We admitted to one another that we were not best pleased at our discovery. We’d been promised a guided walk around the future bespoke campsite that was the aim of the establishment of the conservancy and a trip to the market at Aitong, neither of which looked imminent. We spent the cloudy, windy morning huddled in our fleeces drinking tea and waiting for the weather to warm up. The males in our party began to emerge from the tents, looking pretty sorry for themselves.
Once the sun emerged, we started our walk. Tarn pointed out the locations planned for various resort areas in the neighbouring valley. I didn’t pay much attention, being absorbed in trying to capture crickets and photographing tiny wildflowers. We hiked down into the valley, flanked by David and Bos with their spears. The stream was a mere playful trickle but judging from the smoothness of the rock lining the riverbed, capable of turning into a raging torrent during the rainy season. It hosted a lush array of dragonflies, lizards and succulent plants. A rock hyrax peeked at us from under a bush. A red-headed blue and white-striped lizard sunned itself, watching us warily. As we looped back up the hill to camp, Bos spotted a green snake coiled oup near a stream. We’d all stepped over it while crossing the stream and not noticed it. It was a baby boomslang, having a drink. We knew it was venomous. What we didn’t know is that boomslang venom is a haemotoxin, which disrupts blood clotting and causes organ degeneration. If you are bitten and not treated, you not only die slowly, you die bleeding from every orifice. Oh.
Hyaena poop! It goes white because of all the bone matter they digest.
Blokes with hangovers
Tarn & Liz
I’m trying to sunbathe here
We took turns showering and scarfing salads and ham and cheese sandwiches on the return to camp. Once the cars were packed, we shook hands rather formally with the Davids and Bos. They agreed to photographs, which Liz took with her little point-and-shoot as my beast was a little too soul-steal-y for their liking. I climbed into the driver’s seat of the Rav4, excited to be doing some proper off-road driving. I sailed cheerfully along the grass tracks for the first ten minutes, acclimatizing to being on the wrong side of the car. Then we hit the road to Aitong, which was every bit as awful as I remembered. Still, I could just about keep up with Tarn. We reached a river crossing that was blocked by a mired Land Rover. Tarn hooked up his tow rope and pulled it out while we waited to one side. I negotiated the crossing and was quietly gaining confidence when catastrophe struck. Half a kilometre from Aitong, I passed a motorbike. I heard a loud bang and suspected a flat, but the road was so bumpy that I couldn’t tell if the steering was pulling simply because of that. We were so close to Aitong that I didn’t stop immediately, as I should have done. Instead, I pulled into Aitong’s petrol station with a sinking heart. Since the windows were rolled down, I could hear Tarn saying, “Oops, there’s a flat.”
I’d hoped for something straightforward that could be mended, but since nothing ever happens to me by halves, it was not. The rock had gone into the tyre wall and straight out the other side. By driving on it those couple hundred metres, I’d rendered the whole thing unrepairable.
I spent about ten minutes hating myself, the car, the universe and most especially the dozen or so interested onlookers who gathered immediately. All of them simply had to point, cluck, shake their heads and offer unhelpful advice as Tarn swiftly changed the tyre. Still wearing my sad face, I followed the others into Aitong’s bustling weekly market. The Maasai were all done up for the occasion, with beads at their necks, waists and in their stretched earlobes. Their patterned blankets set off their skin and made the scene a riot of colour. I walked through with my eyes downcast, responding politely to the calls of “Jambo” and shaking my head at the onslaughts of hawkers.
Our entourage had been amplified by a local drunk named Joshua, who followed us around telling us that Tarn was his friend and Tarn was very good for the Maasai Mara. Tarn, loftily ignoring all this, paused at a stall to ask about some cloth that Liz had been hankering after. At the stall across from this, Joshua decided to wrangle a bracelet from a woman selling jewelry. Somehow his booze-fuddled mind had managed to pick up on my ill humour and he decided that the way to cheer me up was to fasten these stolen goods on my wrist. Paralysed with embarrassment and confusion, I kept trying to remove my arm from his grasp. The victim of his predation stood there smiling at me. Tarn assured me several times that it was all right, so I reluctantly allowed him to put the bracelet on my wrist. I thanked him and the woman, who was still grinning hugely. I scuttled out of the market, leaving laughter ringing behind me.
The others followed and Tarn bought a round of bitter lemons at the local shop. Joshua wandered off, to our collective relief, after Tarn refused to get him a Tusker. As we finished our drinks, he seemed to sense our imminent departure and reappeared from around a corner. The goodbyes through our vehicle windows were prolonged by his need for extremely long handshakes. We finally drove away from Aitong, Duncan at the wheel of the Rav4 with Liz next to him and the bloke and I in Tarn’s truck.
We hit the main highway after an hour of bumping along the gravel road, relieved to be on asphalt again. We stretched our legs at Narok and swapped passengers, the bloke joining Duncan, Liz and I with Tarn. As darkness fell, tension arrived. We climbed the perilous escarpment overlooking the Rift Valley behind lines of trucks spewing heavy diesel and oil fumes. There were no streetlights, no reflectors and few barriers. Many vehicles had the old-style headlights that blind oncoming traffic even when the high beams aren’t on. It was an unpleasant experience even as a passenger.
Once we passed over the mountain and began to breathe easier, a junction suddenly appeared. “Are they behind us?” Tarn asked. Liz peered at the headlight behind us. “Yes,” she answered. “Good,” he said grimly and wrenched the wheel to the right. Suddenly we were on a shortcut to Karen, the suburb where Tarn stays when compelled to go to Nairobi. This “shortcut” was just as bumpy as the crude roads in the Mara. Adding to the tension of driving in pitch blackness were the pedestrians and the donkey-drawn carts that comprised most of the traffic and which couldn’t be seen until the cars were practically on top of them. By the time we pulled into a petrol station to bid farewell to Tarn, everyone’s nerves were in shreds. Nevertheless, our thank-yous to him were heartfelt. We departed for the last, shortest but still nerve-wracking stretch of our journey into central Nairobi. Duncan had a hell of a time of it, swerving to avoid matatus and a bus that attempted to merge into us.
I ended the day curled up on the sofa battling stomach cramps with ibuprofen and a vast quantity of cool, crisp filtered water. The water at camp, while boiled and clean, also had a tendency to be warm and excessively flavourful. Photo-sharing, Tuskers (for those of us without dodgy stomachs) and grilled cheese sandwiches with George and Anne cheered us up enough to go to bed feeling marginally less shattered.