Rough roads through rugged, wild bush in semi-arid areas often lead to the most beautiful of destinations, CATHERINE NJIRU discovers
“Hold tight…” Chris beams as we drive through a bumpy road inside Samburu Game Reserve. Before the game drive started, Chris had warned about the road ahead: “Anytime I say hold tight, grab the straps or handrails and hold tight to avoid bouncing out of your seat.”
Then there was a ‘watchout’ warning—for trees and branches spreading out on the paths. “Understood?” asked Chris, a Samburu professional guide. “Yes,” I said. “Any more questions?” “No”. The instructions were clear, but blame mobile phones.
The first time I got thrown out of my seat, I was tossed up as the van meandered through a steep, narrow path. So, I went up as the vehicle slid down fast. I was thrown hard against the seat in front.
The second time, I almost made it over the seat in front of me, only waking up in the middle of a high jump. So I decided put away my phone to concentrate and enjoy the drive. The next time Chris shouted ‘watch out,’ I ducked fast.
They say that a rough road often leads to a beautiful destination. “This Northern reserve is famous for the Samburu Special Five,” says Chris. The beisa oryx, reticulated giraffe, grevy’s zebra, gerenuk antelope and Somali ostrich.
Chris knew the land and its animals well. He knew the weather and the roads, shortcuts, different hideouts and other natural elements. Within an hour of setting off, I had already ticked off Somali ostrich, the first of our Samburu Five. Being on safari with Chris meant that we not only encountered more animals but also identified with nature. He constantly communicated on his walkie-talkie.
The radio was loud, so I was getting whatever issue they were discussing. “Ile mahali ya jana, pale kando ya mto.” “Sawa sawa,” Chris replied on our behalf. Chris suddenly switched off the engine and allowed the vehicle to stop.
Without a word, he pointed to a nearby tree. There, draped on a branch, was a large male leopard, a sinuous thing of black spots, grace and untold beauty. I couldn’t thank Samburu more for breaking my game-drive jinx. I have done close to four safari destinations before, but never spotted any of the big cats. It was ever dik dik, here dik dik there. The first time I saw these fellas by, I was amused by their two-by-two nature.
You know, the ‘how sweets’ and ‘aaaaws’. Lovebirds for life. But I kept spotting them again and again and thought, why not divorce already! Judge all you can but if you’ve been in that situation where you’re really anticipating to see one of the big five but mother nature thinks otherwise, all you can see are dik diks, then you’ll relate. But I digress. So, there the leopard was, starring back as if to say, ‘I gatchu. I gatchu.’
Then he paraded, posed and at some point said ‘cheeeese’ in their language – what a slay king! As if that wasn’t enough, as we are heading back to the tents after a successful drive, we spot a large herd of elephants. Chris: “Sh..sh. No noise here”.
They are fully aware of our presence but are not spooked since Chris kinda understands their language and acts accordingly. The jumbos are completely comfortable with our being here. One elephant walks closer, looks directly at us and lifts her trunk, sniffing the air.
Judging us? We sit still. I wonder what she is thinking. Just then, she pees, more like a waterfall break. Elephants can urinate up to 155 litres at a go! We feel like the luckiest people on earth. Being this close to such ‘friendly’ elephants in their natural habitat is astounding.
Samburu Intrepids Tented Camp is a beautiful, luxurious camp designed to allow guests privacy and comfort while living in the truly wild African bush. So peaceful! a honeymoon destination. The self-contained tents are nicely decorated and hung under thatched roofs.
Naughty monkies hang or walk around, so we are advised to zip-up our tents and hold the doormat against a stool to keep them at bay. Apparently, these monkeys don’t respect women — chauvinists, in this day and age?
I vow to confront them and let them know just how empowered women have become. If someone had requested to host me in Samburu before, I would have laughed the idea off. I was wrong. Perfect getaway and I’ll definitely be back.