It’s true, not every safari runs perfectly – gasp! We rely on machines (i.e. vehicles) and they are just as fallible as humans – another gasp! In August we had a trip that could have gone a bit smoother. And, as I take a deep breath to calm my nerves about sharing a less than perfect safari with the big wide world, I hope that it will help you with your own expectations of travelling in Africa.
Africa is unpredictable. We tell our guests this about 37 times in our pre-trip documentation as they prepare for their tour. The roads are bad, the police are disruptive, weather patterns are changing, and of course it’s called a “game drive” for good reason – either you win the game or the animals do, depending on who spots who first! But as the safari operator, we don’t actually want to believe that we can’t predict (and prevent) what will happen. Of course contingencies are in place to minimise the impact of any unpredictability on the guest. But it still pains us to have to use those contingencies.
We hosted a large family group of nine in August: two parents, four sons and three wives. They wanted to travel all together in one vehicle so we decided the best vehicle for them was a small overland truck. The itinerary was five days – three in Maasai Mara and two in Amboseli. It had been planned for several months and everyone was excited.
Arriving in Kenya
The first hitch came on arrival. The people arrived but the luggage didn’t. Not a single piece of luggage from the whole group was in Nairobi when they landed. I’m still not sure how that could happen, but it did. The luggage was to arrive on the same flight the next day and so they requested a later departure to Maasai Mara. We were to leave at 8am but by the time they returned to the airport and retrieved the luggage, it was 4pm! And in a truck it’s a long, slow drive anywhere, let alone the bumpy road down to the Mara.
The late departure meant that we were driving at night, which is something we never want to do, especially through the bush. We finally arrived at midnight and the camp staff were so wonderful! We had kept in communication with them throughout the evening and they kept dinner for us and served it very graciously at that hour. Lesson learnt though: next time we won’t depart for Maasai Mara so late and instead leave very early the next day.
The next day our morning game drive didn’t start very early as everyone was tired from the previous night. But Francis took them off around 8am and they spotted lions almost immediately. A truck gives you more height and they got a great sighting of the pride in the grass. Shortly after that though, the truck stopped. And nothing Francis did would move it. Again the camp staff were amazing and supplied a vehicle so our guests could continue with their game drive. Then they supplied another emergency vehicle to tow the truck out of the park.
Francis pulled the engine apart at the camp and discovered the piston had, as he described it, “turned into githeri” (a traditional Kenyan dish of stewed beans and maize, i.e. small round pieces in a bowl). The trouble with engines is that, even if you regularly service them, there are things inside that you can’t see and that will fall apart with enough bumping along on these fabulous Kenyan roads. (I recently discovered in Australia that bushes are something that are replaced every twenty years or so. In Kenya we replace them after almost every trip down to the Maasai Mara!)
So that was the end of the truck for this trip. We organised a replacement vehicle to get the group back to Nairobi the following day. The itinerary continued for the guests as planned, fortunately. The only issue was that there was now no space for Francis and I in this back-up vehicle. We tried to hitch a ride on the road nearest the camp, but it’s a quiet road so we didn’t have much luck. So we got a motorbike taxi (boda boda) across the savannah (outside the park!) to the main gate of Maasai Mara where we would find more traffic. I have to admit that the motorbike ride has been a highlight of my time in Kenya! We have driven that route before, but on a motorbike it was something else! Beautiful scenery, through Maasai villages, across rivers, wow it was stunning!
Somehow we arrived in Nairobi before the guests, despite our waiting for a lift, and then getting public transport in Nairobi to their accommodation. But they had a much more leisurely trip, stopping at the Rift Valley lookout, visiting a Maasai village and having lunch en route. Nevertheless, they were as surprised to see us waiting for them as we were. We made the arrangements for Amboseli the next day and called it a night.
Thank goodness the second half of the trip went smoothly! We had to split them into two smaller vehicles and they switched up their seating arrangements for the two days to spend time with everyone. They saw hyenas, elephants, a large herd of buffalo in the swamp, saddle-billed stork, zebras, a big flock of ostriches, and of course Mt Kilimanjaro. They also climbed up lookout hill for sweeping views over the park.
All’s well that ends well and there really was minimal disruption to the safari for the guests. It was just my own mortification that got in the way of me enjoying myself. But Francis always tells me soberly that “Anything can happen” and he is right. Perhaps we will add that to “Africa is unpredictable” in the trip preparation documents.
Please share your experiences of travel that hasn’t gone exactly to plan – help me realise that not only can anything happen, but anything can happen to anyone!