I was enjoying a story by the fabulous writer, Christine Retschlag, on her experience in Kenya for https://www.dumbofeather.com/articles/out-of-africa/
While I was reading it I was remembering back over 22 years ago when I first visited Kenya and indeed the African continent. It was early days for international travel writing for me and this trip showed me how curious and weird some trips can get. In fact, it was good travel training ground for me.
When we arrived in Nairobi we waited for more than an hour to retrieve our luggage. Nah. It hadn’t made it from the plane in Jo’burg to our Nairobi destination. This was before social media, mobile phone, the internet to assist,so panic set in and many phone calls were made. Nah. Not happening.
We were to go to Amboseli the following morning with or without luggage.
There was only one other female travel writer on this trip so we headed into town to shop for basics. We figured we could get away with two pair of panties, one pair of Khaki knee-length shorts, two big khaki t-shirts worn several fetching ways. We purchased shorts and t-shirts but we found cheap sneakers and panties at a hardware shop. Delicate little pink and blue knickers were folded alongside various types of hammers and pliers. Ok, that was a first.
The following morning we were driving out of town and I thought we should try the airport one more time. Hail, hail Olympic Airlines – it had transfered our luggage and it was in a holding cage waiting for us.
On we drove through towns that consisted of four or five buildings, little shop fronts and they were all either barbers or butcher shops. At one stop I looked across the road at an expanse of vacant land and two giraffes were taking the morning air. Odd.
You can see Mt Kilimanjaro on a clear day from Serena Amboseli.
We arrived at the Amboseli safari/resort/hotel place and I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me as fine shadows were zipping across the painted and polished concrete floor of the foyer. As I walked the path to my habitat I say little fluffy bottoms poking out of holes in the stone walls. Then I saw the creature above my door – and immediately became a fan of the quirky hyraxes.
The hyrax, a small furry mammal is also called a rock rabbit or dassie. It looks like a robust, oversized guinea pig, or a rabbit with rounded ears and no tail and it mostly has a grumpy little face. Hyraxes have stumpy toes with hoof-like nails; and four toes on each front foot and three on each back foot. And they are distantly related to the elephant – true – do your research.
They are endearing. The following morning I looked out my window to the pool below and could see a great mound of (maybe 20) hyrax piled tenuously on a sunbed taking some early morning rays.
That night around a campfire we drank and smoked (those were the days) and eventually toddled off to our rooms. On the way I slipped on the polished concrete and the ankle twist was so fierce that I went into shock, I couldn’t speak, threw up and almost passed out. One of my travelling companions lazily propped me up against a wall and said to one of the concerned staff “my wife is drunk, watch her while I go to the toilet”. The staff member helped me hobble to my room. I was mortified and speechless and planned my revenge.
The following day we were to meet the people of the Maasai tribe close by. The welcome dance was energetic, much leaping into the air. With my buggered ankle this was not possible for me to join the airlifts. But the young tribal leader – Bruce – yes, that was his name, took me into his house for a visit. The tiny hut house, closed up on a hot day with the animals in the pen inside and the aroma of sour milk did me in and I almost passed out on Bruce’s bed. As he guided me out of the door I was swooning with nausea and threw up at his doorstep. I still feel shame.
There were many little adventures on that particular journey and lessons learned:
- Always get out of bed before dawn to go animal spotting. I was tired, in pain and grumpy and every night promised myself that I would sleep in. Bugger the dawn patrol. Every morning I did get up and had some wondrous sightings of animals including lions and cheetahs.
- Always have items of clothing that you are willing to part with. We were in the backblocks of nowhere and we stopped for a rest from the bouncing, jiggling, pounding driving experience of speeding along roads that were really just a series of deep potholes joined together with spit and a prayer. I waved to a man plowing the ground with a farm implement that was ancient and strapped around his neck. He wandered over for a chat and a smoke (smoking was so social back in the day) and noticed he was wearing a pair of black pants with braces and an old dinner jacket. I thought he would look much more fetching if he had a white shirt to complete his ensemble. I whipped off my shirt (singlet underneath) and gave it to him. He was thrilled and dressed himself and went back to work. There was a scrub farmer looking damn dapper in a Carla Zampatti shirt – couple of seasons old but hey!
- Take jelly snakes with you. This is how international relations with kids is forged. And with adults too.
Towards the end of the trip we took the ‘Lunatic LIne’ (the Nairobi to Mombasa train route). It was an hilarious journey with large bowls of soup being sloshed around the dining car, warnings to keep our windows shut from the top bunk in case of ‘nibbling animals’. But the best part of the train trip was my opportunity for revenge on my fellow traveller. I had waited for eight days.
He was languishing in his cabin with a terrible gasto/vomiting affliction, we visited him regularly with commiserations and acts of kindness. I opened the door and asked how he was and he just moaned, I then asked him if he “would like a fish milkshake with a hair in it”, which sent him into a violent paroxysm – as they say in Kenya – “Shame”.
The writer’s photos of that trip have been lost in time but not memory.
In 1996 at the Australian Society of Travel Writers annual awards night I was named Travel Writer of the Year. Then there were only two writing categories – consumer and trade. Consumer stories had to include three published features. Mine were Nashville; Egypt and the trip called Postcards from Kenya.
I was the second female to take the prize – the first being Susan Kurosawa.