25-09-2021 by Freddie del Curatolo
When it comes to Kenya's lakes, Lake Jipe is, who knows why, overlooked.
On the one hand, this is fortunate, because adding it to the tourist routes of those who admire the savannah of Tsavo West or those who, from Amboseli, look for a photo of an elephant silhouetted against the silhouette of Kilimanjaro, would not shift the economic balance of those who live in these parts that much, but it would change those that keep these places suspended between total peace and a sense of freedom.
The only way to spend a day and see the sunrise over the stretch of water that divides Kenya from Tanzania, south of the town of Taveta, is to stay overnight in the bungalows managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service just a few metres from the lake, entrusting your safety from elephants and especially hippos to the rangers who stand guard day and night. Some even bring their own tent and camp in a designated area. Adventurous young people who in the morning find the footprints of the curious hippo outside their tent and who, if by chance they have to pee at night, add to the many emotions of Africa the thrill of the unexpected, which in itself is diuretic.
All around, however, you are so intoxicated by total immersion in nature that even the wild animals seem to sense that you have not arrived there to cause trouble.
Outside the entrance to the spartan campsite, a family of elephants frolics in the reeds on the lake shore, getting muddy and then diving into the water. The little ones play around and occasionally disturb their parents, who wiggle their trunks joyfully.
Water antelopes, zebras and gazelles graze peacefully in a tranquil setting, like a Renaissance painting. The outline of the Tanzanian mountains sets off the deep blue background of the sky, and beneath this backdrop of eternity, the locals move about.
The Wapare are one of the oldest tribes on earth. They originally came from the Serengeti, where ancient remains of their ancestors have been found, dating back more than 1.5 million years. They still live more or less as they did when the first European explorers met them: fishing and herding. The secluded and little-known Lake Jipe is among the least polluted in East Africa, and fish are plentiful. At the same time, the water is vital for the herds of cows and camels, which have to watch out almost exclusively for leopards.
Some 30 years ago, more fishermen arrived from the north. They are the "luo" of Lake Victoria, who are familiar with the freshwater fish world and are also more skilled in trade.
They have approached the locals with respect and often give them work, with more efficient boats and a sales network that allows them to go beyond their own livelihoods.
You only have to look at the hovels around them. They are huts belonging to poor families who lead a simple life, on the edge of survival. There is no shortage of food, thanks to the fish and the lake's aquifers. Everything else is what must not happen: health, abuse, predator attacks, the inclemency of the weather.
On the only road leading from the Voi-Taveta, now paved, to Lake Jipe, at a certain point two male elephants block our way. Like huge traffic lights, they leave a varied humanity on either side of their bulky bodies. Rows of motorbikes, women on foot with jerrycans of water on their heads, children with footballs in their hands, old people with sticks. And us, with the only vehicle within a few kilometres. After choosing the right leaves, plucking two twigs and waiting for human movements that have not rightly arrived, they pull alongside and proceed towards their immense pool.
Green light in Kenya's greenest and bluest peace
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