After learning the basic concept of Pole Pole during my first day in Nairobi, it came as no surprise when I was not picked up from my hotel on time the next day. But roughly an hour and a half after the scheduled time, an hour and half that I couldn't help but wish I had spent tucked up in bed instead of waiting in the lobby, I was bundled into the back of a safari vehicle with six other travelers also clearly experiencing Kenya's go-slow philosophy for the first time.
As bad luck would have it, every single one of them spoke Spanish. Only three of them spoke any English, which was something... but still, I knew in for days and days trying to speak broken Spanish to them, and having the vast majority of their jokes and conversations go over my head.
Adding insult to injury, getting out of Nairobi's congested streets proved taxing. Once outside of the city this problem subsided, but the road conditions notably worsened, so it was only really trading one transport-related problem for another. But hey, I was there, I was on my way, and I was going to see some amazing animals. My spirits were high regardless.
A few hours later, we pulled into our first rest stop - a viewpoint over the Great Rift Valley. The scene laid out before me was absolutely stunning. A huge green rift, as far as the eye could see, full of trees and bushes and dense vegetation. My guide explained that this was the spot where the equator meets the rift, and that the rift runs lengthways down the coast of Africa, starting in Lebanon and running 6,000km all the way down to Mozambique. It was awe-inspiring.
A little while later we stopped for food in the town of Narok, and then it was on to the Maasai Mara game reserve.
We drove right into the reserve, as our camp for the night was a good bit within the game reserve area, and so the safari experience began. Our guide stopped and popped up the extendable roof for us so that we could stand in the vehicle, and then we ploughed along over the dusty unmarked roads.
It was mere minutes before we spotted our first wild animal - a herd of majestic antelope, grazing peacefully on the side of the road. Next came the zebras, bounding along, skittish. Giraffes could be seen on the horizon before long, gracefully pacing between the somewhat isolated African trees.
As the landscape rolled by, we began to see more wildebeest - the nervous antelope-like creatures tending to break ranks suddenly if we came too close, running scared from the cranking and revving of our trusty jeep.
Amazingly, even though it was the first day of my almost two-week long safari, and it was well into the evening, we even came across a herd of elephants, thudding and trumpeting along the plains. The herd included baby elephants, though the adults kept them well guarded - you could catch only glimpses of them between the mammoth legs and trunks as they playfully ran from one adult to another.
Our initial thirst for wildlife spotting satiated, our guide made note of the setting sun and began to make his way towards camp. Nature, it seems had other plans.
Once in the nature reserves in Africa, the driver guides will switch on their CB radios. At first I wasn't sure why, but I came to learn that this communication with other driver guides in the park was useful for two things - warnings about poachers, and tips about where the rarest of the animals were hiding.
On this particular day, even though we were headed for camp, the driver received a muffled tip from the radio that only he could hear. Without a word to his passengers, our driver veered off his course, and trundled through the bush once more. We were intrigued.
A short time later, we spotted a group of two or three other jeeps stopped on the side of the road. The occupants were all standing in the jeep, making use of the raised roof, staring in the same direction, quiet apart from a few shutter clicks from their fancy cameras.
We pulled up and shut off the engine, and then I saw her.
Beyond the nearest bushes, still and calm and entirely ignoring us, sat a beautiful, golden, muscle-laden lioness. Facing away from the commotion she was unwittingly causing, our lioness sat, and remained still, for what seemed like the longest time.
Eventually she turned, looked over her shoulder, yawned a big cat-like gaping yawn, got up and started walking away from us, calm as you like.
To her, a scenario like this was probably old hat. Another day, another bunch of humans coming to have a gawk. But to me? To me the experience was like nothing I'd ever experience before in my entire life.
One might argue that I shouldn't have been so moved, considering every Tom, Dick and Harry under the sun has had a look at a lion in a zoo somewhere. But this, this was completely different. It was like all the roles were reversed - I was in the cage and it was the lioness who was roaming free, going where she liked, doing what she wanted. There was no doubt in my mind about who ruled that land. And ya know what? It felt right. It felt like that was the way it was supposed to be. I could go and look at the lioness, if she allowed me to, but under no circumstances could I control her.
It was a relatively quiet trek to the camp after that. I think everyone was a little bit awe-struck. We saw a hyena soon after that, pretty close to the camp actually, and we also got to see two male Thompson gazelles locking horns over and over again in a fight over a female. But everyone knew the main event had been the lioness, and that she was still out there, somewhere, roaming wherever her heart desired.
A few minutes later, we arrived at the camp. All day long I had prepared myself for budget accommodation, for small, single-man tents. And so, when I saw the camp that day for the first time, I was actually fairly pleasantly surprised.
The area was comprised of maybe twenty huge tents, each one with a bathroom and two actual beds in them. There was a firepit area outside the tents, and a little ways away there was a sort of community building where the kitchen was housed.
There was electricity, amazingly, but it came from a generator so hours of operation were limited. If I remember correctly, there was power from 6am to 8am (for breakfast), and from 6pm to 10pm (for dinner).
Starving after what turned out to be a long day, I filled up on rice that night at dinner before making my way out to the bonfire being stoked by some serene members of the nearest Maasai tribe.
Clothed in their beautiful multi-coloured sheets, wrapped delicately around their tall, thin frames, the Maasai sat silently gazing into the flames. Black as night, one would never even see them sitting there, in the dark shadows cast by the fire, if not for their traditional African garb.
I approached, said nothing, and sat with them, contemplating Africa, and the wilderness, and its immense beauty.
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