We had departed the amazing Maasai Mara region the previous day, bouncing along through the relative wilderness in our trusty jeep, bound for the shores of Lake Nakuru.
Along the way we were treated to scenic views of both Mt. Longonot and Lake Naivasha and arrived at our destination just in time for dinner - it was to be an overnight at a budget hotel and it felt like absolute luxury after those few days in the tented camp. Suddenly we had hot showers again! And wifi! And vending machines! We were temporarily back in civilization. We had to make the most of it because, you guessed it, we had yet another crazy early start.
After a 6am brekkie, our first port of call was a game drive in Lake Nakuru National Park, an area known for its prolific bird life including flamingos. They were easy to spot. We arrived at the lake and they were the first thing we saw - hundreds upon hundreds of pink flamingos crowded around the edge of the lake. Amazingly, my driver guide explained that there had been almost ten times as many flamingos here a few years ago, but that the lake waters had receded somewhat.
While the flamingos were stunning to look at, they weren't actually the highlight of this park, for me. That honor was reserved for the white rhino - the first white rhinos I had ever seen in the wild, and one of only two times I would see them on this safari.
They were absolutely huge creatures, milling around not exactly right beside the water's edge, but not too far from it either. Cautious, our driver guide didn't bring us as close as he did to other animals. You could sense he was a little wary of them. Even though they seem relatively placid, there was no doubt in my mind that one could easily crush the sides of the jeep and turn us over if they wanted to.
A few days later I befriended a different guide, and I asked him what kind of dangerous situations he had encountered as part of his job. He told me that one time he had a group in a jeep and they were driving fast through a dry and dusty area.
The vehicle was kicking up so much dust that he didn't realise that there was a white rhino directly ahead on the trail.
He saw him relatively late in the game, by which time the rhino had already started to charge. In the rhinos defence, all he knew was that a large creature, roughly the same colour as himself, was coming directly at him at speed. The poor creature, clearly thinking he was being attack, felt he had no other option but to charge and defend himself.
My friend said he swerved the jeep to the side as soon as he realised what was happening, and nearly overturned the car. Thankfully it came back to all four wheels, but by this time the rhino had turned and was charging again. My friend said he floored the gas pedal to get away and proceeded to drive the car in a zigzag motion. He knew that flat out in a straight line the speed of a jeep was never going to be any match for a rhino. But since the big beasts don't have great sudden turning ability, he thought he could get away if he zigzagged. He was right.
Nothing like that happened to us, however, and we were content watching the rhinos from a safe distance.
Other species we spotted that day included cape buffalo, another dangerous and relatively more aggressive animal, water buck, and large baboons.
Interestingly, I also got to walk around outside of the vehicle today thanks to the presence of heavily armed game wardens who kept watch for predators.
Or course, the guns were necessary in case of animal attack, but through talking to the guards I learned they are mostly only ever used for defense against the heavily armed and ruthless poachers who still break into game reserves in Africa to kill animals such as rhinos and elephants and sell their body parts on the black market.
That evening we left Lake Nakuru. The rest of my group departed for Nairobi, while I was bound for the ominously-named Hell's Gate National Park.