Thursday, March 24, 2011
Don’t get me wrong, I did mean ‘trippers’ and not the other word that many of my friends may like to assume. Let’s begin with a blank statement: the Turkana trip that I undertook while in Kenya is one of the most bizarre undertakings of my entire life, and perhaps by some stretch of imagination the most bizarre of all.
Now those of you who know what I factually do (actually this is a misnomer since I sincerely do nothing to justify my existence on this planet) can easily gauge the depth and boldness of this statement. Reasons were numerous but above all, triumphant over everything else was the strange and odd ensemble of people who by accident and design became my fellow voyagers. Collectively I would call them ‘Turkana Trippers’, individually I won’t name them at all. While the entire trip lasting nearly a fortnight had its own ups and downs and breath-stopping adventures and encounters galore, of which I would divulge elsewhere, I must chronicle and dedicate this article to all my fellow ‘Turkana Trippers’ since it was their oddities, absurdities, freakishness that made the trip all the more indelible from my fickle and absent memory.
A disclaimer; this article is being written with full and total pun intended and some of the trippers, if you ever chance upon this, may take offence (not everyone has the stomach for self-humor) so no names would be used though each character would be described using a set of adjectives and observations that suit them best (at least from my point of view). The trippers would know who I am referring to, and to all my other good readers the trippers are supposed to remain obfuscated, confusing and vague, hazy and hilarious to the point of delirious and so they shall remain. So if this post, at the end, leaves you more confused and dizzy than before, but with a lighter heart and an aching belly then don’t fret, since that is and has been the intent right from its inception.
As your scribe and oddity collector par-excellence I must add a final word that none of this is fabrication or product of poetic liberty. These people do exist in our dimension and they are excellent samples of human kind. In their ordinary daily routine life I am sure they are exemplary in what they do and certainly contribute more towards bettering this planet than I. But this post is also a funny reminder to all of us that even when we fundamentally remain who we are, circumstances and situations, locations and a very long winding dusty dirty ride may have significant effect on our personalities that may alter or reveal our that self that is normally not known even to ourselves. While this alteration may only last momentarily and we are back again soon in our old and amicable shell, these moments are important revelations and may form memories of fun to last a life time and then some.
An acknowledgement right at the beginning; ‘Turkana Trippers’ is not my original thought but a term coined by one of the most intrepid of the trippers, a Caucasian male no less and from him I have borrowed the term (without his approval of course) and you may call it plagiarism but I am sure he, the nice person he is, wouldn’t take offence and not sue me for any libel of liberty. After all he knows what I do and knows that all I can offer him in compensation would be a steep hike up some mountain for which he would have to bear all costs.
All drama, all voyage, all journey and all life ever lived begins at the beginning and with collaboration of the major players in some manner insane bordering on chaos (please refer to the ‘Chaos’ theory of creation).
After a flurry of phone calls and emails that only adds to the already confused atmosphere of the country and participants in that order the trippers finally gather at the house of the central perpetrator of the crime under consideration on a fine evening following such directions and maps that even seasoned Nairobi residents can’t decipher. My two companions or escorts whatever you may prefer, both of who respond to same name though of different sex hailing from different continents, and I are the first trippers to reach our secret meeting place. Our hostess, the omniscient demanding instant obedience, greets us in.
One look at her and I begin to have thoughts (mostly unflattering) as to the kind of adventure I am about to enroll myself into. Her name suggests she has Indian origin somewhere deep into her soul. Her primary occupation as it transpires is to raise fund for the Kenya Museum Society, in which she asserts she is the highest annual grosser. We munch sandwich, samosas, and cakes that we wash down with tea and coffee. We pay the requisite enrollment fee and wait for others to rumble in. As we gather the trippers number 22; perfect for a cricket match sans an umpire. I look around the room and wonder if everyone turns up can we measure 22 yrds for the pitch. I am or used to be (two and half decade before) an accomplished wicketkeeper and opening batsman.
Next trickles in an ancient pair; the man holding his sagging frame upright in belted trousers while his wife (as I rightfully guessed) radiates like a lighthouse in dark storm. She must have been a looker when the days were kind to her. His occupation seems entirely dubious when he claims he does nothing and UNEP pays him handsomely for doing just that. He has open guffaw while his lady has guarded ones. He is tall she is short, and he is rough while she is delicate in a regal manner. They proclaim to be seasoned and veteran safarians (if there is such a term) and campers (little did I understand then their concept of camping). He is Brit while the lady could be from anywhere, wherever they teach women to be deliberately coy. I think she is from Moldova while a later incident places her nearer to Mauritian coast, some conjectured east European while some offered a mixed lineage hinting at mafia connection. Such porcelain complexion has to have some Spanish conquistador genes for sure. Till the end her origins remain a mystery, not that it matters to anyone in the least. They dive and nimble into the sandwiches respectively.
Another couple joins us shortly and much to my instant liking. The man who would later prove to be the most resourceful (in a wasteful manner of speaking) of all might have been Dutch or Danish or some other nationality begin with the letter ‘D’ while his wife is obviously Japanese, my favored nation, who rolls her eyes while her mouth forms the perfect ‘O’ at every given opportunity. He looks weather beaten and beaten up and the broad Jap lady looks well-fed and fed up with. He seems to know almost something about everything and almost nothing about anything while his wife only nods and applauds his knowledgeable innuendos. She apparently has no occupation though fully occupied while he is preoccupied with something that has to be more interesting than attending business meetings all over Africa. On a serious note he does something concerning someone’s welfare and social status; could be his own if I read incorrectly. They bite into everything on the dining table and behave like jolly good old fellows. Then comes a well set lady swishing her skirt in a manner born sweeping all opposition (if anyone dares to) and cooperation on her path with equal equanimity. She has a loud guffaw much like the night cry of some tree jumping quadrupeds and bright enough to solve Kenya’s depleting power problems. She proclaims she lost her husband on the way or perhaps she meant her husband is a lost case or is lost at home or office or maybe she works for the lost and found department, whatever; and she is here by her dainty own self to contribute to the conspiracy though her husband would join us eventually to set it going. She speaks little laughs a lot, eats little, drops a lot and gives the feeling that she couldn’t give a damn if we were heading for the moon as long as it takes care of Christmas and New Year somewhere out of Nairobi. She speaks and behaves like a Brit, which she verifies later and for her dubious occupation or profession she designs designer junk jewel for the gullible. She whispers that she has samples to display and pieces on sale in her car but no one shows any interest in that direction so she quips down and downs more of coffee and scones.
