travel guide Masai Mara

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M a s a i M a r a & W e s t e r n K e n ya l a K E V I c T o R I a M a s a i M a r a & W e s t e r n K e n ya s I g H T s & a c T I V I T I E s M a s a i M a r a & W e s t e r n K e n ya K I s U M U in a beautiful bird-filled valley, this discreet and memorable camp has a unique raised treetop walkway leading from the pool and bar-restaurant area to the tents, which are large and comfy without being over the top. The camp supports a solid community-help programme. LAKE VICTORIA Spread over 68,000 sq km, yet never more than 80m deep, Lake Victoria, one of the key water sources of the White Nile, might well be East Africa's most important geo- graphical feature, but is seen by surprisingly few visitors. This is a shame, as its humid shores hide some of the most beautiful and rewarding parts of western Kenya – from untouched national parks to lively cities and tranquil islands. Kisumu P OP 322,700 Set on the sloping shore of Lake Victo- ria's Winam Gulf, Kisumu might be the third-largest town in Kenya, but its relaxed atmosphere is a world away from that of Nairobi and Mombasa. Until 1977 the port was one of the busiest in Kenya, but decline set in with the collapse of the East African Community (the EAC was originally established by Kenya, Tan- zania and Uganda to promote a common market within the region) in that same year due to political squabbling, and the port sat virtually idle for two decades. Recently increased cooperation and the revival of the EAC (which now also includes Rwanda and Burundi) in 2000 has helped establish Kisumu as an international shipment point for petroleum products. Surprisingly the lake plays no part (raw fuel for processing is piped in from Mom- basa and the end products are shipped out by truck) so, while the lake may have been the lifeblood for Kisumu's inception, the city sits with its back to the water. Nonetheless, with Kisumu's fortunes again rising, and the water hyacinth's impact reduced (see box below), it's hoped Lake Victoria will once more start contributing to the local economy. 1 Sights & Activities Kisumu Museum MUsEUM (Nairobi Rd; admission Ksh500; h 8am-6pm) Southwest of the town centre, this mu- seum has three main sections. The first covers western Kenya's three principal linguistic groups: Luo, Bantu and Kalen- jin. The second attraction is a traditional Luo homestead depicting the fictitious life of Onyango as he undergoes the rite of passage to establish his own family com- pound. The last section is a small aquar- ium displaying the nearby lake's aquatic assets and a reptile house holding exam- ples of all the local snakes you don't want to meet. Impala Sanctuary WIlDlIFE REsERVE (; adult/child Us$25/15; h 6am- 6pm) On the road to Dunga, this 1-sq-km sanctuary is home to a small impala herd and provides important grazing grounds for local hippos. In addition to the impalas, there are cages of other Kenyan antelope and monkeys, but frankly it's an awful lot of mon- ey to pay for what is essentially a small zoo! VICTORIA'S UNWELCOME GUESTS Lake Victoria's 'evolving' ecosy em has proved to be both a boon and a bane for those liv- ing along its shores. For arters, its waters are a haven for mosquitoes and snails, making malaria and bilharzia (schi osomiasis) all too common here. Then there are the Nile perch, introduced 50 years ago to combat mosquitoes, but which eventually thrived, growing to over 200kg in weight and becoming every fishing-boat captain's dream. The ravenous perch have wiped out more than 300 species of smaller tropical fish unique to the lake. La but not lea is the ornamental water hyacinth. Fir reported in 1986, this exotic pond plant had no natural predators here and quickly reached plague proportions, even managing to shut down much of the lake's shipping indu ry. Millions of dollars have been ploughed into solving the problem, with controversial programmes such as mechanical removal and the introduction of weed-eating weevils. The inve ment seems to be paying off, with the mo recent satellite photos showing hyacinth cover dramatically reduced from the 17,230 hectares it once covered. 1 2 4

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