The drive from Naro Moru at the base of Mt. Kenya to Samburu National Park was really short. Nothing more than a puddle jump. We stocked up on supplies and drove our way deep into the park – not for a game drive mind you, just to spend the night in a local village.
When I say in a local village, I mean in. We drove through the vast landscape of light brown dirt, the delicate brush, and the dangerous acacia trees and pulled the truck right up through the thicket surrounding the couple dozen huts and shacks this village called home and set up our tents right next to their own homes. The Samburu village we were staying in had about 150 people and about half of them seemed to be children. The children ran around constantly playing games and trying to talk to us. The adults welcomed us into their homes and with the little (but surprisingly large) English they knew told us how they lived their daily lives – sleeping, eating, staying warm, and harvesting food.
We took a brief walk to the nearby red river. Our guide Sammy pointed out the local crocodiles in the rushing river and that ended any delusions we had about swimming. We learned a lot about the local customs. Education isn’t compulsory. Parents choose if they need their children at home to watch the goats or sheep or they can go to school. They can’t do both. Sammy was originally a goat watcher, but after he fell asleep and lost a couple of goats to lions, his father punished him by sending him to school. Some punishment!
When we got back to the village, the children were anxious to play with us. We quickly learned the international language in Africa is not English or Swahili, but is instead singing Shakira’s World Cup anthem Waka Waka. Every kid in the village knew the whole song by heart and would constantly sing it. We found it on someone’s iPod and blasted the music through the truck and had a giant dance party. The kids just can’t get enough of touching you and they would fight over who got to hold your hand or something. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun and I used a bucket of hand sanitizer.
That night, the tribe prepared us dinner, although it was hardly local fare. They used our pots and pans and made us something resembling stew. It was still tasty and that night, for the special occasion of having foreign guests, the dancing began. The only light was from the small bonfire, but the dancing seemed to spread throughout the whole village. We were encouraged to join in the ritual and I eagerly grabbed a Samburu woman’s hand and started doing my best to copy their rhythmic jumping. I honestly have no idea of it lasted five minutes or an hour, but I got lost in their chanting, stomping, and the clanging of bells and had a great time.
The next morning we left the village and took off for the game park. Samburu National Park has the weird quality of looking exactly like what you think Africa looks like. It’s just filled with acacia trees and the light brush. We spent the whole day driving in the truck through the park. This mean that we were sitting in the roof seats, about 15 feet above the ground. This way, we could see animals that would otherwise be hidden behind bushes and trees. We had lots of dik-dik sightings, the deer that are about 2 feet tall, and also saw tons of exotic birds that I can’t remember the names of, but I’m starting to see the appeal of bird watching! Secretary birds are huge and have the weirdest walks and the colors of the Buffalo something and the Yellow-Breasted something else always impressed me. We caught some distant glimpses of lions and in the afternoon we chanced upon a big herd of reticulated giraffes, much rarer than the regular Masaai giraffe. It was a great day for a game drive as it wasn’t too hot after a quick rain cooled everything down. Our giant truck only got stuck in the dirt twice, each time taking 20 to 30 minutes to get us unstuck, but there was a certain element of danger getting stuck in the middle of the wild where lions or leopards could attack at any moment!
That night, it was my team’s turn to cook. Unfortunately, it was an absolutely miserable experience. We had a simple meal planned, but the flying ants were relentlessly attacking us. There were swarms of them dive bombing our food, and covering all of our ingredients. We did our best to keep our food insect free, but there may have been a little more protein than any of us were bargaining for. After two great days, everything was about to go downhill.