While we wait for some more, as our hostess insists, we reduce the pile of food on table like Egyptian canal diggers and few maps are drawn out of her collection and spread open in the centre. Only the old sagging belted man and the Jap lady’s husband corner the map and jumble and mumble like shady shamans. Soon enough with a joyful shriek of feminine nature enter trio of girls, who along with their companion whom we meet later are named ‘Charlie’s Angels’. One is a dark bespectacled Prima Donna (is she American?) who proves to be a doctor while another (she is French for the sake of this post) is lanky and languid with a tossed-up tuft of unruly tress and her friend the tough looking Swede with short and stocky structure and a carpet of cranium caressing hair. The doctor doctors everything with her smile and wide circumambulating eyes and her favorite expression soon emerges to be ‘OMG’ in bold capital. Her other two friends are again into NGO sector doing good for someone somewhere apparently. They drop terms like advocacy, white paper, Geneva protocol and I do not dare to drop anything else. Women company is always welcome on a road journey so I quickly befriend the Swede since she is the one I can understand the least. They avoid the food like plague.
The couple that enters next can easily win the handsomest couple award on a bad hair day. My brother is born-again Italian and I have many Italian friends and I have spent enough sunny days under clouded Italian skies to know in an instant that this beautiful couple is Italian and they become my second favored tripping companions. The guy is an ace wildlife photographer and safari guide based out of Mara while the woman is on a sabbatical from her earlier social sector work now planning to do major in environmental science from UK. They beam at us and we beam back, a nice display of light and firework around. Italians don’t shy away from food, even when it is cold and clammy and decidedly overexposed, so they proceed to lighten the table just a little bit more. By then the meeting, briefings and deliberations are well under way, hence confusion and bewilderment is the order of the hour. I am the only complete outsider and stranger to the country and contents hence I hold my peace, even when I figure that they are reading the map upside down. The names of places that our hostess rattles out like a paranoid parakeet mean nothing to me; they could be craters in Pluto for all I care. I lean back and size up my companions who would be with me on a trip that is supposed to be life and mind transforming if I am to believe those who can never be believed.
The last attendant for the evening literally stumble inside the room and collapses on the low settee next to the stairs. The meeting silences as everyone gapes at the gasping figure who seem to have just completed a marathon twice over. It takes few minutes of complete incomprehension on my part to finally comprehend the sex of the person. It’s a she and she is old or monumental if used synonymously. She is introduced as the ultimate authority on the area where we are headed in the days to come. With so many years of advantage over all of us combined she should be an authority on anything that she chooses to be. I do not doubt such epicurean wisdom.
The lady mumbles and fumbles and then finally tumbles before telling us all that she has nothing more to contribute. Though shortly she pulls out an equally ancient map from her belt that is even more illegible than the one we have been referring so far. I do not understand her diction, her vocation, her aspiration, her consternation, her nomination neither the cause for her perspiration. Whizzing and wheezing she can have a cardiac seizure any moment, is she capable of such an arduous journey, no matter how much of an authority she supposedly is! I ponder, but I am the only one thus burdened. Everyone else seems to understand perfectly what she is up to and wants us to be up to as well. As the evening winds up with much vigorous handshakes, giggles, kisses (cheek and cheeky types only) blown and planted, farewell shots, etc the only thing I can unearth about the lady is that she is of Austro-German origin, or I could be completely wrong, and has traveled the length and breadth of East Africa and then some with her husband of yester years. With her silver hair tumbling like Niagara she could easily pass off as the fairy Godmother of the pumpkin fame. Such divinity should not only be respected and admired but must be kept on one’s correct side.
On the day of departure that finally arrives like a much harassed and persecuted turtle, we all assemble (one large truck and three vehicles) at a road side gas station sponsored cafeteria and I meet the rest of the cast. The jewel designer’s husband turns out to be a bald man of silver smooth tongue with a name that puts him at the northern shores of UK but insists being a Brit. His humor is infectious and limitless and he covers his henpecked freckles amicably under raucous Rugby jokes. Interestingly his occupation is to balance the financial balance sheets of one of the world’s largest brewery and alcohol brands. They are driving a shining semi-SUV that would soon be turned into dust our conspiracy leader declares and only then he declares that it is company owned and rather new and heavily insured. While I am munching a dried piece of orange peel, a copper haired lady literally trips on a piece of plastic and stumbles at me. She turns out to be a social dentist and of Indian origin. During the trip she lets me into many secrets of African tribal dentistry practices. She is followed by an antediluvian couple who again have Indian origin and the sweet little man turns out to be a legendary doctor who has been personal doctor to Kenya’s founding president. During our trip we would celebrate his 80th (perhaps) birthday with some cakes and snacks that his wife had kept hidden from him till then. The ‘Charlie’s Angels’ had gone up in number with the addition of another fine specimen of feminine charm and grace. The newcomer is tall, unusually fair and ruddy and her Slavic accented heavy drawl reveals her to be from one of the former Soviet republics. Currently she is out of her former job and the trip is an excuse to fill up the gap before she took up another assignment on return. Then I collide into the last couple of the team, who at best can be called copiously and conspicuously cupid. They both are short though the woman isn’t tiny by any standards. The man is thin and bearded with a mischievous glint in his eyes. They had to have at least three decades of togetherness and it is plain to see that they still have eyes only for each other. For some odd reason, as I recall today, it seems that the man was a lawyer while his wife could have been anything. But I may be completely off the mark on all counts. They came from the coastal town of Mombasa, or was it Marsabit! Again of Indian origin!
As the days rolled into nights and days of interminable heat, dust, pestilent, roads that were an insult to their names, irritants and sore bottoms, each of the trippers opened or closed down as the case may be and accordingly I learned more or less about human emotions and errors of intention and commission than I had learned before.
Our esteemed leader has the habit of throwing her habit, hoopla shaped waist and arms akimbo and declaring that no one is listening to her or paying her any marks of respect due to such a fearsome and dynamic strategist. Even then when no one pays her any attention she gives resigned but resonant looks to all us mere mortals and look beseechingly to one of the men folk (mostly at me or the man from the ‘D’ nation) and utter in first person, ‘Ok, can someone get me… (food / chair / tea / fresh air / etc)’. At this point she normally gets what she wants not necessarily from the one she has asked from.
