Monday, November 16, 2009

“What a lark! What a plunge!”















That whimsical line from Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway sums up precisely the adventure Elisa and I went on when we travelled to the Governor’s Camp in Masai Mara to go on safari.

It was truly an unforgettable experience. We were in such proximity to the animals that when they were sleeping we could actually hear them breathe. It was extraordinary. It really started this emerging love affair I’m having with this continent.

The adventure began at the regional airport in Nairobi. I have heard and have used the expression “third world airport” sarcastically in the past to describe, say, Burbank airport. Ummmm…that airport is luxurious and expansive compared to the Wilson Airport in Nairobi.

We were ridiculously early for our flight (Sorry Elisa. My fault. My penchant for being early to airports is an illness.). So we sat in a tiny café in what I will loosely describe as “the terminal” while we waited for our flight. The nerves began once we looked out the window at the tiny planes and thought if only this café served vodka….

Finally, we boarded the plane and were told we were going to be the third stop. The flight was bumpy and terrifying. (I know we are wimps but still.) Our first stop was about 40 minutes away and then each subsequent stop was going to be about 10 minutes. We landed at the first stop on the dirt runway which was sort of amusing (“Hey! We landed on a dirt road!”) But the panic started to set in on the next leg when it started to rain. Hard. How the hell do you land a plane in mud? We landed safely by what I can only describe as a miracle (and, I’m sure, our pilot would describe as a Tuesday). We had to wait at that location on the ground for about 25 minutes for the now torrential downpour to stop. Finally, we were back in the air and 5 minutes later we arrived at the Governor’s Camp. I’m sure we were ashen and had terror in our eyes from the flight. We immediately went and got red wine and settled in and saw the post-rain sky which calmed everything because it was simply breathe-taking.

All of the safari rides (there were 3 a day) were amazing. Truly. Each time we thought it might be a little repetitive there was something new to see that surprised us. Oliver was our private guide on all of the rides and he was amazing. So friendly and funny and focused on us seeing every animal in the kingdom. We would casually say “we haven’t seen an elephant yet” and somehow the next thing you know we were staring at an enormous backside of an elephant and her offspring. It was like Ollie willed it to happen or something.

Perhaps the most fascinating, unsettling and exciting time on safari was when our truck broke down in the middle of the Masai Mara. You could look for miles and truly only see land and animals. Help did not seem really in sight. That would have been unsettling enough but we happened to be stalled not 10 feet away from a lion king eating his kill (water buffalo, if you’re curious.) I’m not exaggerating. It was insane. At first we were terrified but Oliver assured us that the lion was only interested in his meal. And, it turned out, that was completely the case. So while Oliver radioed for another jeep and we waited, we had the best front row seat ever. I think I took 300 pictures of him in the 20 minutes we were stalled. The lion, not Oliver.

Over the course of 3 days we saw all sorts of wildlife – elephants, giraffes, tigers, lions, gazelles, water buffaloes, chimps, hyenas, zebras, etc. It was unreal.

The most adorable moment was when we happened upon a group of young lions lounging and sleeping on a small mound. They were snuggling and so affectionate with one another. It was really hard to imagine in that moment that they are the most feared and vicious beasts in the animal kingdom.

When we were driven back to the airstrip for our flight back to Nairobi, it was hilarious to see several (and, I mean several) lions napping on the runway. Just hanging out while we drove up to the tiny plane. Burbank airport, this is not.

Elisa summed up the experience best: it was like we were back in Los Angeles - we were the paparazzi stalking the celebrities of the jungle. “Hey lion, over here…”

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