In Play: Kenya Beat This?

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– Local columnist survives Africa and the Middle East with a newfound appreciation for adventure.

Until recently, I was well on the way to achieving my life-long ambition of never visiting places where the people want to kill me or the animals want to eat me. But now, who knows? You see, I am married to an adventuress. And Big El has a steam shovel sized “bucket list” of life-threatening experiences, she has not yet encountered.

I do not have a “bucket list” or even a bucket. But, if I did, I assure you that visiting places like Africa or the Middle East would not be on that list. My only hope is, her list is alphabetical and she gets to experience “Exhaustion” before “Horror, Panic and Terror.” Unfortunately, “Africa” and “Egypt” come well before “Exhaustion.” Lucky me.

I dig in my heels, face her gale-force assault with granite resolve, but Big El never fights fair and finally, I agree to eight days in Egypt and seven more in Kenya. Hell, I can’t let her die alone. Hopefully, my blanket of cowardice protects her from the boogie men and monsters all through Egypt. And so, I hold her hand crossing streets…walk closest to the curb…have the waiter taste her food first. Little things, yes, but she’s still alive.

Big El hasn’t a clue what “life threatening” means. She is actually encouraged to see three armed guards halt our vehicle on the way to our Cairo hotel. But, I know they’re just preparing for the next revolution. What’s it been eight years? 

To my surprise, the hotel room is quite nice. No whisky, but the A/C and the door lock works. “Good news, Honey, from our window you can look at the pyramids all you want, and I can swim laps in that pool. Say, this trip might not be too bad, so long as we never leave the compound.” 

I turn from the window to put our ransom money in the safe, and discover that Big El has already sprung the lock and made a break for it. I race out of our room, through the lobby and around the AK-47s. I finally catch up to her as she’s clearing Checkpoint Charlie, and looking for Cairo’s Rodeo Drive.  

It’s only day one of an eight day tour of Egypt and I’m a nervous wreck, but delighted we made it back from our shopping…adventure, and that we’re still breathing.

The next morning, I am slathered with zinc oxide and covered head to toe with Khaki soaked in Raid…Tsetse flies, ya know. Nobody wants malaria. My bride is covered too, but that’s because we’re in a Muslim country, where they don’t like the display of a woman’s skin…or whisky. Two strikes against, in my book.

We are met by our guide, Muhsak, a professor of anthropology at Cairo University, and our two favorite traveling companions, my sister-in-law and editor, Barbara, and her husband, Mike King, who put this trip together even though he’s never before visited a politically-unstable warmongering country…perfect.

Wow. Big El was right. Up close, these triangles…I mean pyramids, are overwhelming. And, if I can survive a half-hour ride on the back of a camel to experience the pyramids, I can survive anything – even Kenya, where we head next. Ugh.

I am jolted awake by what I can only describe as the opening of a rusty cattle gate.

Kaah Kreech Kyak…Kaah Kreeeech Kyak!!

One eye, the one that’s not stuck to a mosquito net, snaps open. Good Gawd, where am I? And what in blazes is making that racket? The open eye glances about for clues, but it’s darker than the bottom of a coal bucket. Said eye checks my watch and my sunburned arm reminds me. Oh yeah, Big El made me come to Kenya: a country in deepest, darkest Africa, which shares its border with Uganda, South Sudan, and Somalia – three more places I hope to never visit.

It’s 5:20 a.m., not yet dawn for cryin’ out loud. I know we’re here to experience African wild life, but does it have to be so damned loud? Why can’t that creature start his morning like the rest of us – Egg McMuffin, coffee, black, and silence?

When I inquire, Douglas, our guide, informs us the creature is a “Yellow Headed Boo Boo Bird.” (You know, I couldn’t make that up). “They be easy to hear, but very, very hard to find.” 

“Of course,” I respond. “Please tell me they’re on the endangered species list.”  And thus begins Kenya, day one.

So far, we have seen three of the “Big Five;” the lions, elephants, and hippos. But we are anxious for even a glimpse of the leopard, which hunts only at night and the almost extinct white rhino. Douglas says our best chance to see either will be at dawn, and so he’s moved our start time up to 6 a.m. Great, now my pal, the yellow headed boo boo, is perfectly on time with his 5:20 wake-up call. 

Douglas meets Big El, Mike, Barbara, and me at his Range Rover with, “Habari asubui?” 

“What morning?” I laugh. “It’s still night time.”

The always upbeat Douglas asks, “Basi ulilala vizuri? (Then, did you sleep well?) 

“Ndio, Lala salama.”  

The Swahili language is beautiful and sounds exactly like it’s spelled. Go ahead try it on: “Lala Salama.” What a beautiful expression. It means both “sleep well” and “sweet dreams.” And I’m sure it’ll sound just as good in Georgia.

It’s a chilly 50-some degrees, and even though we’re practically on the equator, it will only climb to a comfortable 80 degrees with low humidity. And so, we’re off, just as dawn’s pink light touches the edge of the Masai Mara horizon and backlights the solitary, high-canopy umbrella trees. Douglas slows our Range Rover to a crawl to steady our view. Even to a grumpy, non-nature guy like me, the land and “skyscapes” of Kenya are breathtaking. We hold quiet, and Douglas says softly, “Jus’ look…. Even should we see no aneemal today, right now you get to see Kenya all dress up.”

But of course we DO see “aneeemals.” Every day we get a four-hour safari in the morning and three hours in late afternoon. To the predator lions, leopards and cheetahs, we might as well be invisible. They go about their business of hunting, napping, eating, even mating, completely nonplussed by our human presence. They have their jobs to do, and ours is to watch.

Douglas slows again to a stop and points out my side of the Rover. Through the purple-pink morning light, a leopard walks a diagonal route from the grass plains toward a well-treed muddy water hole to our left. She never alters her course, just keeps coming. Two minutes later, a good kill swinging heavily in her belly, she ambles past, her tail actually thumping our right bumper. Her gait is casual but confident and the flex and stretch of muscle from shoulder to haunch holds us spellbound. To her, our Rover is just a big rock between her and the tree in which she will sleep for most of the day.

She was a stunner, but didn’t hold a candle to Kenya “all dress up.”

Those final seven days went way too fast. The rolling plains, the aneemals, the sky, the people, even the language, are all engraved in my memory and couldn’t be adequately experienced with Google… or even my fabulous pictures. Yeah, I would’a missed something special had I let Big El come here alone.

So just maybe my fears of Africa were misplac….well, let’s just say, I was mistak…. I mean….

Look, it’s doesn’t take a lot for me to admit when I am wrong.

It takes everything.

Lala Salama, y’all.

Story by Bill Dudley

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