The case of curious couple of sagging man and his beautiful wife of indeterminate mixed origin gets queerer and queerer as the days go by. They drive a white Landrover with UN number plate, which means they get duty free cheap patrol and wine everywhere (talk about political freedom!). Their car interior is shining new, the camping gear more so. He drives like a maniac braving all troughs and crests as if they don’t exist. At every camping place they whizz their vehicle to a remote corner, far away from prying eyes and the man would leap atop the roof like a well oiled chipmunk while the lady would pull out a camp chair and a glass of wine in reverse order. While he would pitch the custom built rooftop tent she would sip her ambrosia with deliberate tardiness, producing barely audible words of encouragement or censure perhaps to her man struggling and belching on top with the tent and the step ladder. That done the man descends to mother earth, huffing and puffing but smiling dazzlingly showing his ruddy face to his woman with pride and flashing teeth bared like that of a predated puma. They or rather he would then get the gas going at the back of the vehicle and cook up something normally smelling nice, all under the cover of a strategically placed canvas and proceed to serve to his lady love. Food done, they would then spread out for a while on the armchairs beneath an umbrella either with a book or with blank expression on their faces. Not once during the entire operation, day after day, would the lady stir from her armchair. They are super efficient and neat in their camping operation to say the least while the rest of the trippers would still be fiddling with their food, tents, ablutions, medications, mosquitoes, etc. While pandemonium prevails around them, the dainty couple would walk through the debris and upheaval of human activity and presence, looking and passing unwarranted comments about what they witness much like the CNN reporters covering Iraq under siege. The man’s acrid humor soon gets on everyone’s nerves, and as self preserving human beings, we all soon learn to either avoid them altogether (almost impossible) or to turn a deaf ear. I use cotton wool in my first aid kit to my advantage by stuffing them in my ear. Towards the end of the trip they suddenly become over friendly to my poor self, offering food (that I suspiciously accept) and solace for my body and soul. Someone whispers they have an eligible daughter and I maintain my modicum decorum thereafter. I am not sure if to wash away any feelings of disharmony that they may have generated among the trippers during the trip, or if they are normally that cordial and generous, but post our return they invite all of us for lunch at their home. The food is delicious but deadly as I almost choke on chilly laced main dish… Mauritian lunch the lady smiles cherubically.
The Jap lady and her over testosterone charged hubby provided humor, relief and food to everyone around. She remains the most delectably decked up among all women; pencil creased skirt, spotless chemise, silk hat, perfect bow on her lips, powder puffs galore and earrings. Her hubby is modern day Laurence of Arabia including the deep lost look in his blue eyes. She would slip, slide and fall at every step into every ditch and slush present and invisible and he would patiently extract her from each encouraging her with cooing words of comfort. He along with the Slavic girl would normally be the first ones to run into a trouble (not created by them) or to view some curiosity. While the Jap lady would always be the last. They and I get along moderately, more for the reasons of incomprehension than any reasons of incompatibility.
The jewel designer and her beer guzzling hubby is everyone’s darling since they behave like Mr. and Mrs. Santa. Their car barely has anything as they dine and camp with the others traveling in the big truck and they offer all their meager resources to everyone. They mingle and befriend everyone, including me and even offer the use of their bedroom and loo to others in times of need. Such generosity and unblemished philanthropy is rare in these days of resource crunch and they instantly become my lifelong friends.
All the Austro-German lady does is mumble under her breath; devour her box of apples and dry fruits, jumps off and in the truck with agility far below her age and looks for stones and rocks on the ground. She and our leader form an odd couple as they often walk away from the crowd in search of birds, seeds, stones, and places to powder their noses. Even at Lake Turkana when some of us, the more intrepid ones, decide to go for a swim, this lady goes far from everyone and dips into the lake behind the curtain of a big rock. She is unusually sprite and spirited and I am curious to find out her tonic. I don’t get to know her well but it is plain to see that she indeed is an authority; of what I couldn’t decipher till the end, but she almost knows something of everything to a degree good enough to befuddle the rest.
The Italian photographer keeps materializing camera bodies, lenses, filters like a conjurer from his bag one after another while his girl plays the ideal assistant pointing out the subjects for his shots or holding up the lens for him or putting her hat across to cut out the sun glare. She is beautiful and gorgeous enough to put the desert roses to shame and with her squeaky and long drawn voice can be heard over the din that the truck and its occupants generate. The photographer speaks sparingly with words and more with gestures. His girl is shy or scared of water and produces one dress after another as the journey proceeds. I like them and they like me. We discuss a lot about photography, Italy and literature.
The legendary doctor, the very diminutive ENT specialist sleeps for most of the journey or just sits silently looking inside the truck as his vertically diminutive wife sits by the window keeping one eye out and the other (sternly) on her husband of 50 years. They don’t exchange many words; with so many years of living under the same roof it’s no wonder. I doubt if they still has anything left to say to each other or in a manner not already spoken. But whenever there is a conversation, it would begin with a nudge or a jumbled mumble from the old man followed by severe reprimand from the lady. In either way the man doesn’t get much word around. He is soon adopted by the ‘Charlie’s Angels’ as their toy boy and they tease him, play with his bald pate. He in turn laughs, blushes and has a jolly good time. His birthday is a great success that we celebrate on the lake shore. I might have at the most exchanged two or three sentences with this couple since I had nothing to say to them at all. Just their spirit to undertake this journey is enough to silence my mind with admiration.
‘Charlie’s Angels’ and I get along well, except the French Angel who till the end remains distant, vague and unimpressed with whatever I do or did or say or said. I did not mind though as the other three were a handful anyway. The doctor is the most paranoid of all and of all things living and dead. She also has the most stylish and up-market wardrobe with matching adornments. As they emerge one after another I understand the mystery of her massive suitcases. I rescue her once from a bog into which she is sinking inch by inch. She nearly pulls me in with her in her fright then I hold on to her as she stretches to her utmost length to wash her feet in a water hole. It proves unsuccessful so she extends her legs out of the truck window and cleanses her feet with much precious mineral water. She is scared of injuries, cuts, cold and blood as it proves later when one of the staff gets injured and she is called upon to do her caduceus duties. The Swede is an exact opposite, doesn’t bother about her appearance at all and speaks little with a nasal twang to her words. We discuss skiing, northern lights and the Arctic. The Slavic-Serbo-Croat girl is a powerhouse and always active like they are prone to be. She drinks like fish or crocs in these parts and is fearless to a delightful degree. A loud mouth, constantly cheerful, ever ready to shake a limb and to shoulder any manual work, she is everyone’s favorite. Yet she thinks I am crazy and asks me about why I do what I actually do for a living. They surprise us all on the New Year camp fire when they emerge dressed in cocktail gowns with teardrop earrings enveloped in fragrances vagrant enough to die for. The trip ends with me discovering the least about the French Angel. I still don’t know who she is, what her name is and where does she come from or where did she go. Does that matter! Absolutely not. Some mysteries, like the Bermuda Square must always remain unresolved and gain mythical aspirations.
That brings me to the couple from Mombasa or Malindi who were always with each other and others as well. They are sporty, fun and cheerful. The man’s goatee is endearing as the woman’s smile. We get along really well and they share much of their food with me. We spend many hours in conversation that surprisingly I fail to recollect now. They invite me to their home on the coast and I assure them of my visit one day. They are good, generous and warm hearted people who mind their own business and are always welcome in a group.
I must sum up with the dentist who becomes a good friend. Quite a bit of the journey she and I sit next to each other, and while I look at the landscape outside she would educate me about the place. I find her erudite and a brilliant conversationist cum conservationist. We speak even after we return to Nairobi. She presents me with two books as promised earlier and it’s a pity that due to my other commitments I am unable to accept her supper invitation. She visits India often and we agree that on her next trip to India, if I am around and if she is passing through Delhi then we must endeavor to meet.
