Africa: The Greatest Show on Earth
As Avinash sat in the bush plane seat next to me puking into the sick bag I couldn’t help but wonder what we were getting ourselves into as we were flying into the Masai Mara.
For the past few days we have enjoyed being spoiled at one of the most luxurious places we have ever stayed at, the Solio Lodge in the Lakipia area of Kenya. This lodge was ridiculous by any standards, let alone what I thought safari standards should be. As over the top as it was I can’t complain. I experienced one of the worst stomach bugs I have ever had and appreciated being able to spend the long painful night looking into their beautiful porcelain sinks and a lovely water closet toilet.
The game life viewing here was also exceptional. It was almost an insult to our well trained guide, Amos, since he barely had to use his tracking skills to find wild life. As we enjoyed our bush breakfast one morning while looking out over a herd of white elephants we were met with a Rhino conservationist who was there to photograph Amos in the field for an upcoming article he was doing to tell the story about a man from humble beginnings onto a successful career in guiding.
We saw so many white rhinos, black rhinos, antelope, zebra, buffalo that we stopped taking pictures. We even saw a cheetah enjoying it’s fresh kill zebra and spotted an elusive leopard that is only sighted every few weeks at this camp. As fruitful as the viewings were, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed that because we were in a fenced private reserve I felt that there was some artificiality to the experience. True that at a time where rhinos are being poached in staggering numbers for their horns elsewhere throughout Africa, you would never know that at Solio. It is a remarkable program and a haven for these beautiful creatures. Still, I had images of “Out of Africa” in my head and wanted to feel the thrill of hearing an elephant outside my tent in the middle of the night.
Now as the full 12 passenger bush plane was making it’s second landing of three that it would take to get to our southern most region of Masai Mara and trying to find every tissue in my purse to wipe the vomit from my son’s shirt and pants I cursed myself to think it was appropriate to bring a 3 year old on this kind of journey.
As we pulled into our camp I knew this was the real deal. Granted that we had booked the most luxurious and spacious tent at the camp so we knew we would still be relatively comfortable. The view from the mess tent looked down into a river bed where in the distance we could see a pride of lions sunbathing after feasting on wildebeest, which we were lucky enough to see on the drive in. On the way to our room the camp manager pointed out a huge mound of elephant dung mindfully deposited next to the toilet tent that had been deposited two nights ago by a rather destructive elephant that was wandering through the camp. As she pointed it out I saw Avinash also registering where we were. He looked up at me and I smiled and gave him a look I always give him when we are about to do things that might go against most peoples better judgement with a 3 year old, basically expressing to him, ‘woohoo, isn’t this going to be fun?!?” The last time I gave him this look we took him zip lining in Mexico.
Tonight we enjoyed a wonderful shared table dinner with the other few guests at the camp. They are fascinating people. One man from South Africa, Greg du Toit, is a professional photographer- I mean major professional photographer, as in he is published in National Geographic, has books and was talking about a pitch he had later this year to BBC for a Polar Bear shoot he would like to do for them. One of the ladies was a Dutch medical doctor that has been in Africa for 20 years. She has been a bush doctor, small village doctor and now works in Congo as a medical camp coordinator for Congolese mine workers. The stories were amazing and when Avinash showed signs that he was clearly done for the evening I quietly slipped away from the table with him to get him back to the room while Nam got to enjoy some more of the fascinating table conversation.
Camp rules, which were the same at the lodge we left in Laikipia, was that we MUST be escorted back to the tent by a Masai Warrior. So we flashed our light to call for one. Our warrior informed us that we must hurry because he heard something on the way to get us. We had been hearing lions all evening at the mess tent so I assumed that was what he was talking about. About half way to the tent at almost jogging pace holding Avinash he abruptly stopped. He then turned and looked at me wide eyed and asked if I hear ‘it’. I heard lots of things- it’s the African Mara after dark! He announced that it was probably the elephant and he thinks a hippo too. He said that this is very dangerous and took us on a detour where he started gathering rocks to supplement his spear. At this point I was majorly regretting not having emptied my bladder earlier. I tried my best to keep on the Masais heels with Avinash encouraging me to keep up. He then stopped again looking into the vegetation ahead. It felt as if the sound of my racing heart was echoing through the trees. I have never felt so vulnerable in my life. He then turned around again and looked at me and said the elephant is there and we must RUN back to the mess tent. OH MY GOD! He took us within a few feet of the mess tent and commanded us to get inside. He then took off back in the direction we had just come. Avinash and I stood there panting while listening. I still heard the lions roaring, which no longer seemed as menacing as the threat of this elephant. Then we started hearing the rocks being thrown. Was our warrior scaring the elephant with rocks?? About 10 minutes later he came back, his own breath quick and said he has gotten the elephant AND the hippo out of the way for now and we must rush to the tent. I grabbed Avinash and ran like we were being chased by a hot poker.
Luckily we made it back to the tent unscathed and after being zipped into our tent quickly took a hot bath to settle our nerves. When Nam came back to the tent he also reported that he had to run back as did the rest of the guests.
As I finish writing this the next morning after just having been woken up by our 4:30 am wake up, I can report a night of amazing and fear inducing sounds of the lions in front of our tent and the elephant literally snapping branches behind our tent for most of the night.
Yup, this is the real safari deal and I’m going to start saving my pennies so we can do this again!