It was going to be a long day. Our luggage was packed, and we had to take what we needed for the day out, and the trip back to Nairobi later. The first destination was a Maasai village, taking in whatever wildlife we could see along the way. After a picnic lunch, more searching for animals, before the long drive back to the hotel in the city. Everyone was alert, and on the lookout. Nobody wanted to miss anything. On the way to the village, we saw a lot more of the same animals. Zebra, wildebeest, and gazelle. It never once got boring, as there were so many of them, and always the chance of spotting something new.
Arriving at the village, I was rather disappointed to see so many other tourists. Although it was a genuine home for the tribe, where they herded cattle, living much as they always had, these tourist days provided a much-needed economic boost for the local people. The downside was that it gave the experience the feel of a theme-park. Maasai men, unusually tall, wandered around carrying spears, and were dressed in traditional robes. The women, also gaily dressed, had all set out small stalls or blankets on the ground, to sell their wares. We were shown inside the huts, which were dark, and very smoky. Women and children inside sat around cooking, giving the impression of living as normally as possible, as a few dozen westerners gawped at them. My wife bought an authentic hand-made machete, something that gave us problems later. Haggling was advised, but we were still flush with our ‘illegal’ cash, so just paid the very fair asking price. I didn’t like watching other tourists trying to beat down the price of affordable trinkets to less that they would pay for a bottle of water. When it was time to go, I felt relieved. I tried to convince myself that the income was good for the tribe, but I felt that it would have been preferable to leave them alone.
Driving off in search of animals to see, we were soon off the beaten track, and our route took us into an area where the road was bordered by very high grass. It appeared to be featureless, but after twenty minutes or so, the ever-alert Stephen suddenly stopped the vehicle. He quickly told us all to be very quiet, and to look out to our left. We crammed into the open roof area, and scanned the grass. Sure enough, it was moving, being parted by something large. Moments later, a large rhino appeared, less than fifty feet from our gaze. It was being followed by a tiny baby rhino, which was amazing to see. Many of us actually gasped, to see such a sight. The mother rhino gave us the briefest of glances, and passed behind the bus, crashing into the grass on the other side. Stephen was ecstatic. He had managed to find us a truly memorable experience. A mother and baby white rhino, one of the rarest things even he could remember on an animal drive. And everyone had got photos too, so the whole group was beside itself. Stephen could not contain his excitement, and kept telling us how lucky we were. When we stopped for lunch, he carried on, approaching each member of our small group, repeating ‘White rhino, and a baby. Did you see them?’ I was as pleased for him as I had been to see it myself.
After the early lunch, we drove off in search of lions. Stephen was sure that he knew where to find some, and backtracked towards the village. In the distance, we could see at least ten vehicles circling, just off the main track. He headed that way, and seeing some other guides he knew well, he turned to us saying ‘Lions, soon.’ We joined the circling queue of safari trucks and jeeps, and he told us to be ready with our cameras, for a very short stop. As we arrived at the cluster of rocks, we could see a large male lion, three females, and two cubs. He stopped our bus about one hundred feet away from the group. They were all lying down, and completely unperturbed by the vehicles. We took our photos quickly, and he drove off again, very pleased to have brought us to wild lions. I didn’t want to burst his bubble, but I had found this to be the least exciting moment of the whole trip. It felt staged, although we knew that it wasn’t; and the presence of so many vehicles had made it feel more like a safari park in England, than a moment of discovery in the wild.
It was time to go back to the lodge and collect the luggage. When Stephen was away from us, I organised a collection, into which we placed the equivalent of £25. Some gave us money, though two of the group declined, and we finished with a total of less than £50. We made the amount up to that figure, and held onto it until our return to Nairobi. We felt that Stephen had more than deserved it, and were very disappointed that the Belgian couple had refused to contribute. Stephen returned from the reception with startling news. During the previous evening, unknown to us at the time, a female member of staff had been killed by lions. Apparently, she had been going home from work to staff accommodation some way off, and had been dragged off the path by lions. Parts of her body had been discovered after breakfast, and her clothing had been recognised. I never discovered how they knew for sure that lions were responsible, but it was a sobering end to our trip. The return journey to Nairobi was long and dusty, and it was dark by the time we returned to our hotel. Bidding farewell to Stephen, we shook hands, and gave him the collection money. He took it without counting it, or looking at it, waving goodbye as he climbed back into his minibus.
It was late, but the hotel provided us with a welcome meal. We had to get to bed, as the next day, we were flying off to Mombasa, excited to see the Indian Ocean, and another side of Kenya.