The pink red-head of Lake Nakuru

09 May 2007

Lake Nakuru is one of Kenya’s premier wildlife viewing areas, famous for its hundreds of thousands of flamingos, rare wide-mouthed rhinos and, surprisingly, Dalmatians (but more about this later).

We had no special plans to see any of this of course. It’s just that the Danish nurses who asked Nick and me if we were interested in following along on their overnight tour did so while we were watching a particularly gripping movie, and they were distracting us, so we said ‘Yeah yeah whatever we’ll do it in a minute’.

It was unfortunate that the tour left on Sunday (which should be rezoned as a half day, because that’s all I ever tend to see of it).

The night prior we’d realised that while it’s always dangerous to mix beer, spirits, hookah pipes and snus, it can be absolutely devastating to then add bad African dance moves on top. I woke up with a sprained ankle, Louise the Irish journo woke up with a pounding headache and the memory of vomiting the first time in 2.5 years, Rob the American woke up next to the house German Shepherd, and Nick didn’t wake up until midday.

By 1pm we were talking about leaving and Rob had found his pants.
By 2pm the Danish girls had also woken up, Louise had cleaned her teeth, and I’d managed to keep down one chapatti; and by 3pm we were “yep just coming now”, and furiously packing our bags and looking for the key to our valuables safe.

Time was of the essence to embark on the 3 hour journey, not only because it is dangerous to travel Kenyan roads at night, but also because the guy leading the tour was a raging alcoholic, and if we left the departure time much past 2pm, we feared he’d be too pissed to drive.

As it happened some other guy was driving the truck, and he had a strict rule to only drink in the evening. ‘Thank God’ we sighed in relief, the sun’s waning light glowing red on our faces.

We arrived at the hotel rather late, just in time for Nick to miss watching his beloved Chelsea FC lose a crucial game. It was a ‘luxury’ hotel, offering all the extras.
“A bottle of water please.”
“Would you like that cold?”
“Can you do it as steam?”

Of course the truck had broken down, and we were required to spend an extra day at the hotel. I spent it reading, the Danish girls spent it snoozing, and Nick spent USD$5 at the local market buying some jumpers. 
So we visited the park a day late, but the animals were still there. Baboons, buffalos, zebra, water buck, élan, giraffe and flamingos…hundreds of thousands of them, painting the muddy plains of the saltwater Lake Nakuru pink.

The peculiar colouring of the greater flamingo (the lesser flamingo is white) led to an intense though not entirely intelligent debate:

“What makes them pink?”
“I heard it was because they eat shrimp.”
“Must be a shitload of shrimp in that lake then.”
“The book says it’s the blue-green algae.”
“Wouldn’t they be blue and green then?”
Nick meanwhile, who has delicate English skin, thought it might simply be sunburn.

The previous day poor Nick had been outside wearing a singlet, the outline of which was now burnt in relief onto his shoulders and neckline. To make things worse he was now wearing a t-shirt, and was in the process of burning a t-shirt line onto his arms as well. (He now calls himself ‘Botox-man’, a Spiderman-esque villain who, due to extreme sunburn, is unable to pull any facial expressions.)

It was almost cloudless and, with the roof panels of the truck removed we were under direct sunlight. Nick decided to put on one of his new jumpers to protect his fragile skin, and we climbed on to the roof to get a closer look at some zebra ambling behind the truck. 

We told Nick to come up top with us, but apparently he was already there – it’s just that his new hooded jumper was in a Dalmatian pattern which camouflaged perfectly in with the zebra. Only when he pulled back the hood to reveal a shock of red hair and a shocking hairline burn, could we recognise him again. 

The other ‘new’ jumper he had bought was from 1985 – an orange fleece with fluoro arms which had ‘Montgomery Techno’ emblazoned on the front, amidst many triangles.

After three hours of chasing animals and one hour catching up on last night’s sleep, our safari was over. It was time to go home.

Safely back at the Backpackers that night, everyone wanted to hear about the animals we’d seen, and also to touch Nick’s pink arms so they could see their finger marks slowly disappear in white.

And even though he was a little embarrassed about getting so sunburnt, he cheered up once I told him people would just assume he’d eaten a shitload of shrimp.


This story is based on real events and people. Even the character ‘Nick’ does exist, despite how implausible it all sometimes sounds.