Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tsavo East – Revisited from Voi Gate (Part 1)

I was in Kenya 2 years ago in October when I visited the Tsavo East National Park. At that time we had entered the enormous fenced area from the Bachuma Gate. The park is so massive that some of the other gates are over 100km away. During that first trip I had an amazing time staying at a tent in the middle of the savannah for the first time in my life. I could not have imagined that I would ever have the opportunity to revisit Tsavo again and experience a Safari once more. But last month I did just that. With friends and family in tow, three mini busses to be exact, we headed out from Mombasa early in the morning. Armed with camera’s and cold beers we made our way on the arduous 4 hour journey to the camp where we would be spending the night. The ride was really fun though because we had ipod speakers and people with a whole lot of energy who kept me entertained. And it is a good thing that we were in such high spirits because our bus actually had 2 flat tires at 2 different times. What are the chances? Fortunately they both occurred outside the park and we had a chance to get out and stretch our legs without the fear of being mauled by local wildlife.

We entered Tsavo East from the Voi gate near the town of Voi. This is about 4 hours drive from Kenya’s capital Nairobi. It is amazing how massive this reservation of land is, where you can drive to places where you do not see a single structure for miles around. I could really feel myself disconnect as we drove through the gate and into the park.

We stayed in a tented lodge called Noololo Safari Camp that is located in an oasis of sorts. In the middle of the baron savannah there was a small forest, an area that was obviously on top of or around a source of fresh water that has allowed the plants in its radius to thrive and flourish. The setting is ideal for a lodge.

The camp is appropriately decorated with all the light skull fittings of various animals adorning trees along the paths within the lodge clearing. I actually find this kind of creepy.

There was a nice area beside the dining tent for camp fires where the director informed us we would be having our night caps this evening. That is usually my favorite part of the safari, sitting out by the fire under the stars just talking story.

The tents are scattered over the area and the lodge is not fenced. So even in the day light when walking alone you feel a bit conscious of what creature might be stalking you, waiting for the right moment to take you down. At least I feel that way because I have watched enough Discovery Channel to know that I could feed a family of cheetahs for a good week. And there is no way in hell that I could outrun one of those cats.

Most people would imagine staying at a tented lodge to be a relatively uncomfortable experience. But these puppies are fitted with all the amenities you would find in a common hotel room, sans TV of course. This lodge is only mid level as well, there are luxury tents that could compare to service at five star hotels. So basically, if you want to go on Safari, you don’t have to worry about shitting in holes or anything like that. And you can have a warm water shower in the morning to boot.

Night time in the savanna is my favorite. The sky over my head was so full of stars that I was humbled. I actually feel as though there is a whole world around me, as opposed to when I am in Guangzhou where I can rarely see a star in the sky at night and I feel as if I am about to be swallowed by these grotesque concrete pillars. As I said before, the area is not fenced either so there is that small element of fear when walking around. The area is guarded by Masai warriors with their spears, and the generator that runs from 7pm till 10.30 pm will keep the larger predators away. But there are other creatures that don’t give a shit, like the notaries black mamba which thrives in these parts. And after lights out, you really do not want to be dicking around outside your tent.

Before dinner all the people staying in the camp gathered around the fire for a briefing from the manager. He was a candid fellow who told us a bit about the area and the history of the camp. His monologue was funny and kept the guests entertained. We enjoyed a stiff drink there then made our way to dinner. I had actually saved one last joint for the safari so after dinner I retreated to a secluded area not deep in the bush to savor my treat. Once comfortable I returned to the camp fire to rejoin my friends/family. Shortly after we were joined by a Masai warrior. As we all sat in a circle around him, he strolled around the fire with a stick in his hand, dressed in the traditional red cloth of his people. He talked softly and started to tell us stories about his people, his culture, stories that had been passed down to him from his father, and his grandfather, and village elders before that.

I would have to say that this moment here was one of the most awesome experiences I have ever had in my life. Sitting there under the stars, I was hanging on his every word as he told us firsthand about Masia rituals and traditions. It was like watching Discovery in real life. Not only was he telling us stories but he was also open to discussion. I was mostly listening as people discussed the environment, poaching, and female circumcision which the Masai still practice. There were so many thoughts to process. The experience was not only awesome because it was so entertaining, but learning how these people are struggling to maintain their culture even though they are nomads is inspirational. Most of the Masai still live in the wild, herding cattle which are more valuable to them than their own children. They still believe in and practice a way of life that is as rich in meaning and essential to their survival as a society. Following traditions that insure tribes are cross breading and developing relationships that allow them to live in relative harmony with one another. In so many ways, the Masai are no different from any other animal trying to survive in the savannah. As I lay in my cot that night with only the sound of insects and animals around me, I felt lost in space. Out there with nothing above me but open sky for that moment I could enjoy the simplicity of life, without having to think about so called reality. Thoughts of warriors hunting lions with nothing but spears and arrows swam around my head. I could feel the energy of the land around me. I recognize how fortunate I am to be in these places and do these things, and I wish all people could have the opportunity to see and taste life that is so alien from their own. For me, experiencing these differences is what makes me feel more unified with other people. If you have a bucket list, going on an African Safari must be on it.

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