I haven’t taken much time to stand back and appreciate the wildlife in Kenya. This is unacceptable as I am convinced I am spending my summer in one of the “World’s Best Kept Secrets.” My first interaction with this outstanding beauty was when we visited Ruma National Park almost a month ago. We left the Guest Centre at five o’clock a.m. on a Sunday morning in a big ICIPE vehicle. The forty-minute drive was one of the bumpiest and curviest of my life. By the time we got through the gate the sun was rising over the green hills. The silhouettes of more than thirty giraffes slowly appeared in the distance on the horizon. The grass appeared soft and dancing in the perfect breeze, almost a shade of blue in the early stages of sunshine.
After a few hours of driving through the park we got word of rhinos. Our driver excitedly sped up through puddles and wildflowers. This was exhilarating but even more than that. It was breathtaking. Every time we drove through a patch of wildflowers, butterflies of the brightest oranges, yellows, and blues exploded, flying in every direction. Realizing that it was my birthday the next day, I decided the butterflies were my birthday confetti. We never ended up finding the rhinos. I had to pretend like I was disappointed because truthfully, I was so captivated with the personalities of each giraffe we came across I was simply full of happiness.
The next testament of untouchable and secretive beauty was Rusinga Island. This began at three p.m. on the back of a motor bike. My driver, whose name I never learned, was amused by the faces the children made when they saw the color of my skin. Being three weeks into my journey in Kenya, I hardly even noticed. We drove through Mbita and over a bridge that leads to the nearest Island with inhabitants. We drove to the other side to a fishing village. We saw brightly colored boats on a shore of bright orange dirt intermixed with soft black sand. Our next stop was a private park off the shore of the island. Before they could tell me the name of the park I had my shoes in my hands and my feet in the sand. The palm trees shaded my walk across the shore. I then found myself dangling my feet of the dock looking at a perfect sunset.
On the drive back, I found myself feeling much braver. I leaned back on the bike, catching the attention of the sun and the wind. I made it my personal mission to memorize the slopes of the hills along the shore of the island and the color of the dirt along the road. The motor bike drivers dropped us off on the far side of the bridge, so we enjoyed the walk over the bridge, into Mbita, back to the guest center. It was my first time experiencing the market. The place that the social life and the financial well-being, the past and the present, all meet in the middle in Mbita. It’s loud and peaceful, friendly and fast paced. It’s grown to be one of my favorite places in the country and I visit a couple times a week.
The final example of exemplary sights in the small county of Kenya I get to call home is Gambe Hill. Please note, this “hill” would more than likely be considered a mountain back home. We departed for the “hill” at 8 am on Sunday morning. The sun got a head start on its journey up the sky. This meant that it got hot. Fast. Especially because I was expecting a leisurely walk up a hill. I would say it was more along the lines of a challenging hike up a mountain. We took many stops for pictures, water breaks, and wildlife studies. When we reached the top of the hill about three hours later I was breathless. Mostly because it was the most exercise I’ve gotten in entirely too long, but also because of the incredible view. I found a sturdy (enough) rock lodged into the side of the mountain, found a good sitting-spot, pulled out my journal, and captured some thoughts and drawings. My journal reads:
“The best places on Earth don’t have hashtags or a location on Instagram or sometimes even a sign. I wish there was an instrument that made the same sound that wind through grass does; I would learn to play. I also think every place in the world should have a mountain from which you can see everything – as everything looks better from the sky. I think I was the closest I’ve ever been to the sun today. It felt like it was going to reach out and scoop me up! I would’ve let it.”
On our walk down the mountain I noticed the butterflies. Mostly black and orange, but some white and blue, big and small. Their flickering wings and bright colors took me back to the confetti memory in Ruma. The wildlife here, from the rhinos to the butterflies, is so incredible and seemingly untouched by commercialism and tourism. You truly couldn’t put a price tag on the sights from across Homa Bay.
There’s a quote that goes “Rain is like confetti from the sky.” I think it should go, “Butterflies are like confetti in Kenya.” And if the party is in Kenya, that’s an invite list I’ll always want to be on.