewildered.

Unlike a lot of African nations (say Burkino Faso or Lesotho), "Kenya" at least registers in Americans' popular imagination. They might know where it is, and they probably picture grand safaris and majestic animals.  How lucky we are to be in such close proximity of the long stretches of African savanna, giraffes silhouetted in a descending sun, bla bla bla...

But the truth is, we live pretty far removed from the tourist track.  We’re in one of the most densely populated part of the country, but we don’t run into any of the millions of tourists that flock to see the “Big 5.”  

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of beauty just outside our doorstep.  And the best part is that a lot of it is off the well trodden tourist track, so prices are low, crowds are non-existent and local people are unjaded by a constant stream of visitors.

Perfect example: last month we visited Ndere island.  It was only a 45 minute drive to the boat which would take us to the small island – only 1.5 sq miles – uninhabited except for impala and small monkeys.  The island is run by the Kenyan Wildlife Service, though when we arrived at their office the staff were lounging under the shade of a tree, and the boat driver showed up only because we phoned ahead. Like all KWS parks it's well run, but why rush around for visitors who rarely arrive?  

After checking in, we bought some fish to cook at the island's lone campsite and set out to board the boat for the island.  It was large wooden fishing boat, with a fresh coat of yellow paint, water sloshing up through the slats as we crossed the lake.  The motor cut out about part way to the island. But our captain didn't seem worried, so neither were we, and he finally got it going again.  When we arrived at the island there was no dock, so the boat just kind of rammed up to the shore and we all climbed carefully down from the boat to hike up to the top of the island.  



The island is pretty and serene. I could look from the top of the hill and see water on opposite sides of the island, which made me feel kind of possessive of the island, like I had conquered it. The small hills just rolled out like crumpled bed sheets, and the tall prairie grass waved in the breeze, making it's own kind of rippling golden lake.  

The vistas were beautiful, but we saw them mainly from under the largest tree we could find since temperatures can soar on the island.  Still, it was a kind of peaceful solitude you can't easily find in such a populous part of the country, and I felt myself exhale a bit. 





Our family only stayed for the lunch and a small hike, since we didn't want to jeopardize Emmet's newly found all night sleep awesomeness by camping. But our friends camped the night, which they said was magnificent. Maybe I'm projecting, but I imagine being on that small island looking at the twinkling stars at night and then the orange sun slowly illuminating the world in the morning, might have felt like those riches of the cosmos were for their eyes alone. Like that island was their own little planet. I think that's how I'd feel. I guess we'll have to camp next time and find out for sure.

After our stay, we heard rumors of a plan to bring more exciting animal to the island - giraffe, zebra and ostrich - which would come over, Noah’s Arc style, in the same wooden fishing boats we used. The prospect of this made us salivate.  A small island filled with the kind of charismatic mega-fauna (it's a word) that normally draw people to heavily trafficked game reserves might just put our corner of Kenya on the tourist map. Probably a mixed blessing, but if it happens, we'll take it!  And I'll probably get an even more interesting post out of it. 

3 comments:

  1. Guess what? A dear friend of mine lived in... Lesotho when she was a kid b/c her parents were in the Peace Corps! So I know where it is..."your" island sounds lovely & very different from the high-traffic areas of Kenya we're going to (again!) this August. The pull of that horizon, whether across the water or across the savannah is pretty hard to resist...

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    1. That's funny! My husband spend some of his childhood there (Lesotho) and that's pretty much why I know how to pronounce it properly. ; ) And.... you're coming again!?!?! Deb, we have to meet up! It's an easy country to get around it.

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  2. Nice article, Ndere is on my bucket list, the campsite looks awesome! Wonder if mosquitoes are a problem...

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