I have lived scattering my life across some of the most hostile and inhospitable terrains on Earth through and with some of the oddest ensemble of human species and perhaps only for that reason the Turkana Trippers to me seemed an exemplary gathering of eclectic people; elegant, divergent, coolant and potent and then jocular and puritanic and satanic but above all interesting and inciting. I love them all though some of them may not reciprocate that emotion to the same degree. Mazel tov!
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
I have always believed that what we gain after severe hardships of mind and matter, brushing death kind, etc appears that much sweeter and worthy. Sarara Camp defies that logic; even if I had been dropped by Donald Trump’s private helicopter (not that he ever would despite being such a sweet man) while nursing glass after glass of Dom Perignon, I would still be struck with the same awe and wonderment that was my state when I laid my eyes on the Sarara Camp and its hosts. That is not to say that my passage to Sarara was paved with silk. This is the story of one of the most enchanting spots in Africa I have ever visited, amply cared and catered by Piers and Hillary, who jointly along with the son Jeremy and other staff truly make it a home. So let’s begin our journey to the Oases of Peace and Harmony.
After braving matatus, marauding drivers, scorching sun, bandits and blizzards of burning dust (you can read about my passage to Sarara in my earlier post titled ‘Batting with Bandits’) when I hop off at the meeting point, I find a well appointed Toyota Land Cruiser safari version with two occupants posing with automatic guns. Northern Kenya, where I am is a true lawless country so I go around the vehicle and satisfy myself with the ‘Sarara’ sticker sticking out of the windscreen before I smile back at the green camouflaged battle fatigued driver, who nods his head, smiles and nods his gun in that order – all pointed at my middle. My recent bandit encounter had already heightened adrenalin density in my blood so I return his smile like Dirty Harry of Clint Eastwood fame. As the other fellow, dressed in traditional Samburu attire, helps the knapsack out of my back into the back seat, the driver offers me another smile of dazzling proportion and utters, ‘Soda?’ In East Africa and perhaps all of Africa, all fizzy drinks are called Soda, no matter what the brand, colour, viscosity, taste and temperature is. I nod my decline and jump into the back seat, glad to be out of the rattling matatu and happy to find some room to stretch my severely aching limbs finally. The driver, whose name now escapes me, places his gun on the floor and turns ignition, and makes a sudden swivel to the right that nearly throws me off the back, since these vehicles don’t possess any doors or roof so to speak. We head directly into a sizeable ditch and are on our way.
As the car humps and dumps, twists and turns through the jungle (we are now inside the Namunyak Conservancy), the guide (the guy in Samburu attire) begins to tell me the stories of the place, about the animals I am likely to see and those I won’t, etc. My camera is cocked and ready to shoot. I eye the dry ground, parched and cracked and at the towering Lololokwi peak to my right that is covered beneath a dense canopy of green. It’s a sacred peak and has an impressive rock wall to the south. From afar it seems to have many climbing and hiking possibilities and I quiz the guide about it. Suddenly out of the bush, runs out a pair of camels and they start galloping right in front directly on our path. Their rumps bump funnily enough and as suddenly they veer to the left and disappear into the bushes leaving a stench of such significance in their wake that if I wasn’t me, I would have gone into a coma. Camel wind, the driver offers through guffaws. For some reason my companions find it extremely funny.
Soon enough the forest begins to turn green, with few odd waterholes. Through a dust cloud emerges Samburu cattle and goat herders, young boys and kids, driving their herds. They wave at me as I wave back. My guide points out several birds to me as well. Namunyak is known for its elephant population, yet I don’t see any. It’s hot now and they don’t like the heat, the driver explains. Hmm I ponder; I do have at least one similarity with elephants. As we drive deeper into the conservancy I feast my eyes on the hills around that seems to have formed a perfect girdle around us, in every direction. They are unusually green and full of lush trees, even though the ground on which we drive is dry and red. We cross several parched river beds. These are so flooded in the rains that sometimes we cannot cross them, the guide reveals. The mountains around have good water catchment and they provide several perennial springs that lead to waterholes and river beds, he further elucidates. We take another of those interminable turns and to my right looms a mid-sized hill. We are almost there; you can see the tents of Sarara on that mountain slope, the driver points ahead onto a green hill. I look but see nothing except what is obvious. We cross an airstrip to our left; I notice the bumpy ground and wonder who could land here, and a tiny hanger shade with a tiny four seat turbo prop plane inside. Piers flies it for our guests, the guide informs, sensing my wonder I guess. And I recall that in our earlier correspondence Piers had offered to fly me out from Sarara back to Nanyuki.
There’s an elephant, the guide points out excitedly towards a giant tree that is swaying gently in the wind whereas the air is still as death. I peer into the shade and in a little while, as the car stops, make out the outline of a massive elephant behind, rubbing itself on the tree trunk. No wonder the tree is swaying. We are merely ten meters away. Elephants destroy many trees, the guide highlights, they eat leaves, branches and then uproots trees and like this (pointing at the elephant bottom) damages more trees. I nod and indicate that I have had my fill of elephant behind and we can go. The vehicle runs up a slope and in a moment reaches the end of the road and to the beginning of my days in this African Paradise.
If a smile is capable of lighting up a night sky (as we often claim for our beloved) then it certainly was emanating from the trim, tall, poised and exceptionally beautiful lady with silver hair who stood expectantly beside her husband in olive green shorts and bush shirt. Piers stepped forward and gripped my extended hand warmly. The rugged looks and contours on his face bespoke of a life-time in the bush. His warm smile glinted off his eyes through the spectacles. I shook hands with Hillary next and immediately felt at home. The staff, all gathered around to usher me in, were all aglow with smiles and more of the same warmth and hospitality.
We climb few stone steps and up a foot track and then turn right to enter the main foyer cum lounge and dining hall tent. The view that lay like a magic carpet in front simply makes me stop on my track and gape with complete awe. We are on a high ground about two hundred feet above the forest and ahead of me lies an unbroken canopy of trees comprising mostly of acacia tortilis and deciduous commiphora bushland, along with mix of newtonia hildebrandii, melia volkensis and delonix elata.
The canopy extends right till the bottom of the surrounding hills and then go up the slopes to the skyline ridges. A sparkling cerulean sky above dotted with few recalcitrant clouds play the perfect foil to the green below. In the foreground glistens a circular shaped natural rock swimming pool reflecting the blue sky in its pristine glory. It is fed by the mountain spring, I am told later, and the water thereafter flows down to a waterhole below for the elephants and animals to drink from. I am ready to jump in; the water is so clear and inviting. Nice view, Piers remarks, and I retort, nice, this is ethereal, mind blowing and numbing in that order. Would you care for some wine, I am asked. Before reaching Sarara I had bound myself to the promise of complete abstinence from any form of alcohol – after all one can handle only that bit of good life and Kenya was offering me far too many options. So I decline and follow Hillary’s advice of freshening up in my tent and returning for evening tea followed by a game drive and a sundowner (watching the sun go down while sipping delicate distillates and munching nutty nutrients – an African tradition followed by all with religious fervour).
