On The Road From Nairobi to Masai Mara National Reserve
A fter not having had a restful sleep nor being sufficiently nourished, I began to wonder what was in store for me. Sure, the gregarious taxi cab driver who drove me to the hotel property from the airport last night was friendly and asked questions such as if this was my first time to Kenya and where I was from; and he did get me to the hotel property in a timely manner — but that seemed to be all that went right thus far.
I did not like having to pay $50.00 for the privilege of being fingerprinted at the airport for my visa upon arrival; but then again, I do want to leave my mark on this planet. Leaving my fingerprints in a country where they will probably either store them in some dark back room or delete them altogether is not the worst thing in the world, I suppose…
…but here I am in the lobby of this hotel where the participants of the safari for which I paid were supposed to meet; and it was from here where we were to depart from Nairobi to Masai Mara National Reserve and see animals. I had no idea what was in store for me — but then again, that is what adventure is all about, is it not?
Still, I cannot help but think that I was out of my element, thousands of miles from home and anyone who I know. No matter how often or far away I travel, I still get these moments of discomfort — which is natural, I suppose.
I try to distract myself. I notice an object moving slowly beyond the concrete walls which fortify the security of the hotel property and its inhabitants. It is the top of a heavy truck. It stops. It sits for at least five minutes before inching along and stopping again.
Wow. There must be some serious traffic going on out there. Even the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is not that terrible — at least, if my memory serves me correctly, anyway.
I then see a dump truck start to go by; and what was interesting was that the dumping bed was filled with men — not exactly a limousine service by any standard.
I see billboards. One advertised personalized bottles of Coca-Cola. Another showed the news team of two men and two women for a television station.
People have been trickling in and out of the lobby. I wonder to myself which ones will be joining me on this safari. Not those two women, who were backpackers being picked up by a bus. Not that couple, who apparently hired their own guide and safari vehicle. Not that single woman, who temporarily checked out of the hotel and will be back in several days.
Time seemed to be going so slowly. When are the organizers of the safari going to get here, anyway?!?
Finally, one of the organizers comes over to me and asks if I am on the safari. After responding in the affirmative, I was presented with a barrage of paperwork to sign; as well as asked to provide proof of insurance and that I indeed was vaccinated against yellow fever — which I had with me.
By this time, more of the participants of the safari began to gather. Eventually we went outside to two white vans parked near the security gate of the hotel property and had our bags loaded onto them instead of the specially-built truck parked nearby which I originally thought was going to be used. Initially disappointed, I was eventually more and more glad that we used the two smaller vans instead of the one larger truck. I suppose I did not need the padlock which I brought along with me after all.
A couple of people ran up to Richard — who was to be one of our guides on our safari — to thank him profusely for such a wonderful and memorable trip. Maybe this will be a great trip after all, I thought to myself — although at that point, I still was not convinced that I made the right decisions, second-guessing everything.
It turned out that I was the only American to participate in this particular safari — and that was all right by me. There were eleven people out of a maximum of 18 people; and that proved to be just the right number of participants, in my opinion. In addition to me, there were four people from Germany; two people from Canada; two people from Turkey; and one person each from Ireland and Austria. The people from Germany and Austria were assigned to one van, where the guide spoke German; and the rest of us were assigned to another van.
We finally departed for the Masai Mara National Reserve, weaving our way through the dense traffic in Nairobi before finally rumbling down a dual carriageway which was not exactly the smoothest road on which I have ever been.
On the way, we started talking.
I was seated in the back of the van with a gentleman from rural northern Manitoba, where the weather was extremely cold while we were in the temperate climate of Kenya. He was an older man who was traveling with his adult daughter; and they were continuing their trip from their time in the Serengeti in Tanzania, where they also spent time in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. He took note of some of the models of vehicles in Kenya which were not available in North America — such as the Toyota Hilux truck — and also noticed how Toyota seemed to have a lock on the vehicle market in Kenya.
One of the men from Turkey did not speak English at all, save for a few words. The woman from Ireland — who wore a sarong-like sundress — spoke whatever was on her mind. The adult Canadian daughter imparted some of her knowledge to others who asked her questions about Africa; although there were a few points she made with which I quietly did not agree. I was simply taking it all in: the ride, the people, the surroundings which we passed. Things were beginning to look up; and I was at that point looking forward to the safari.
I started to notice many buildings purported to be hotels; but they did not look like the typical hotels in which you or I would seek lodging. It was later imparted to me that these hotels are typically equipped with tents; although I never looked at any of them long enough to see anything but the fronts of the modest — to be kind — buildings. Some of the hotels did not appear to be large enough to have a reception area — let alone room for accommodations. Two of what were probably hundreds of hotels by which we passed are shown in the photographs below.
I immediately thought that no one would exactly confuse these hotels for the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme hotel property. I also doubted that they were equipped with executive lounges and spas — or that frequent guest loyalty program points could be earned by staying at them.
Our first stop was at an OiLibya service station on the edge of the Nairobi area.
At this service station is a small strip of stores which sell food and provisions.
After having stopped to admire the Great Rift Valley, we approached the town of Narok for three reasons: to stock up on provisions such as water in the local supermarket; to exchange currency; and to have the tire checked on the van, as there was apparently something wrong with at least one of them.
Great, I thought. This will cut into our safari time. What have I gotten myself into?!?
While we were waiting for the tire situation to be rectified — and, hopefully, safe before we ventured onward — I took a look at the surroundings at the hustle and bustle of Narok and recorded it in the following photographs, which includes the one at the top of this article.
After being in Narok for at least an hour, we were on our way again, rambling across the vast expanse of the Great Rift Valley past burros pulling loaded carts; herds of cattle gathered around watering holes; what appeared as small shantytowns to foreigners such as I; countless numbers of homemade stands constructed of sticks with proprietors selling roasted corn, vegetables, fruits or other wares to any passing motorist who will stop to purchase them; miniature tornadoes known as “dust devils” arbitrarily whipping up a storm on a small scale on an otherwise bright sunny day.
The paved road of highway B3 was actually quite good; but when the van turned off on the road towards the Masai Mara National Reserve, the road was quite rough…
…but not nearly as rough as when the road became unpaved altogether approximately an hour away from the Masai Mara National Reserve and the campsite which was to become our home for the next two nights.
The driver negotiated the dips and obstacles in the rutted dirt road, stirring up clouds of dirt in the van’s wake — and every single bump was felt by all. It reminded me of the days where I spent hours in a bush taxi traveling on what was then rocky unpaved roads between Bouake and Korhogo in the Côte d’Ivoire.
It had been years — but I was finally back in Africa…
All photographs ©2015 by Brian Cohen.