My First Safari!

I remember hoping for a real adventure.  After waiting almost three years to see my first elephant, I wanted this to be a trip to remember.  That it was...

Tom and I rented a Suzuki four by four and set out from Nairobi expecting to drive four or five hours to Masai Mara, the game reserve we were scheduled to stay at.  Driving four or five hours in the United States is easy.  Smooth roads (mostly), periodic rest stops, frequent gas stations and restaurants make for a pleasant trip.  Kenyan roads are a little different.

Shortly after leaving Nairobi the road became a little rough.  Soon we thought we were driving on the moon.  The potholes were more like craters than holes in the road.  Playing "chicken" is a dangerous teenage sport in the United States.  It is normal driving practice in Kenya.  Small cars try desperately to keep their position on the road while huge lorries plow straight at them.  Everyone tries to claim the smoothest path on the road.  It makes for some pretty exciting travel.

When we finally hit a part of the road that was more manageable we breathed a sigh of relief.  Then we started winding down into the Rift Valley.  The view is breath-taking!  The road, however, will take your breath away.  It curves down and around the hills with no shoulder, few guard rails and sheer drops of several hundred feet. Frequent rains and little upkeep does a lot of damage to the pavement.

Half way to the game reserve, Tom and I stopped to get gas and stretch our legs.  It felt so good to walk around after that drive!  Tom spoke with a man about the game reserve and where the good spots were to see the animals.  He was helpful and even offered to drop everything and travel with us - for a mere two or three hundred dollars!  We settled for a map.

We left so excited.  Our map had "elephant," "rhino," "cheetah," "hippo," "lion," etc. written all over it.  I thought we were going to drive into the reserve and the animals would jump out to greet us!  We arrived at the gate to the reserve.  The map seemed very clearly marked and we were puzzled  why the ranger on duty seemed so skeptical of us reaching our destination in an hour or so.

We confidently set out on the first road.  No problem.  The signs were clearly marked and the road was clearly a road.  In an hour or so we reached the second gate marked on the map.  The map indicated that we would leave the reserve and re-enter a few miles down the road.  At that point, however, the roads stopped looking like roads. 

We prayed and remained calm and relatively confident that we could still find our destination by nightfall.  Then we noticed the rain clouds forming.  As the skies darkened, our nerves began to tense.  We kept searching the map for these new "roads" we were driving on.  In reality they looked to be little more than cow paths used by the Masai to transport their cattle.

We finally entered the reserve again, but none of the roads seemed to match our map.  Then the rain began to fall.  Not just a little, but a downpour.  The Suzuki had a removable hatch.  We had chosen that feature so we could take it off and get a better view of the animals.  Suddenly, as we entered one big crater in the road and landed with a bang, the hatch flew off and we were getting drenched!  Somehow the hatch flew in front of us and we drove over it.  Tom leapt out of the car, threw it back on top and I managed to screw it back into place.  Tom sat back in the driver's seat looking like a proverbial drowned rat.

A short distance down that path we came upon a ravine etched in the middle of the road.  The Suzuki had four wheel drive, but we had never used it and  weren't sure how far we could push things.  So we backed up and began driving back and around the ravine.  I had spotted a trail going through some trees and we hoped that path would be in better condition.  While even that choice didn't appear great, we knew we had to keep moving because it was getting late in the day.  When we successfully maneuvered our way around the ravine, our confidence returned and we felt some of the stress melt away...

Until we met up with a lorry traveling the opposite direction.  We flagged the driver down and showed him on the map where we were headed.  His reply left us speechless.  We had traveled in almost the opposite direction of where the lodge was located.  The driver pointed us to the right "road" and wished us well.

To make this very long story a bit shorter, I won't go through most of the rest of the trip back.  The final road we travelled on toward the lodge was more like a path hewn out of rocks.  It was barely wide enough for the Suzuki to get through.  It was dark by then (no one is allowed to travel after 6:00 p.m. for safety reasons - it gets dark about 7:00) and all we knew was that we were supposed to cross a river and follow a winding road up a hill to our lodge.  As we travelled parallel to and higher than the river, I kept expecting to see a bridge.  I kept watching for the bridge as we wound down closer to the river.  We could tell it had quite a swift current and wasn't exactly shallow. I started praying there really was a bridge to take us across.  I didn't think the four wheel drive would get us through the current.  As we approached the river, we couldn't see a bridge, but there were concrete tracks as wide as our tires sticking out of the water.  It was nerve-wracking, but we made it across the river and up the hill.

Twelve hours after leaving Nairobi, we finally made it to the tented lodging we were booked at.  The camp lights were such a welcome site!  What about the animals, you ask?  That, my friends, will be left for another day...

Lori Ziegler1 Comment