All I wanted was some fresh air. Away from the dry, circulating air of the airplane. We had just gotten off of two, back-to-back eight-hour flights and we were waiting in a van at the Nairobi airport. The air outside was no better than that of the airplane. The exhaust from the large airplanes and the smell of jet fuel was filling my nose and I knew that my cold was only getting worse. It was late too, about 10 pm, and I just wanted some cool, fresh air to fill my lungs.
About 20 minutes later, we were cruising down the highway with the windows open and the cool night air filling the van. It was like heaven to me. I knew that, inevitably, I was probably getting sick and needed to get some sleep. I had 10 days of “safari” adventures ahead of me. So when we arrived at the hotel, I headed straight for the room. The bed was soft, covered in the whitest linens. We left the window open and sounds of current American hip-hop songs filled the streets. I fell asleep instantly, unbothered by anything going on outside.
We woke early, as we were meeting our safari guides and going through a brief orientation before taking off around 8 am. I was just getting out of the shower when I heard Julie say, “Uh oh…” I looked at her, dripping wet with a towel wrapped around me and noticed that the hair straightener she was holding had smoke coming from it. Her horrified face and the fact that the chunk of hair she was straightening was now hanging from between the two blades of the hair utensil, and no longer attached to her head, led me to believe that something went seriously wrong. We immediately unplugged the cord. Something must have been wrong with the power convertor we were using (since the outlets were not the same as in the USA). But I was more concerned about Julie’s hair. She had lost a pretty sizable chunk, and I was afraid she would be devastated. She took it all in stride though, laughed it off, and said, “Well, there’s nothing I can do about here in Kenya. I’ll just worry about it when I get home.” It was the perfect attitude to start our trip!
After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we gathered in a meeting room with the other dozen tourists. As we sat down, I whispered to Matt, “Do you think we’ll get safari hats?” After all, if we were going on an African Safari, we had to have the hats! After a few minutes of orientation, our leader handed out a packet of goodies…nametags, blankets, some toiletry samples, and safari hats! As soon as we put them on, our excitement went through the roof. We couldn’t wait to get out into the wilderness, safari hats and all. And little did we know that those safari hats would stay on our heads for the next 10 days.
Outside, we met our driver, Francis, who would be with us for the entirety of the trip. We loaded our luggage into the back of the van and found our seats. Matt and I would sit in the very back. A cooler filled with water sat between us and on top of it, we would place our camera. We had rented a very nice camera for the week (to capture those once-in-a-lifetime photos), and it came in a large case, about the size and shape of a briefcase. And while it took up some space, it was a wise investment. The pictures we have from the trip are perfect. Just outstanding.
Francis informed us that we had about five hours of driving that day. About half of it would be on nicely paved roads, and then we would turn off onto a dirt path for the remainder of the drive. So we headed out of the city, excited to see some animals and experience the true wilderness. As we drove through the suburbs, we started to see how the local people of Nairobi lived. There were buildings…huts…lining the streets and men and women walking with donkeys and cattle, hauling fruits, vegetables, and water. It was hot too. I couldn’t imagine my day-to-day life living in Nairobi. It was just too different for me.
A few hours outside of the city, we saw our first zebra. The van filled with screams of excitement…oohs and ahhs. Francis pulled over for a few minutes so we could capture some photos, but informed us that we would be seeing a lot of zebras on the trip. We didn’t believe him and wanted to get as many pictures as possible. He was right though. At the end of the trip, we had seen hundreds of zebras, all in much better settings too.
As we turned off onto the dirt road, Francis told us that we were heading towards a wildlife conservatory, where we would be staying for the night. He also said that we would see giraffes along the drive. What he didn’t tell us though, is that the dirt path would be filled with bumps and dust. For hours on end. Bouncing in the back seat. Dust flying in through the open windows. But there was nothing we could do, so we endured the bouncing, and eventually started laughing about it, knowing that it would all be worth it.
As we approached the conservatory, which was small, about five huts, we saw the giraffes we were promised. Dozens of them, just going about their day, eating and strolling along without a care in the world. A few baby giraffes followed their mothers, and I knew that we were finally in the Maasai Mara, the game reserve and wilderness we had traveled so far and so long to get to.
After dinner at the conservatory, our guides gave us a few instructions and keys to our huts. We were told that the electricity would be turned off between the hours of 11 pm and 6 am. The water for our showers was heated in the morning by a wood burning tank, so timing our showers was pertinent, as it could easily run out or not be warm yet. And finally, once the sun set, we were not to leave our huts as the animals have no boundaries. We were told, “A giraffe might step on you if you’re walking around in the dark.”
Our huts were a little distance away, down a small, dirt walking path, full of little rocks and branches protruding every few feet. Fortunately, our guides had delivered our luggage, so Matt was free to help me get through the rough terrain and into the hut, which had a few stone steps. Once we were inside, we realized that this was hardly a hut, but more of a luxury cabin. It was bigger than my apartment. Our entire tour group could have stayed in this cabin. And it was just for two people! The walls were made of clay, painted a beautiful yellow color. And the roof was made of straw. A large, vaulted roof. Made of straw! One of the walls was made entirely of net that opened up to a large balcony overlooking a small river. I was beside myself in awe.
We had grabbed a few Tuskers – the local beer in Kenya – from the main lodge and were planning on watching the sunset from our balcony. It was one of the most magnificent things I’ve ever done in my life. There were no sounds from the city. No lights filling the sky. The quietness was soothing. We sat there for a few hours, taking it all in and chatting about how lucky we were to be in the middle of Kenya, with the sounds of African animals all around us.
As the night air became chillier and my eyes became heavy, I told the others that I was turning in for the night. I headed into the cabin and quickly changed clothes. The night air had really cooled things down and I was concerned I would be freezing all night long. I grabbed an extra blanket and crawled into bed. As I put my feet further between the sheets, I felt something warm. Something comforting. I wasn’t sure what it was and quickly threw the blankets back. I screamed with excitement. It was a hot water bottle, the kind that is used for headaches, wrapped in a nice cloth. The staff had brought them in for each of us while we were enjoying our sunset, so that our beds would be warm when we crawled in. My screams brought the rest of the group running, and seconds later, there was a knock at the door.
Matt opened it slowly, and two guides, with large sticks in their hands, asked, “Is everything okay in here? We heard someone scream.”
“Yes,” he chuckled. “Everything is fine. My sister just found the warm water bottle in the bed and got really excited.”
“Ok,” they said, with big smiles on their faces, and wished us a good night. And a good night it was…sound asleep under the stars, in our “little” African hut.