The traffic on the way from my hotel to the Nairobi Airport is like nothing I have experienced. Three lanes filled bumper to bumper with an array of cars and vehicles crammed with people. The streets are filled with people as well, darting here and there, along with a vast array of street vendors selling items that seem out of place, certainly not the Africa I have come to see. It takes our driver one hour to traverse five kilometers through the disarray. I yearn to be free of it, to board the Cessna and fly west into the Maasai Mara. I hate cities, my quest is to find the heart of Kenya, and there to reacquaint myself with what I love, nature and all its rich blessings.
Hundreds of people are walking, moving in great hordes to the growing needs of a vibrant country. My driver speaks to me in perfect English, which he tells me that he learned in grade school. I feel embarrassed at my southern drawl and mispronunciation. He speaks English far better than I. Kenya has an excellent free school system coupled with free medical care. I could live here, I think, this country cares about its people, although I soon learn from many Kenyans that the government has a long history of corruption. “Sorta like the US Congress,” I say, laughing with my new found friends.
Unfortunately, I am sick. I got sick on the way to Kenya. It started soon after I bought a sandwich at a Starbuck’s at the Tampa Airport. Strange that I could get a gastric infection in my own country. The long ride is uncomfortable for me, not knowing if I need to find a restroom. “Damn,” I think, “I planned this trip for months in advance and here I am sick on the way to one of the most pristine places still left on earth.” I try very hard to think of other things, about stuff like what I might see that very afternoon.
Kenya, for me, is a romantic place. It has to do with my admiration for Ernest Hemingway, and countless others who ventured here 80 years before. I can only imagine what Kenya was then.
Soon our Cessna lands on a grass runway, and I meet our hosts for the next eight days. Champagne and crumpets greet us along with our guides, all of whom are smiling and pleased that we are in the heart of their country.
I stare across the landing strip to see my Landcruiser awaiting me and my gear. “Thank God I am here,” I think. “Free to explore, to learn, to see, and to witness this amazing place.”
It is dry on the Maasai Mara, although my guide Joseph tells me that it has rained here and there for the last week. Soon I am affected by the environment in more ways than one. First, the altitude is at 5,500 feet. I live at sea level in Florida, so being a mile higher than normal does things to my system, already overwhelmed with the results of a bad sandwich. Second, the humidity is very low. I live in a water world, here everything dries instantly. And then there is the smell of the land; a rich and hubris flavor invades the air.
Here I meet a Leopard in the grass. A difficult shot, resulting in me switching to manual focus and hoping I would get her sharp.
It is about a one-hour drive to Mara Toto, our camp. Along the way we find a Cheetah mom and four youngsters in the shade of a bush, lazing away the day. As the evening light dims, I find myself bumping up the ISO on my camera to 6400 hoping to capture the Cheetah. She stops and looks at me, and I snap away. And for a time, I just stop shooting entirely. For a few seconds, she and I were one, two beings sharing the fabulous earth.
I have found the Maasai Mara I dreamed about, and for a time, despite my illness, I am at one with the good earth, and all that it offers to those of us who suffer from wanderlust. Here I see God’s gift to me, and to all those who share my love of the natural world. I have found heaven on earth, it is where I belong.
More to come . . .