A staff in traditional dress guides me to my tent (no 6), which is at the highest elevation, he confides given my penchant for lofty places and also for the view. The path goes through bed of white sand that another staff is sweeping with a broom. He pauses his work and grants me a heart-warming smile for no particular reason. Why he sweeps the sand, I ask of my guide. To keep it clear of any footprints, I learn, and I wonder again, hmm that must keep that guy really busy. We leave the sand beneath and climb more steps made from wooden logs embedded into ground. We reach my abode for the next two days. We enter the tent and I find myself gaping again at the interiors. I have no intention of describing the tent here since it is not possible to catch the elements aptly. Refer to the accompanying pictures of the tent interiors with this post. Above all two factors strike me as most prominent.
They must really love elephants or ele (as Hillary says), since elephant motifs are everywhere; lamp shades, shower curtains, floor tiles, pillow and bed cover, foot-mat, and settees. Even the font used to type out their brochure is in a font called ‘Elephant’ size 12. Though inside a tent I get the feeling of being outside, surrounded by the magnificent landscape. There’s no wall dividing the inside with the outside save a thin mesh to keep the insects out at night. The toilet and shower are all open air and rightfully this qualifies as the loo with a view, and what a view! While you shower beneath the grand sky filled with stars there’s every chance of a leopard or an elephant sauntering by. I quickly wash my face of all the dirt between Nairobi and here, throw my stuff helter-skelter and dash out since it is close to tea time and I do not wish to lose out even a second of my stay here doing nothing. Grabbing my camera and water bottle I go down to the lounge area where the tea and a plate of delightful cakes are already in attendance. Hillary pours me a cuppa and introduces me to the handsome tall fellow, predictably British due to his accent, who would be my companion for the evening game drive and sundowner. The tea is piping hot and excellent while the cake is dulcet to the point of ‘sinning’. I enjoy both and then Hillary guides me down to a pathway going around and down the natural pool which has a shaded view point right above the animal water hole, where by now an elephant family had gathered. She asks me to be quiet and make no sudden movements.
I follow the path and enter the camouflaged view point. I haven’t yet seen an African elephant in the wild up so close. Even the baby is big as they play and wallop in a mud pool beside the water hole. A gigantic bull with bulging ear and long tusks separates from the herd and comes to the water hole. I focus my camera and he looks directly into it. I have a feeling he senses my presence, but decides to ignore me. Wild elephants are normally most gentle and equally unpredictable. They can charge without cause and warning and with rapidity that far belies their massive girth. The bull curls and dips his trunk into the water, drawing in a trunk-full and then splashes it on top of his head and back; after several repetitions, he starts drinking. He is joined by another soon and then the first one saunters to a tree for his bottom and body rub. Soon enough the tree begins to sway. The one left at the pool by then has started doing all sorts of contortions with his trunk. I could have continued watching this spectacle endlessly if not Hillary tip-toed behind to inform that the vehicle is ready for the game drive. As we retrace our path back to the lounge area suddenly a bush hyrax drops down from the tree above like a lump of clay, barely missing my head. All three of us freeze. The little fellow recovers first and scurries to the pool for his sip. Hillary giggles and so do I, absolute comedy it is.
Quentin (the tall Brit, a wealth manager at UBS Bank) and I reach the vehicle into which a suspiciously familiar looking cooler box and other goodies are being loaded. It will be difficult to keep up to my vow of alcohol abstinence as I can fathom. Our guide, Phillip (I might have got his name wrong) dressed in Samburu paraphernalia complete with an artificial rose in half-bloom sticking out of his ochre coloured braided tress like a flag atop a fortress. Phillip is a warrior hence unmarried and fit as a fiddle (pardon my over usage of seemingly unconnected connections, for fitness has nothing to do with marriage; or may be it has but how would I know!). Phillip has a nasal baritone (if these two can be produced simultaneously) and in a highly non-melodramatic monotone he tells us about the jungles around, animals, birds, etc. He is a qualified guide and a proud Samburu, educated in college as well. I find no fault in his grammar or syntax as he waves at the clouds, and the sky and the mountains around while weaving a magical tale of the area of his ancestors. He points at a series of caves (round holes) by the steep side of a hill and tells us how the tribes used to fight and slaughter each other in the olden days and this particular tribe who were good climbers, would hide themselves inside the caves and throw stones upon the raiders. Right beside the caves we sight a group of cliff-hoppers.
The vehicle zips into the twilight and we sight a lilac breasted roller, affixed to the top of a bush that doesn’t fly off even when we close to spitting distance, followed by a tiny group of impalas grazing serenely and a funny looking bird with red crown and black wings with white and yellow dots. We are headed for the dry river bed, Phillip tells us, where we might see animals coming to drink water. If it’s dry what would they drink, I ponder, but in Africa as I learn fast, it’s best to keep your mouth shut and mind open for most of the time. Just then the vehicle stops with a jolt and to our right emerges a massive bull elephant, gazing directly at us. We take pictures and suddenly the elephant begins to jiggle its ears and head alarmingly and begins to head our way. He is angry, Phillip tells, he should be, I muse. After all we are in his turf. The elephant closes the gap rapidly and I feel the urge to hop off and run in the opposite direction. The car remains dead and this is not the place to run out of fuel. The driver punches and pulls buttons, twists the ignition key in every direction mechanically possible but the vehicle doesn’t purr or whirr or whatever noise they are supposed to make. I can smell panic around me and I look back at the now rapidly striding elephant trying to calm him down with my thoughts of peace and harmony. We come in peace and we mean you no harm, I chant slowly in my mind. After all I come from land of India where we worship the elephant God Ganesha and I am a lifelong devotee of Ganesha’s father the Almighty Lord Shiva, so either of them would hopefully arrive to save the day. I start calling both and then few more who are not connected to elephants or any animals whatsoever. Divinity doesn’t classify between animals and humans I hope, after all we are animals too, and certainly more brutal and cruel than the wild ones we often hunt and kill.
While I have been looking heavenward the elephant has begun its charge like a tank. We are dead meat no doubt I tell myself and feel rather content about it. Barely 20 ft away from collision and annihilation (for us) the vehicle roars into life and jumps forward like a lion springing at the neck of its prey. The sudden flurry of activity from us now stumps the elephant that freezes on its track and stares at us with unsuppressed wonder and is soon engulfed by the clouds of dust we leave on our wake. Can’t tell about others but I am certainly sweating not due to the heat. Phillip and the driver joke about the incident while Quentin looks far too composed as if he encounters wild elephants every day in London Tube, and maybe he does. Who can say what one might encounter in a London Tube!
