Under The Stars of Africa – Part 1
Four glorious weeks of freedom, a dilapidated Land Rover, old school roadmaps and a navigator with no sense of direction (that’s me). All the elements were there for the making of a great misadventure and with the electrics of our car catching fire on the first night, our trip through East Africa did not disappoint.
For most travellers, the highlight of their trip to Africa is a face-to-face encounter with a member of the big five or to witness the great wildebeest migration across the Serengeti.
Our trip was no different and the thrill I felt when staring down my lens and into the fearless eyes of a battle-worn lion was everything I expected it to be and more.
However, what made our trip different from most was what happened when we returned to camp at night. There were no champagne bottles on ice or fancy safari lodges or posh glamping tents with luxurious bedding waiting for us. There was just our rooftop tent, our box of warm wine and a simple pasta dish cooked over our gas plate. And very often an unexpected encounter with wild Africa.
At Fisherman’s Camp, a herd of resident hippos – one just three days old – would emerge from the lake in the evenings and graze quietly on the banks of the camp. We were reassured that for our own safety we were surrounded by an electric fence although personally, I have my doubts as to whether it was even active.
Through Hell’s Gate and a Meeting with a Local
Our camp at Hell’s Gate was much more isolated. With towering cliffs and billowing steam caused by intense geothermal activity, it’s a pretty impressive National Park for its size and we were surprised when we realised there was not a single other camper staying the night. We set up camp high on the ridge to be able to capture what I hoped would be a spectacular view at first light.
That evening, when my husband had wandered off for a toilet break, I was left to sit in the dark and soak up the sounds of the bush at night. As I did, I heard someone slowly and quietly approaching from behind. Not only had my husband walked off in the opposite direction, he wouldn’t try to sneak up on me in the dark.
Footsteps came closer, my heart was thumping, my hands sweaty and I realised I was holding my breath. I was scared and completely on my own – my husband was nowhere in sight. As the footsteps got even closer I leapt up and spun around with the torch on full power ready to face my attacker.
All I managed to do, however, was scare the bejeesus out of the curious baboon standing behind my camp chair. He scampered off just as my husband nonchalantly wandered back to our camp, completely oblivious to what all the fuss was about or why my heart rate was through the roof!
Our Journey Continues..Eventually
Our adventures through Kenya continued, although we were hindered by a batch of dirty fuel which continually blocked our fuel lines and clogged our fuel filter. Unable to find replacement parts, we limped further south towards the Tanzanian border.
Coming to the realisation that we wouldn’t make it to the border before dark, we found a lodge that someone had suggested may let us camp on their grounds for the night. They kindly let us stay and we took advantage of their hospitality with hot showers (heaven!) and laundry hung from every part of our vehicle.
I’m sure the mere presence of our beat up old landrover, our dirty laundry and our dusty tent devalued their property, but we were made to feel just as welcome as the rest of their guests. And while their other guests were enjoying a meal and drinks in the five-star restaurant, we were enjoying a million star view of the Milky Way as it rose over our camp.
Ps. Crossing the border from Kenya into Tanzania with our car the next day was considerably less enjoyable. Trouble abounded, confusion reigned, and it was several hours before we figured out that the production of a $20 note could clear up the “confusion”. That transaction completed, we were given the paperwork needed to get the car across the border and continue our journey.