THE road out of Nairobi – and there really is one arterial one that the world and his wife must use – is like something out of a movie.
Vehicles of every conceivable age, hue, size, shape and antiquity queue, parp, roar, splutter and career through a fog of dust and fumes so thick you have to keep your windows firmly closed.
I recline in the back of my rickety cab, tired and crumpled after my red eye flight from Heathrow, and watch the carnage unfold. The rear windows of this jalopy are tinted dark, which, while protecting me from the glare and heat from the fast-rising sun, also offer me a weird, dusky outlook on a typical early Kenyan morning in the capital.
Shacks and shanties slide past; brightly painted frontages offering roast meats and medical services; motor servicing and beauty treatments. People are everywhere, young kids scrubbed up for school, businessmen in suits, blindingly colourful Maasai in their wonderful array of bright cloths and beads, and everything in-between.
On the map, Nanyuki is the nearest town to where I’m heading – deep into Northern Kenya. It doesn’t look that far on the map, of course. In Africa, everywhere is far. We toil and bump, rattle and roll onwards away from the capital and, at last, start to make progress on roads which vary in quality from really very good to nothing but boulders. I am exhausted, and the warmth of the sun gleaming through the windows sends me nodding. But every few miles in Kenya there are unannounced bumps in the road, designed to stop the unwary speeder. They undoubtedly must work – flying over one of these at speed would seriously wreck the suspension. But one can’t help but feel they are designed to trap, rather than educate. Even my driver, who presumably has negotiated this trip many times, seems to have no idea when one is coming along and I am gently dozing dozens of times before he suddenly slams on the break to negotiate the next bump and I am jerked awake once more, expecting each time a near collision before realising it’s another road hump and drifting wearily into nodding again.
Dear Reader, I am in that taxi for six hours. Six hours! We stop briefly for a much-needed stretch, coffee and bite to eat, and the sun is deliciously warm after the cold, dark, dreary Winter of England. Colourful flowers nod in the breeze, attended by bees, and exotic birds swoop and call in the cobalt blue sky above. Despite my tiredness, I am thrilled to be here. I can feel the knots in my muscles unwinding as the glorious equatorial sun does its thing.
Eventually, after a 20-minute drive which is the most bone jarring yet, we arrive at a vast fence line and the car gratefully stops outside the guardhouse. This is the Lolldaiga Conservancy – a vast 80,000-acre working cattle ranch stuffed to the gills with animals, birds and plants.
I am in big game country.