By now the sun has sunk behind the high mountain ridges and the sky wears a bright shade of crimson mixed in milk. I have no idea if this particular shade has a name in English. I spy an Acacia tree framed like a frozen ocean wave on the horizon and click few pictures. And then we arrive at the dry river bed where we find another vehicle with a solitary tourist atop pointing his binocular intently at a barren and dry patch of land. If he is seeing anything then either I must be blind or he is seeing it through his mind’s eye. A little away a herd of elephants do some kind of ritual dance as if to appease the water gods, for I don’t see a drop anywhere. Samburu warriors dig wells here every morning for water, Phillip whispers into my ears. I had heard of the ‘Singing Well’ ritual of the Samburu and am eager to watch them in action next morning. As the darkness deepens we leave the river bed and head for the sundowner point. Piers had earlier told me that Sarara had an abundance of leopards since the bigger predators weren’t around and till then I hadn’t seen a leopard in the wild so I ask Phillip for one. He laughs and confides that leopards are very rare to be seen during the day unless one is stalking them for days or one is extremely lucky. I look up for a shooting star but see none and hope that my luck would turn for the better.
At sundowner point, which is a part of the dry river bed, we find two people with tables and chairs placed around a fire that they begin to stoke on sighting us. We hop off and our cooler and goodie box are unloaded as well. We draw near the fire and enjoy its warmth. Phillip approaches with two glasses filled with suspicious looking fluid. I refuse the offering and seek out my water bottle from the bag. Just then the radio of our vehicle crackles and Phillip beckons us to hop into the car. Leopard has been sighted at the dry river bed he utters, adding that we can carry our drinks and eatables in the jeep. Someone up above had certainly heard my wish. We speed off in complete darkness. At the river bed already two more vehicles are poised at the edge. We park in the middle and turn off ignition. The darkness is thick and impregnable. Suddenly a couple of spotting lights (red of a certain wavelength that animals can’t see) spring into action throwing pools of red light down into the river bed.
I strain my eyes into the light and eventually spot the solitary leopard descending from the opposite bank. Set very high ISO on my camera and long exposure to click photos, even then the results are poor, so I shut the camera up and simply watch. The leopard paces up and down for a while and then melts away into the surrounding bushes. On the cue all the vehicles purr into life and we retrace our path back to the sundowner point and the fire. There I meet the other guests at the camp. A family of parents and two kids who run tea estates somewhere in Kenya and another solitary banker from UK named Geoffrey Lunt. All the heady fumes of alcoholic assortments around makes my mind giddy and I find my vow slipping on dry ground so I walk away from temptation and the fire to locate Capricorn in the night sky. As the voices and the heady fumes fade away I immerse completely into one of my favourite activities; to gaze at the star filled sky without seeking in my mind what I am looking at. Complete sense of wonder. To experience something we need not know anything about a thing and what’s in a name that is human concoction! Lost as I am in the moment, I am jolted suddenly by a cacophony (seemingly coming out of the dark forests around) of such immense proportion that but for my altitude attuned heart; I would surely have collapsed in a heap.
The cacophony rises in crescendo and I quietly retrace my path back to the fire where everyone is as jocular and unconcerned as afore. Am I the only one hearing things since the forest still resounds with that horrific noise! They are calling you, Piers suddenly says, directing his words at Geoffrey, at which everyone laughs with gusto and I miss the humour completely. He loves hyenas, Piers now turns to me, those are hyena packs that you hear. I nod my head vigorously, of course they are hyenas, I know, I mutter and finally grab a bottle of soda. Soon the goodies are over and we head back to the camp, our vehicle being at the last. At a place we find another jeep standing stationary while pointing the red spot light into a bush. We take place right next to it and we find a leopard crouched under foliage barely few feet away. Aglow in the red light, the leopard seems unreal and I find it hard to believe that it cannot see the light though it must sense human presence so nearby. The beast seems transfixed under the light and this time I get couple of clear shots, though bathed in that ghostly eerie crimson glow.
We reach back to find the round dining table laid out perfectly along with candle lights and full linen and cutlery besides the water pool beneath the sky dome. If I had ever partaken supper in a setting more beautiful and haunting, I couldn’t remember at the moment. Food is served and table is soon filled with wine, chatter and music and sounds of the forest night. I remain silent mostly, staring up at the sky every now and then, nibbling at my plate and eyeing the wine and cursing my self-imposed vow. Sitting at the table I find it impossible to imagine that the same day morning I was in Nairobi. Sarara is like another world far from anywhere peopled with unsurpassing beauty. I pinch myself hard to ensure it isn’t a dream and I really am where I am. We have been cautioned earlier that night walks alone is forbidden due to the wild animals around, so I sit by the pool for long after everyone else has retired. Sleep eludes me and thoughts assail me in the darkness. I can hear the distant cries of elephants and hyenas and nocturnal birds and insects. I sit in the dark and continue to ponder. After a long while I walk back to my tent, accompanied by one of the night guards. A kerosene lamp outside my tent throws a pale pallor into the night. I change and dive into the bed and am soon overcome with fatigue and dreams of the wild.
Morning twilight creeps into my room silent as the surrounding hills that I can see from my bed, immersed in light fog. I walk out to the veranda and drink in the fresh cool breeze wafting down the green mountains in abundance. Nearly half a million acres of forest lay unfurled beneath my feet with countless animals and thousands of Samburu manyatas (group of family dwellings) scattered within. The world at my feet looks unbelievably pristine and stunning and purposefully peaceful. I could as well be on another planet. I have been all over the world and at every corner of the planet have I found unsurpassable beauty, each spectacular in its own way and it puzzles me forever why would we, human beings and the self-imposed rulers of this planet, go to such great lengths to destroy their own home, planet Earth! Even as a miniscule proportion of the population strive against all odds to safeguard and heal the same. The battle is on and the arena is within ourselves, within hearts of the human race; and evil is certainly winning for the time being. I have no idea who would the final victor be and if there would eventually be anything left for the victor to claim as trophy but as long as places like Sarara and Namunyak Conservancy exists hope would continue to thrive.
I go on an impromptu morning walk, clicking pictures of hornbills in their holes, superb starlings, barbets and thrashers and few early rising elephants, kudus and ostriches. The camp staff has started cleaning up and I am surprised to see female staff too. I roam around aimless with my camera and chat up with few. I walk up to the water hole, scattering few gazelles while the elephants remain elusive. I return after a while for breakfast. It’s a meal fit for the most ravenous and I help myself to moderate helpings. The tea estate family is about to depart and I chat up with them for a while. They invite me to visit them some time and I reply in the affirmative, knowing full well I would never see them again. My walking partner Quentin arrives shortly and we soon leave with our two guides on foot for the ‘Singing Wells’.
