Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hippo Point, and Kisumu's wildlife

Runners love routine. They may have a variety of routes, but most run just a handful. I think it’s because sticking to a routine means there’s one less thing to think about. And there’s a lot to think about on a run.

So running while traveling often adds a degree of difficulty; it means finding a new route. I just traveled to Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city. It is in the western part of the nation, sitting on the shores of Lake Victoria. I had spent a few weeks in Kisumu a couple of years ago for research on my upcoming book, A Twist of Faith, and that meant I already had a running route.

I headed out to Hippo Point at first light. You can’t go earlier here. A motorcycle or bike or car or truck might hit you. There are also deep holes the size of car tires in the sidewalks. You could fall in and never crawl out. You can’t go much later either. Then the mixed traffic is a nightmare to navigate. Just when it seems safe a biker is flying right at you.

After a mile on the main road, I headed toward Lake Victoria. All downhill and dirt. My memories of the run started coming back to me: the old Sunrise Hotel, which now looked empty; large flowering bushes in front of large homes behind security walls; and the Kisumu Impala Park. A small herd of impalas, most with antlers, stood right by the fence and I stopped a few feet away. They were a little jumpy, but curious, too.

I ran around the park and came to the front gate, which was open, and I ran in a few yards. A sleepy park officer stopped me. He wouldn’t let me enter. The park has a leopard and a hyena in cages, and only the impala and a zebra or two wandering around. Next time.

Less than a mile down the road was Hippo Point. All the way, I ran through swarms of dragonflies. There were tens of thousands of them, hovering like helicopters about 15 feet in the air all the way to the ground. It felt almost like I was running inside a black cloud of insects. They maneuvered around me, not touching me once. I didn’t enjoy it, though.

At the point, hippos are said to come into the shore here, but I did see any. Instead, several fishermen readied their boats, and two gigantic black ibises cried out high in one tree.

The run is an out-and-back, and so I ran through the army of dragonflies, past the beautiful impala, up the hill, and on to the main road, where I avoided bikes, motorcycles, cars, trucks and large holes in the sidewalk. All is well in Kisumu.

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