We had the opportunity to examine a Maasai warrior up close when we saw one hitchhiking on the Narok road and stopped to give him a lift. He sat next to Anna and we acted like it was the usual course of events to have a Maasai warrior in our car. In that vein, Rick asked if he wouldn’t mind awfully sticking his spear out of the window. I didn’t want to be a sissy but it kept prodding the baby. (Our former Maasai warrior hitch-hikers always put their spears out of the window). Then we said “Asante” and carried on our sign language conversation, which didn’t go anywhere, just round in a circle. At the gate, we took a photo, which captures Anna’s unorthodox all-African beginning in life and it makes us proud.
If I was to describe my heaven I would say it is this: arriving at camp in the middle of the African bush, dusty and travel weary; a warm welcome and a cold fruit drink proffered on arrival; discovering our glorious tent with its outside shower; freshening up and being served the coldest of beers near the fireplace – it’s nippy in winter evenings – and eating a hearty bush meal before falling into a deep sleep, knowing tea will wake us for a dawn safari. This is my heaven. And this is what greeted us in Sarova Mara Game camp after 13 hours driving with the best behaved baby and a husband who wasn’t bad either.
We slept! Anna had a colonial looking cot and I had brought a mosquito net. Part of the excess baggage on the plane was mozzy netting in all shapes and sizes: car seat-shaped, cot-shaped and pram-shaped too. I was breast feeding her, so we hoped that the correct dose of my anti-malarials would filter through, as she was too young for tablets or DEET spray. Just to be sure, we overdosed on mozzy nets instead.
The way to safari – the pure way – is to drive yourself, but take a local ranger who knows the latest movements of the game. In this way we saw incredible game. I’m reminded of Norman Carr’s wise words, which highlight the difference between Europeans and Africans on this subject. Our word for wild animals is Game as in Sport, whereas the local term is Nyama, which means Meat. Language shows how we think, doesn’t it? Norman Carr was the greatest conservationist in Zambia, who strongly believed that success in conservation lay in making it pay for Africans. He understood the African perspective. When your biggest worry is “How do I feed my children today?” you do not care about declining elephant populations, especially when those very elephants destroyed your precious crops last week. But if you can see that conservation brings tourism, which brings employment and food for the table, THEN you are motivated to join the conservation crowd and gain the benefits from this growing family.
The game was abundant! The highlights – because when you are on safari it’s about what you haven’t seen before – were Rick’s first cheetah: a dozing, paw-licking beauty; and a pair of mating lions. Lions earn their title as King and Queen through their downright gutsy mating: they go at it every 15 minutes for 5 days (and the female isn’t even having a good time). It makes for interesting game viewing: there is predictably much grunting and post-coital purring and rolling, but there is violence too as the lioness lashes out at her suitor.
We also found a couple of male lions with a fresh kill – a Thompson’s gazelle – which they were fighting over. The strength of these specimens is immense. You don’t want to trifle with them – especially when they are in a temper. Which is why it was excruciating to have a ten week old gurgling baby just the other side of an open window to these big boys. I kept shushing her, which didn’t help in the slightest.
The following day we set off for Lake Nakuru and its flamingoes on a staggeringly beautiful drive. We swept down onto the floor of the Great Rift Valley and I imagined we were on the stage set of a Western movie with the scenery and sky going on forever. Dust devils swept across the panorama, whipping right up to the clouds. These grey monsters hung low and soon dropped their load ahead. We entered the storm through a curtain and in an instant there was pounding on the car and lashing rain all around us … and suddenly a lone donkey rooted to the spot right in front of us. We stayed and watched the poor fella as he stood there, folded up on himself (like i would) in the gloomy, driving rain.
Then we were climbing steeply up the escarpment out of the deluge, leaving it to donkey and valley below. At the top in Limuru I rescued a major nappy disaster in the foreground (I was still in my Western movie) while the camera panned across the Rift Valley beyond and below, capturing storm and lightening and sun all in one sweep. This was awarded Best View for a Nappy Change.
Lion Hill camp fulfilled my ideal of heaven again – heaven twice in one weekend – and the next morning we made our way through forest, coloured blue by the sun’s waking light to Baboon Cliffs above Lake Nakuru. We reached the summit on foot and peered over the edge. Claude Monet or one of his Impressionist friends had apparently been here: the soda lake below was awash with pink frilly brush strokes, millions of them shimmering on a huge canvas that stretched across the horizon. Disappointingly when we descended to the mudflats, the stench of flamingo droppings made it unpleasant to get too close; my Monet illusion evaporated and smelling salts sprung to mind instead.
We drove on. The Western movie became Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road and ‘ere long we reached the Emerald City: Kericho. This Kenyan outpost has mile upon mile of rich, velvet-green tea plantations, a landscape you could wrap yourself in. Picnic heaven. We forged onwards through Kisumu, the border and the Equator. I was Dorothy with Toto in my arms, knocking my heels together three times and wishing to be home. I woke from my dozing with Anna in my arms to hear Fabian saying “Welcome home to Kansanga”. Not quite Aunt Em, but far more endearing.
We did it! We did some soaking up. That was just one long weekend and we had transported ourselves 1000 miles around Kenya to another world and through several movie plots. Wickedly, we wondered how we would have spent the same public holiday back home. Weeding and a visit to the tip? I’d go for soaking up Africa every time.