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Monday, September 27, 2010

Kenya Reminiscing - Part 1

To Kenya

The trip to Kenya took place rather unexpectedly on one of my holidays. I was in the 10th grade, and when I went home my father suddenly surprised me with this trip. I was excited for a couple of reasons, first of which was that we were going to Africa, home of the wild safari, and second, we were going to be there longer than a weekend.

The first thing I learned about Kenya, which may have been the case in other countries in Africa, was that money could get you out of trouble, no matter what the situation. The scenario in which we found ourselves was that we hadn't allowed an adequate amount of time to elapse between getting our necessary "shots" for travelling to Africa (anywhere on the continent, apparently...talk about "blanket judgement") and our travel. I think the stipulated period of time is nine days before you travel, but we showed up in Nairobi two days after getting our vaccinations. So, my father found himself in the Chief Medical Officer's (CMO's) office in the airport, while I was seated outside wondering about what was going on. almost as soon as they had walked in, my father, accompanied by the CMO, arm around my father's shoulder, walked out all smiles and laughter. What had just happened? Well, according to my father, after we had left the airport, the CMO was just about to get started with his "You've got a problem" spiel when my dad offered to buy the man a cup of coffee because, as he put it, we'd been travelling all night, and this man had been in the airport all night. We didn't end up sharing a cup of coffee with him, but instead my dad gave him $2.00 (yes, that was it) and that was that.

From the airport, we went straight to the tour operator's office, where we were introduced to our driver and guide for the week. They gave us our itinerary, a few snacks for the way, and we were off. Our first destination was a wild life reserve known as Masai Mara (Land of the Masai people), and it was a couple of hours away. Now, Nairobi happens to be situated on a plateau, a lot higher up than the plains of the Great Rift Valley (GRV) where Masai Mara is located, but knowing this fact does not prepare you for the splendor that is the GRV, when you're looking down upon it. Furthermore, all the way to Masai Mara, we saw wild animals, zebras, ostriches and the like, on the side of the road...kind of like how we see cattle and stray dogs on the streets in India. Then, out of the blue, and after passing through the arches of the main gateway, we came upon what seemed to be paradise, right in the middle of all the tall grass in the African Savannah. There was a pool, individual cottages for guests, and when we walked into the dining area, a buffet spread that would match the likes of any 5-star hotel in an urban setting. 

Masai Mara

It was late afternoon by the time we ate lunch and freshened up, but eager to get on the trail of a good safari, we took off with our driver to go and get a closer look at all those animals that had been looking at us on our way here. Now, I realize I've said driver and you may imagine us in some 4x4 vehicle, tearing up the landscape with our tyres-with-extraordinary-grip. This wasn't the case. The vehicle that most of us seemed to have been given (oh, there were plenty of other groups there too) were Toyota Hi-aces...that's like a delivery van, if you aren't familiar with the model. No surprises then, that about an hour into our first safari, the engine overheated and we had to wait in our van for help to show up. Thankfully, it did in a matter of minutes. It was a large family that almost nearly occupied two vans, but luckily had 2 seats to spare...one in each van. Well, this wasn't a romantic holiday, so we got in and made our way.

This new van that I was in had a radio, something that I soon realized had a great advantage in the open wilderness, because it allowed drivers to communicate with each other, letting the others know where they spotted a lion, or a herd of buffalo. While admiring this simple radio set, a call came in, and in spite of my lack of knowledge of Swahili, the guy on the other end did seem to say "leopard". That was more than enough for the driver of this van. He turned right, hard, and decided to take a shortcut through a little clearing in the tall grass. Bad idea, it turned out to be. The moment we found ourselves in the middle of the tall grass, the van gave a sharp jerk as it came to a dead stop. We were stuck in the mud, surrounded by tall grass, and it was getting dark. The driver tried to get some help, but most of the other vans were full, and not really near us. One of them said they'd radio the hotel to send help, but that would take a couple of hours at least. So, in a last ditch effort, we jumped out of the van and began to push, creating a sort of see-saw momentum so that we work the tyres out of the groove that they're resting in. 

It was getting darker, as we continued to push, and then suddenly, we heard a soft rumble. At first, it sounded like a muffled roar, not surprising because we were in lion country. But, it was most unnerving because all around us was this yellowed hay-like grass that shot straight into the sky, almost higher than the van, meaning that we wouldn't have been able to see a lion if it had been sitting there watching us all this while. No one uttered a word. I don't think anyone exhaled, for what seemed like forever. We just froze. But, and now that I think about it I can only imagine how silly we looked, because a few seconds after that first rumble, the van with my father in it pulled up alongside...well, pulled up alongside a bunch of guys who were standing around going "Statue" or so it seemed. They had a tow cable, had us out in no time, and we all made it back for a lovely dinner, where we laughed off the apparently imminent danger we had just experienced.

One Last Look Around

The following morning, after a glorious breakfast of fresh fruit and cereal with cold milk, We headed out for another quick round of safari before heading off to our next destination. By morning, the zebra seemed to have a little extra pep in their step, as did the gazelle and the wildebeest. We managed to catch up with a mating lion-lioness pair from the previous evening. As it turns out, this couple was quite the attraction because as we drove up to within range of observing them laying around, I counted at least eight other vans with people ready to take a picture. All the attention seemed to get the lion in the mood because almost as soon as we had pulled up, an imaginary quota of "maximum number of human observers" seemed to have been fulfilled and he begun to grunt in an apparently amorous tone of voice. The female responded appropriately by sitting up and then laying on her stomach, and before you could say "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" they were at it. And almost as soon as it had begun, the male dismounted most inelegantly with a couple of dangerous-looking love bites to the back of the female's neck, accompanied by what can only be described as angry roaring. All the while, the other tourists were furiously taking as many pictures as they could, like they were going to make flip-books of these two doing it. In fact, a couple of French tourists in the other van got so excited that after the lion and lioness had resumed their slumber in the morning Sun, they resorted to yelling "Encore" in the hopes of a repeat performance. I suppose that was all the "action" any normal human being could stand in one morning, so we headed back to the hotel, checked out, and made our way to Lake Nakuru.

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