Singing Wells is a strange and time honoured Samburu ritual where each morning Samburu warriors from every manyatas assemble at a dry river bed and then dig for water. They often have to dig more than 20 – 30 ft. The first water that comes out is dirty and is offered to the cattle and goats, followed by clear water that is carried in containers by the women folk back to their homes. While they dig, the warriors sing a particular song to appease their animals and also as a chanting for their activity. It has a catchy tune and rhythm. What’s surprising is that every family has its own song and well and are different from the others.
We walk for an hour and reach the dry river bed of last evening where we had sighted the leopard. The place is now inundated with Samburu people and cattle and goats, with more joining in. People are digging wells everywhere. We climb down into the river bed and observe closely. Digging wells under such harsh sun is labour intensive and the warriors are glistening in sweat as the one right below scoops out mud and sand from the sides and bottom of the well and hands it over to a chain of people who brings it out. They use wooden or metal or plastic containers for digging. At one well, an old elder sits on the edge and directs a group of young warriors as how to dig properly. Each well is already lined up with plastic containers and women of all ages. Cows and goats line up next to a long hollowed wood into which the dirty water is poured, from where the animals lap up. The air is redolent with hundreds of voices and different songs and it soon casts a hypnotic spell on me. I soon find myself thumping my feet and moving to the tune. I look around and find a half-clothed girl standing apart who could any day be the rage of Milan haut-couture.
These people live with nature in complete harmony following their survival instincts for sustenance and despite being naked the warriors do not display any signs of discomfort or shyness at our presence. We go around few more wells and talk to the people then retrace our path back to the camp.
The day has begun to get hot and once again I decline chilled wine of excellent vanity (as Piers stressed) and accompany Hillary to show me around the camp. Just before we leave the lounge area, the same bush hyrax again crash lands on ground, once again barely missing my head by inches. This time though it didn’t remain stunned or head for the pool. It simply scurried to a hole on ground and wriggled itself out of sight showing its bottom with utmost dignity and decorum in that order. We both laugh out loud and Hillary decides to name the hyrax after me. So when you visit Sarara, do ask Hillary to introduce you to ‘Satya’.
We go on a tour of the craft souvenir shop (Kudu Corner), the kitchen, the charcoal cooler, kitchen garden and a self contained ‘Sarara House’, which is bigger than a tent and has a dining cum sitting space with an extended wooden deck and sleeps 4 people in two sections. Despite being named a house, it is open from all sides and there’s no door or windows so to speak and gives the occupant a sense of freedom and oneness with the forests around. Breeze and animals flow freely through the house as naturally as the human occupants. Hillary recounts a hilarious episode of a lady occupying the house few years back with her kids when a leopard chasing an ostrich entered the sitting area during night. The leopard finally kills the ostrich inside the house, splattering the walls with ostrich blood and the bird dies while kicking noisily on the walls of the sleeping room. Amazingly the kids sleep through the entire episode and the woman, rather than having a nervous breakdown, mildly suggests in the morning that in the night there had been a bit of a commotion. The lady I am sure was of British origin. I am further amazed to learn that all the tents and accommodations, landscaping, etc are Piers’ brainchild.
We return to the lounge area for a refreshing drink and then a staff takes me on a tour of the rest of the campsite. The camp has six tented accommodations and my guide takes me to no 1 first. I notice that only this tent has a name and it is baptized ‘William.’ On quizzing my guide confides, this is the tent where Prince William had proposed to his girl friend. Hmm, I wonder again, not a bad place at all, but then something else strikes me. As he bids me inside, I quiz again, but I read somewhere that Prince William had proposed his girlfriend in Lewa! He is a prince and he has proposed in many places but this is where, sitting under these roofs that his girlfriend finally consented. By then we had come out in the veranda and I couldn’t imagine a more romantic getaway and place to propose propositions of matrimony. This tent has the finest view, my guide supplied unnecessarily... obvious and plain for me to see. The animal watering hole lay right ahead and below. Evening tea with cakes and cookies while elephants and leopards drank beneath your veranda can indeed be a view worth killing for. From there we go to tent no 4. This is honeymoon tent, guide says, as he guides me in. This is the only tent with its own private pool for the couples to enjoy in solitude. What if someone not on honeymoon wants to book this one, I seek, dumb as ever. The guide shrugs and doesn’t answer. Then an idea strikes me, a complete package deal for Sarara. Let’s imagine, I tell my guide excitedly, a couple arrive and they stay in tent 1, where the boy proposes and is accepted, then they get married in Sarara and then they shift to no 4 for their honeymoon... how about that! He stares at me as if I am a nut case, then he nods his head gravely. He thinks I have sun stroke, they all know I come from the high snow covered mountains of Asia. The private pool of tent 4 is really nice and offers absolute privacy. Tour over, I return to the dining tent for lunch.
Post lunch I sit with Piers and Jeremy and take notes on the Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust modus operandi and community development work that they do. Built around a whopping area of nearly a million acres, Namunyak is a role model trust for others to follow. I would elaborate about it in a separate post. The heartening news being that rhinos would be reintroduced within a year and for that 20 thousand acres of land has already been allocated. In between Hillary introduces me to the resident in-house hornbill, whom I befriend by feeding live worms. As the hornbill sits on my outstretched palm and picks up the worms I smile for the camera and Geoffrey shoots us deftly.
While Geoffrey, Piers and others sip chilled beer I roam around a little looking for more animals, birds and squirrels to shoot. Finally I get jaded by all the elephants that just keep on rolling one after another around the camp (there’s around 4000 elephants in the conservancy) and return hot and humid at the camp. I can resist it no more and changing into swimming trunks slip into the turquoise pool. At its deepest the water reaches my chin. It’s cool and refreshing and I enjoy the view around. Soon enough elephants walk across and drink from the pool right beneath me at barely few arm lengths distance. I have to agree with what Piers had told me in the morning that this pool is perhaps the most spectacular natural rock pool in whole of Africa. I float aimlessly and count the clouds scattered above. Then something tiny and red draws my attention that I follow to discover a miniscule dragonfly doing push-ups on the water edge. Strange dragonfly I muse, but then I am no entomologist perhaps all dragon flies do push ups in the afternoon by a swimming pool.
