The elusive Christmas sighting (no, it wasn’t baby Jesus)

Saiwa 1The people you see in this photo did not go to church on Christmas Day.  Instead, they got it into their heads to go in search of a rare sighting – the Sitatunga.

Family outings are rare and when they happen, these night runners take about double the time it takes other families to get out of bed, find their vertical feet and leave the house. This particular journey started at midday.

These people did not go to church to sing praises to the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. But make no mistake, they were celebrating. They were living the reality that God is with us, and they were resolved to enjoy His bountiful creation, to rejoice in His wonderful offerings.

Their destination was Saiwa Swamp, a little known national park run by the Kenya Wildlife Service. And no wonder – at only 3 sq. km, it is the smallest national park in Kenya,  the highlight being that it is  home to the endangered semi-aquatic Sitatunga antelope. That’s what this family was after on Christmas Day. These people thought, since it exists in our backyard, and other people travel hundreds of miles just to take photos of it, we should at least see it in real life once in our lifetime.

Getting there was easy; two small saloon cars packed with the fully alert and noisy ones hurtled on the bumby road to Kitale town, and settled into a steady-paced drive for the 22 km it took to reach the Kipsaina Junction, where another well-labelled KWS sign directed them to drive another 5 km on a murram gate, where they were ushered into the park by very friendly gate staff, who even advised them that they could park their cars right outside the gate to save the parking fees. Made sense considering that one doesn’t need a car to drive around the park anyway, but this family decided to pay the small parking fee anyway.

The Kenya Wildlife Service states that one can undertake activities such as bird watching, game viewing and photography, just to mention a few. With no binoculars at hand, all this family had planned on was to see the Sitatunga close up, take some selfies and if lucky enough, spot a monkey or two. They saw neither; they might have seen some birds and insects.  All the same, it was a wonderful few hours walking along the shaded, enchanting trails, catching up with one another, clowning around and taking lots of photos.

The antelopes are often spotted at dawn, when it’s still extremely cold and foggy, says an old friend of their mother,  who happens to have had the great idea of establishing her retirement home right next to the Saiwa Swamp. She says she’s never been inside the park, but those who have tell her that when the morning temperatures are just right, you’ll also find colourful snakes sunning themselves on the branches of the trees along the pathways.  Most visitors spend the night at the campsite, so they’re up and ready for the rare sighting.

Camping has never been a thing for this family, so I suppose if they were to go back to Saiwa, they’d probably be going for the fresh air and great nature walks.



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