Striped coats spread over an artichoke palette, welcomed fingerprints feeding on the plain.

“What’s black and white and red all over?” plays on repeat over the loudspeaker in my mind. Before turning the volume down on this internal megaphone, I wonder if the man driving us through Lake Nakuru will find it as funny as I. Instead, I opt for a question even more intriguing. “Why aren’t all these zebras black and white? Some seem dulled and brown?”

Unlike the first which I kept to myself, this question seems to have an easy answer.

Without hesitation, he responded from the front seat. “Those are females.”

Three rows of young tourists, each with their head popping out the jeep’s convertible top, lower their camera lenses. Glances are exchanged, all of us wondering why hundreds of female zebras will spend long mornings together with not a male in sight. We zoom in to the telling point. A few foals are enjoying their mid-morning breakfast from the warmth of their mothers’ underbelly. Curious glances turn to half a dozen eye rolls as we zoom to a telling spot of any mammal’s anatomy.

Some of these brown and white striped creatures are clearly not female and no guide – no person over the age of four – can argue his point after a single glance.

What’s black and white and re(a)d all over? Apparently not his guide book.

 

Click on an image to see Lake Nakuru Kenya up-close:

 

It’s here and now that I learned a three-word phrase which would soon become a staple expression for the next ten weeks of travel.

This is Africa.

It doesn’t matter that our guide had clearly made up an answer just to spite us or that we were quicker than a champion cheetah on the hunt to find out the truth. This is Africa, and in Africa not all is right or perfect, but all is well if you let it be.

With stripes of white and both black brown white spreading across an eternal prairie and giraffes (twiga) running past Euphorbia trees taller than their spindly necks could reach, all was very well indeed. The others in my truck were already confessing their own immunity to witnessing such pleasures, but I – having missed the tour’s first game drives in Masai Mara to make a last minute trip back to the US – was like a kid in a candy shop.

Zebra! Punda
Giraffe! Twiga

Trying not to shout out excitements and expletives every time a new animal was spotted, the other group members laughed at my girlish mannerisms, thankful for the reminder to appreciate these classically photogenic opportunities surrounding us.

 

Click on an image to see Lake Nakuru Kenya up-close:

 

 

The tables would turn after time passed on this ten-week African safari, and I too would at one point become immune to the gloriousness of seeing an animal in the wild. But for now, during my welcome back to Kenya excursion, to be within a proximity close enough to hear the crunch of twigs beneath oversized hoofs of kifaru and to see oxpeckers pick ticks from muddied leather coats of nyumbu was an otherworldly experience.

Throughout Lake Nakuru National Park, waterbuck, giraffe and zebra have free rein and are seen as common-folk around the 118 square kilometer protected area. Masses of slowly migrating beasts form streams of mahogany freely flowing round the park, unfazed by their four legged or four wheeled counterparts.

After our less than accurate anatomy lesson, we were to spend several hours watching intently as zebra (which shall from now on be pronounced with a soft ‘e’ as does the rest of the English speaking world) mingle with wildebeest and lap at the waters of a soda lake only natives could appreciate the taste of.

The queen of views is offered at the top of this soda lake. Home to over 400 species of birds including African fish eagles, two pied kingfisher, and a vibrant flamingo population in the hundreds of thousands, this Great Rift Valley Lake is a mesmerizing pool to observe. Agama Agama Lizards crawl on sun-warmed rocks, their blue bodies contrasting with their orange necks, a tie-died array well created by Mother Nature. Surrounding them, fever trees appear dead as their roots dig deep into the swampland and their branches cast eerie reflections upon still waters.

 

Click on an image to see Lake Nakuru Kenya up-close:

 

 

 

Before we depart the park, we take a slow drive down a shadowed tunnel of trees. Ending up at a dead end, we spot yet another brown and white striped creature.
It must be a female, we sarcastically agree.
Whichever gender, it’s dealing with an important issue as we approach.

Less than 20 meters away, a white horn catches our attention. Attached to it, our first spotting of this particular animal of the Big Five. This endangered species is tracked around the clock by drones, solar-powered fences, and specially trained anti-poaching units. And now, as we catch our first site of its massive wrinkly body, it is spotting something quite appetizing. Sensing our presence it ignores the awaiting meal for a moment and charges at the trucks, sending wheels spinning and passengers flying.

We drive away and soon exit the park, thankful to have escaped and more thankful to have seen.

Today, the tables have turned. What’s black and white and red all over?
This big guy’s dinner.

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