In the evening Phillip takes Quentin and I to the Samburu village where people are returning home with cows, goats and camels. We enter the manyata and an old lady’s home. It’s dark inside and rather warm. We emerge and engage in a friendly game of bao. It’s a game played on a long wooden board with two rows of embedded bowl pits on each side and played by two with one side each. The playing pieces are pebbles, beads or large seeds, marbles or dried fruits. The rules of the game now defies me but it’s an odd game where players move the stones rapidly from one pit to another, the aim being to finish your stones first to be the winner. Phillip explains the game as he sets the board. Apparently he is the local champion. I ask what they generally play for, goats, he replies. The game progresses in the predictable manner till the very end and when Phillip has almost won, suddenly I emerge as the winner. In one sweep I clear the board of my stones. Phillip is surprised and offers me a goat dutifully. I laugh and assure him that I would take it next time when I come. As we ride back to the camp, darkness sets in and a beautiful crescent moon lights up the sky.
The supper table is set in another corner of the camp, again beneath the starry sky and Geoffrey, Piers and Hillary regale us with amusing stories of their lives. Quentin and I mostly remain silent enjoying the wine and breeze respectively. I turn in early as I am bound for a small hill climb to watch the sunrise in the morning.
Next dawn I wake up around 5 and jog down to the lounge area to find my guide waiting in the jeep. We take off into the darkness. I am eager to climb the hill well before the sun rise. We drive till the bottom of the hill a little away and start walking. Soon we are climbing steeply on rock and mud. As we gain ground the eastern sky begins to turn pink. I am surprised to see elephant droppings rather high up on steep rock faces. I learn from the guide that elephants can and do climb such places. I wonder, hmm, when they have the entire forest to poo, why do they have to climb to discharge themselves; another mystery of the wild I would never know. I scramble to the top ahead of my guide and perch myself beneath a thorn bush. The air is chilly and the entire conservancy now lies beneath me spreading out like an immense field of green. I stare at the dark ridge to the east beyond which the sun lifts its veil. Countless sun rises later at countless places on earth, the cosmic drama still fascinates me. The dawn begins with promise and then rapidly evaporates as the sun climbs too fast and I realize I am literally on the Equator, the sun out here hurries quickly. We climb down and head for camp. I have much more to climb before I depart later at noon.
I return to find breakfast packed and ready to go along with Quentin and Phillip and a gun totting ranger who is strangely called Lord something. We would be climbing up the hill behind the camp right till the top from where gushes a natural spring. Our endeavour would be to see the endemic ‘cycad’ palm tree Encephalartos Tegulaneus which ‘only’ occurs in the Mathews range and on Mt. Lololokwe. I fall behind the ranger and up we go following a faint trail along a gorge. Soon we spy a herd of buffaloes and elephants above us nearby. Suddenly a stampede ensues and the buffaloes, chased by the elephants crash down towards us. The ranger is the first to spring into action. He runs up the opposite hill as fast as his legs and gun would allow. Our guides too urge us to follow the ranger. We run for our lives, since an elephant and buffalo stampede can flatten anything on its path. We rapidly gain ground on the further side from the stampede and through gasping breaths Lord something explains, as if it weren’t already obvious to us, that we have been extremely lucky. Shortly thereafter, once the elephants and buffaloes are gone, we resume our march in a trot as if nothing untowardly had happened all day.
Soon we come to a waterfall and a pathway below on rock, which turns into a giant slide pool in the rains Phillip explains. As we climb further the path becomes steeper and before long we enter thick forests of tall evergreen trees dominated by podocarpus and croton megolocarpus punctuated with patches of olea africana and juniperus procera.
Our guides take turns to explain us the foliage around. At one point we dissect a wild cucumber and smell the interiors; it’s highly poisonous for human though baboons enjoy them as delicacies and then further along we pick up a tiny insect from ground and Phillip demonstrates how this particular insect can only walk backward. How much he pushes and plods the insect, it only moves back and never ahead. Strange creature for sure, that looks identical to a miniature pebble. Nearly an hour and half later we reach the top, right till the gushing source of the spring and we stop. As I am about to sit on a rock, Lord something shouts and waves madly as he points out to the rock and then I sight a frog the size of my little fingernail exactly where I was about to rest my posterior. It is a funny frog for sure, albino in appearance and sitting still as the rock. I take few macro shots of the same and then shoos it away. After all it had been sitting on the best sitting rock in the area. We open our boxes and breakfast merrily. While our companions chatter in their language, Quentin and I discuss British Royalty and such other matters of importance. We pose in front of a cycad tree and then return to the camp. My bags are packed and Jeremy informs that instead of Piers, another plane coming in with a family would fly us out. He too is heading for Nanyuki to attend a marriage.
I quickly scribble my thoughts on the visitor’s book, bid my goodbyes to the staff and return to my tent. Even as I take my last shower at Sarara under the sunny sky I feel an uncharacteristic pang of loss. I don’t wish to depart. I don’t realize where the previous two days go. Rarely does this happen to me. I am always ready for a journey, forever on the roads and to me destinations are only resting points from where to recommence my journey. Sarara beckons me to tarry a little longer. My heart pines to climb every hill and rock face that the place abounds and to befriend the strikingly poised Samburu girl by the singing wells. I nod my head finally, life is all about motion and one must go when one has to go. If time and tide permits this is certainly one place I would wish to return. I take a final longing look at the tent and leave with my knapsack on my back. Everyone is lined up to bid me goodbye. Jeremy arrives with his case and a well ironed shirt dangling from a hanger. Hillary hugs me tight and asks me to return. I shake hands with the farewell group and we board the jeep that Piers is driving and head off to the bumpy airfield.
Soon enough a Tropic Air plane lands raising dust and my respect for the pilot. That should be Charlie, Jeremy tells me. Out hops the tourist family and in we go. Phillip shoves our packs into the boot and Charlie shuts the window. In the rush I don’t even bid Piers a proper goodbye. Perhaps it is for the best since I would do it the next time. Charlie indicates us to strap our headphones. We do communication check and then he throttles the plane forward. A brief run later we are airborne. Jeremy does the introduction and Charlie guffaws good-naturedly, you must be xxxxing crazy mate, and I have seen quite a few crazy ones in my life. He tilts the plane to give me a better view of the camp and forest below. Then he cuts through the air like a rocket and we climb to 9000 ft. I keep the tiny ventilation panel next to me open to get the cool air in. No sooner we have cleared the top of the boundary ridge of Namunyak; I crane my neck behind to get the last glimpse of the forest land that had been my home recently. The aircraft catches a bump and we go down a little on the other side and Jeremy points out the obvious arid region on this side. The difference is so stark, barely within few hundred meters in altitude and few kilometres in distance, the lush unending green has given way to red, chaffed dry earth with barely a trace of green anywhere. Overgrazing and human presence, Jeremy explains further. I follow the serpentine track to Wamba below. Far to our left we can spot the base of Mt Kenya.
Eventually Nanyuki airfield comes to view and Charlie lands with the ease and grace of a ballerina. I thank him for the ride and Jeremy rushes out to meet his girl. I too pick up my sack and bidding Jeremy and his girl goodbye, walk out of the airfield in search of a matatu that would now return me to the world of mayhem and madness in that order.