|Day 4, 5 July 2010: In which we almost kidnap three Maasai children by accident
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
Duncan bravely volunteered to navigate us out of Nairobi at 7 AM. He did well to steer us through the mad matatu drivers, blase pedestrians and suicidal motorcyclists. The further we traveled from Nairobi’s centre, the more the quality of housing deteriorated. By the time we reached the its fringes, they were little more than tin shacks packed with worryingly high quantities of people. Nevertheless, the women remained smartly dressed, while the men became progressively shabbier. We reached the open road abruptly, and after 45 minutes of winding up nicely paved but treacherously narrow highway with no barriers and sheer drops, we caught out first glimpses of the Rift Valley. We stopped the car to take photos, though we knew we’d be mobbed by the curio & gift “shop” (read: tin shack) owners by the roadside. Our enjoyment of the view lasted for all of thirty seconds. “Looking is free,” they assured us, wrestling a large basket of painted stone trinkets towards our car. “Mmm,” we replied warily. I just managed to stop myself from adding, “I’m sure everything else isn’t, though.” Indeed, they tried to sell us their wares so hard that the price of one dropped from Ksh2500 to Ksh100 in under a minute. They followed us back to the car, attempting to push items at us through the open windows.
We followed Tarn’s convoluted instructions to the letter, phoning him when we reached Narok, a junction town, just before 10 AM. He promised to meet us at Aitong at noon. Aitong appeared to be a short physical distance from Narok on the map. However, the primitive quality of the roads and their frequent occupation by stubborn livestock slowed the journey considerably.
View from our windshield
First glimpses of the Rift Valley
Liz & Duncan
Another windshield view
Tarn was waiting at the thriving metropolis of Aitong as promised. Some dust swirled up from the empty market grounds to greet us. Duncan moved to his beat-up truck and the bloke took over driving our SUV. As we stretched our legs at Aitong’s petrol station, a crowd of curious humans, goats and donkeys materialized from the seemingly deserted row of shacks. An entire class of Maasai schoolchildren gathered around Tarn, hoping to catch a ride in the truck. He took on about ten of them, while we could only fit in three because of our luggage. Ours clambered into the back seat and looped their arms around one another, regarding us warily. They didn’t say much until we reached their boma*. Suddenly, they piped up, pointing and saying, “That’s our home.” Stupidly, we all exclaimed at their English abilities and started pelting them with questions. They stared at us, then each other, with saucer eyes. As the boma began to recede from view, one of them said, “Stop!” The bloke hit the brakes, laughing. The children frantically scrambled to escape, but the child locks were on and it took me a minute prise their fingers away from the handle so that I could unlock the door. They piled out of the truck rapidly and stood a safe distance away to shout, “Bye!” They tore through the grass, leaving us in paroxysms of laughter at our own thickness. Imagine the headlines. “Bumbling British make off with Maasai minors.”
Tarn led us down an incomprehensible set of single-rut tracks to his campsite, shedding children along the way. It’s not over the top to say that the site was totally wicked. Four spacious tents - with beds!- nestled in the heart of a conservancy north of the Mara game reserve. Within an hour of arrival, a herd of elephants walked past the camp, tens of metres from us.
First glimpse of elephants in the wild
The bloke’s & my tent, double-sheltered and with adjoining toilet tent
Chef David, Tarn and guard Bos
A short night drive followed before we returned to eat dinner, prepared by Tarn’s chef, David. We weren’t exactly roughing despite being in the middle of a pride of lions. Our first game-watching experience was rich and varied: Rothschild giraffes, Thomson’s gazelles, Burchell’s zebra, wildebeest, elephants, impala, topis, grey crowned cranes, brindled gnus, dwarf mongoose, Grant’s gazelles and a black-backed jackal. The highlight at the end was a spotted hyena and her pups, who flitted past with glowing eyes.
Thomson’s gazelles (common)
Grey crowned cranes
Waiting for sundown, Tuskers in hand
Spotted hyaena & pups
As we sat around the campfire eating our excellent - and rather British - food, we heard the zebras barking, hyenas chirruping and a thousand insects calling. Nightjars and acacia bats swooped overhead while moths and dragonflies clustered around the storm lights. We could see lightning flash in the distance over Lake Victoria. The Milky Way was just emerging from the clouds when I went to bed.
* Word loosely meaning “enclosure” and applied to the Maasai dwellings. Their own word is manyatta.