After enduring anxious moments when their van got stuck in a muddy track in the wild territory that is Amboseli National Park, a lucky travel writers group finishes the day with a wild sundowner
It had poured for the better part of the morning on this particular day, but some of us still woke up early. We just couldn’t help surprising ourselves by actually keeping time.
So it was that at exactly 9am, everyone was ready for takeoff from our hotel in Amboseli National Park. Destination? Tsavo National Park. Two Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) vans, nine on board. We were driving through Amboseli and it had just rained.
A bridge had earlier been washed off by floods, forcing us to take a detour. The track looked a bit too muddy, but all we had to do, so I thought, was to hold tight and drive gently past the wet trough. But all of a sudden, the vehicle in front had its wheels spinning, spurning out mud.
What? Yes, the road looked dump and wet, but not impassable. Another 50 feet and the vehicle had veered off into a ditch on the right side. And they were stuck.
We stopped. It was time for reassessment as we dared not risk getting both jeeps stuck.
The men hopped out and immediately their shoes sank into two inches of mud.
As for me, I wasn’t turning my tiny feet into size 18 pancakes.
The van’s left wheels were still on the track, but the right front tyre was sunk several inches deep in a muddy ditch.
The right rear wheel was about to drop into the hot soup too. I was wide-awake now. Our situation was serious, but not dire. Progress was temporarily impeded but weren’t really technically stuck.
“Let our van drive ahead and try to pull them out,” a colleague suggested. Town folk talking about driving in the wild African bush. Danger larked from behind every thicket. The secret, we learnt, was to drive at an insane speed. So we tried the insane solution, driving fast past the stuck van.
The next time I knew, my heart was almost in my mouth and we were facing the other van head on. Apparently, our four-wheel drive safari jeep had skidded and was now facing the camp direction: talk about a 180-degree turn. It took about 20 minutes to collect tree branches and dry grass and shove it under all the tyres to gain traction.
Then another five minutes to tie a rope between the two vans. And then the moment of truth. Somehow, we (read the men… but we offered moral support too) managed to pull the other van out.
Not like I was on the wheel, but I eavesdropped on “putting the jeep in low gear… gently touching the accelerator”. As if magic, the stuck jeep rolled forward without complaint. All four tyres were now on the dirt road and out of the ditch. The road ahead was rough.
At some point, we were just inches from the ground. Oh, did I mention Alphonce was the brains behind ‘insane speed?’
All I could do was not overreact, so I just rode it out as luck kept us on the road.
Some serious skids and off-road moments later, there was tarmac at the end of the muddy stretch.
Tarmac looked like gold because back there, I never thought we’d live to see such developments. We rolled slowly into the Sarova Taita Hills Game Lodge in Tsavo at about 3:30pm, dirty, tired, late for lunch, but on time for the game drive and sundowner at 4:30pm. We opted for a quick lunch and a one-hour rest before heading back to the jungle.
But by the time we were ready to leave for the game drive, it was just time to head straight to the sundowner rendezvous at Kudu point at 6pm. We got to Kudu and it was all music and dance by the Chapakazi Women Group.
The sundowner idea is to have your cold drinks and snacks prepared while watching the sun melt away. A great way to conclude a memorable day. So, we watched the sun set over some champagne and a Mwazindika dance playing in the background. What bliss.
This traditional dance involves drums accompanied by a Taita traditional horn (lwembe). At times a sharp whistle is used to drive up the tempo as jingles on the dancers’ feet switching it up. Forget about the twerking you might have seen; these women can dance. And these aren’t young lasses.
I was amused. When the tempo goes up, some spirit possesses them to dance with vigour.This time, the pepo somehow possessed some of us (ahem).
We all enjoyed the dance, food and most of all, the drinks (Let he who is without sin cast the first stone) For a moment, we forgot we were ululating in some wild guys’ territory.