Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Masai Mara, Kenya III

The cheetah hunts have an ad hoc quality to them, not the polished strategy I might have expected. The three that I’ve been watching for days will wander off, sometimes stalking, sometimes strolling, at this or that group of gazelle. If the gazelle see something suspicious, they’ll usually walk closer for a better look, before bolting in mortal terror.

Just before dawn, two young cheetah chased a large herd south, and mom cut across to drop the last of the gazelle. One animals lies with its mouth open, gaping in surprise and terror, another’s jaws clamp down hard. Life drains away.

Monday, February 26, 2001

Masai Mara, Kenya II

Three cheetah wait in the shadows, watching as a small herd of Thomson’s Gazelle wander closer, oblivious. Stalking in the tall grass, the mother leads her cubs closer. They’re nearly in striking range when another herd crests the hill and bears down without mercy.

No fewer than 13 safari vans race hellbent across the savanna, alerted to the spectacle. The vans and their chattering, laughing cargo surround the cheetahs, spoiling the hunt. Winding through the vans, the cheetah still try to sprint after the scattering gazelle herd.

They give up. Hungry and desperately panting, they slowly limp back to the shade to gather their strength, waiting for another chance.

Show over, the legions depart, in search of another spoon-fed thrill.

Saturday, February 24, 2001

Masai Mara, Kenya

Blind confidence and credit cards will get you a long way in this world, but getting back is another matter.

I should have been paying better attention, but that’s what I always say. One minute I’m cruising down some deserted track through the East African savanna, the next I’m bogged, stuck and wading in ankle-deep mud trying to extricate this pig of a truck.

My fall from automotive grace could hardly be quicker.

Waiting for help seems a poor option. I haven’t seen a fresh tire track in hours. Shoving the car matt under the spinning tires, I try very hard to ignore the shadows of an approaching thunderhead, until the deluge hits and I can only sit inside and stew. i start calculating my survival options. Three weeks worth of food and fuel, lots of reading material. No one on earth with a clue where I am.

Night closes in and I set up my tent on the truck’s roof. There are few places darker than a cloudy, starless night on this savanna. I lie in my sleeping bag disconsolate, chasing sleep that will not come. Just as I start to drift off, a low growl cuts through the darkness, and there’s a snapping of twigs. I unzip the fly just enough to stick out my big cop flash light. I flick it on, squarely into the eye of a passing elephant. Startled and blinded, he kicks his way through my fuel and water cans, and wanders off in a huff.

I sit there calling after him, “Don’t go. Just take the other end of this rope...”

By morning I’m feeling like Tom Hanks in Cast Away. And I don’t even have a volleyball to talk to.

Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Nairobi, Kenya

The hotel staff keep smiling, but their eyes are starting to show suspicion. Every few hours I march through the Serena’s four-star lobby bearing another load of diesel cans, water tanks, expedition food and safari gear in all shapes and sizes.

Oh. A safari, sir? Of course, sir.

I drive through Nairobi like a skittish fawn. A four wheel drive, two ton Mitsubishi fawn, but still. I cannot put the city in my rear view mirror fast enough. Road signage is not Kenya’s strong suit, but I somehow eyeball the way, and soon find myself gaping into the Great Rift Valley.

The land drops a thousand meters revealing lush green plains below. Framing this wonder of nature are dozens of dubious photo platforms, curio shops and ersatz tribesmen, all awaiting tourist buses that seem to be running late.

It takes hours to reach the park entrance, traveling through Masai country and over stupendously bad roads. I find a campground as darkness falls, and have the place to myself, except for my very own Masai warrior. For 300 shillings he’s watching my every move, and will spend the night on guard, spear in hand, to keep me safe.

I’m too exhausted and jet lagged to even feel guilty about paying someone four bucks to protection against lions. rabid dogs and the local banditry.

I just feel so...colonial.