When I was in Kenya this May, I didn’t go on a tourist’s safari. I didn’t ride in a Jeep with a group of other people, traveling across wide open plains, snapping pictures of dozens of wild African animals. I experienced that seven years ago, and though I would love to do it again sometime, this year there was neither time nor money in the budget.
You may be asking yourself, “So why did you go to Kenya? Doesn’t everyone go for the wildlife?”
I traveled to Kenya under the guise of volunteering. I did volunteer for a few days, and the rest of the two weeks, well, it was complicated. My daughter had dragged me back to Africa, where she would be setting up her own nonprofit organization. I went along to offer my support.
But you want to read about my safari.
I think I will call it a walking safari. We didn’t see a lot of wildlife but we took in the peaceful beauty around us. We got to sense what Africa really is, feel the earth beneath our feet, breathe in the clear air which has filled this space for millennium.
On most safaris within the large game parks, you aren’t allowed out of the vehicle. I’ve come to realize what a shame that is.
Before we start, though, I need to tell you something about the Kenyan people. Their sense of time and distance is not the same as a typical Westerner. If they say that they will be picking you up at eight am, they may not show up until nine or even ten. When they do arrive, if you ask why they are late, they will look at you in disbelief. “But we aren’t late,” they will say. And it doesn’t pay to argue.
Again, don’t be fooled. Just like when they say they will pick you up promptly at eight am, when they say it is “not far” they sincerely believe it, but you should not. If they say that some place is far away, you better believe that and not try walking there.
My daughter and I had arrived at Saikeri, in the Rift Valley, 45 kilometers west of Nairobi, the afternoon before. We awoke bright and early the morning of our walk. The four other volunteers who were staying there were also ready, as was Phillip, the cousin of our Maasai host. Phillip pointed in a certain direction and said that our destination was that hill in the distance. He assured us it should only take an hour and a half to walk there, but I was pretty sure that by looking at that hill on the horizon it would take much longer.
Our Maasai guides had said they would arrive at eight am (can you guess where this is going?). When they hadn’t appeared by 8:45 we cajoled Phillip into starting us on the trek; surely our guides would catch up. And they eventually did.
We followed a well-traveled road across the plain. We passed several herds of cattle, followed by their tall thin Maasai owners. To the Maasai, cattle signify wealth. The goal of every Maasai man is to have many cattle, at least a few wives, and a fair number of children.
We passed several herds of Thomson Gazelle. One herd even had a lone Grant’s Gazelle. The difference being that the Grant’s has long horns and is missing the distinct black strip of the Tommy.
A few zebra were spotted far off of the trail. At one point we even saw a lone emu heading into the brush. No, not too much wildlife, but the views once we reached our destination were well worth it. The Great Rift Valley spread out in all directions, farther than the eye could see.
The two water bottles and the granola bars I had thrown in my backpack were also well worth it. I didn’t need the toilet paper or hand sanitizer I had packed, but those are good things to always carry with you in a foreign country.
It was a seven hour walk there and back. I was hot, tired and sunburned by the time we got back to our guest house. But it was that kind of tired that just makes you want to stop and sigh and be thankful for the amazing day.
I would do it again in a heartbeat.
To learn more about my travels, check out my blog at chrisloehmer.blogspot.com. You can also learn more about my first trip to Kenya in the memoir of that trip, “A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven”, available on Amazon.com.