Misadventure at Lake Naivasha

There’re some experiences we try to gloss over when reviewing our travels. Not that they’re embarrassing, but probably coz of the mental stress they induce once recalled.

Just the other year, at a time like now, I found myself on a motorboat, looking out for cormorants, pink backed pelicans, jacanas, and fish eagles, the air punctuated by different bird songs of Lake Naivasha’s approximately 400 recorded species.

The lake extends like a vast sunlit sea, with dozens of water bird above and around the sparkling sheet of water surrounded by scenic hills and mountains.

Amidst the sun’s reflections bouncing off the water droplets at the wake of the boat’s motor, colourful shiny-eyed superb starlings flit between the acacia trees on the shore, the backdrop made up of translucent tents of flower farms.

Slightly further afield, there’s Green Crater Lake and Lake Oloiden – both satellites of Lake Naivasha – and the mysterious Djinn Palace and nostalgic Elsa tucked somewhere in the wooded island.

The lake’s shores are broken by rocky promontories and indented by papyrus fringe bays with the distinct pink ears of hippos peeking like submarine periscopes above the surface. Naivasha is home to around 1,200 of the aquatic herbivores.

My companions preferred looking across the grassy banks shingled with cacti and sand olive trees for Thomson’s gazelles, waterbuck, families of warthogs and maybe a giraffe or two.


Naivasha, the only freshwater lake in the Rift Valley, gets its name from the Maasai word for ocean or lake, enaiposha, referring to Lake Naivasha, (which in itself is a redundancy, hehe))).

With the recent as-yet-unexplained rise in water levels within Kenyan Rift Valley lakes, which has forced most of the lakeside businesses to close, livelihoods to be lost, maps to be redrawn and reduced the salinity of the lakes in some cases, Lake Naivasha has also experienced this bizarre incident.

It’s hard to imagine that this was once the airport of the Imperial Airways flying boat service from England to South Africa between 1937 and 1950. The lake was once Kenya’s main airport, with the British Overseas Airways Corporation’s Empire and Solent flying boats landing here after their four-day journey from Southampton.

Salinity and upstream deforestation have been sighted as the main causes of the phenomenon, but the more likely explanation for the extraordinary water increase is that tectonic plates well below the surface have shifted; causing changes in water flows. For now, nobody knows for how long these new watery boundaries will remain as they are.

The lake’s location and wildlife makes it an ideal place for an afternoon boat ride, and as a safari guide and birder, I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

Species records include the Long toed plover, Great white egret, Grey headed gull, Southern pochard, Red billed teal and not mention the Lilly trotter.

So I took it out on that fateful afternoon, for the first time, my brand new phone… the model that had everyone talking, the gadget that was supposed to be “essential” because it takes mobile photography to the next level. I had finally given in and purchased one.

I was shy to use it, a bit of new technology excitement and nervousness.

So I waited to be alone, for my companions to be distracted.

Originally covering an area of 62 square miles, enaiposha is home to a large colony of hippos and it’s also a Mecca for bird watchers and researchers. It is classified as an Important Bird Area, an ecosystem significant for the survival of rare and endangered bird species.

But no sooner than I got the chance to at least set the camera – the others staring half in fear and half in awe at a close pod of hippos, whose grunts seemed scary and odd at the same time – I deployed my phone like it should have been.

But it was not. Unfortunately.

It fell from my hand and it was not supposed to.

My phone dropped from my fingers and it was not supposed to.

It slid and went silently, almost in slow motion, over the boat and into the lake’s dark waters. Barely making a sound.

And it was not supposed to.

Almost immediately, the boat’s engine revved, moving us closer to the hippos, the captain looking smug with this sudden ‘excitement’. The others never heard anything.

So, there I was.

Cruising the lake a few minutes later. Phoneless. In deep thought.

Admiring and cursing eniaposha.

For real.

But would I visit again?


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