Nick Hammond On Safari – Kenya Pt IV
THE ensuing days blur into a momentous series of experiences; intertwined and overlaid in a long, hot mirage of wonder.
I rise early one morning to climb to the very tippy top of an escarpment looking down over a valley scene unchanged for millions of years; dwindling waterholes, patchy scrub, rising wooded hillsides and rocky scree from which leopards cough and stalk at night. Hot coffee and a Maasai shuka blanket ward off the dawn chill, and I’m rewarded for the early start with the cusp of the rising sun spilling over the horizon and burnishing the snow-capped Mount Kenya gold. It is a breath-taking, life-affirming reminder that no matter what we worry about, pursue or focus upon, the sun comes up every morning, just the way it has done since the beginning of time.
In the evening, I pull up a camp bed close to the fire of our fly camp – Ed, the owner of The Safari Series, where I am adventuring, and I are off meandering for a few days with a Land Rover, armed guard and cool box of beer – and I prepare to spend my first night under the stars in big game country. It’s a thrilling and slightly unnerving experience to clamber under nothing but heavy blankets to hear the sounds of wild Africa all around you. Elephants blast, hyena whoop and giggle. There’s the occasional snap of twig or hoof stamp somewhere nearby that keeps your senses on the alert. An Askari, or night-watchman, is employed to keep any over-enthusiastic visitors at bay; several times during the night I open my eyes to see him pulling another branch onto the fire, sending showers of sparks dancing into the blackness like fireflies. The sound of crackling and the reassuring warmth soon send me drifting off once more.
I don’t know what it is; the incredibly pure air, a simple slumber our ancestors would have recognised; or just the general wellbeing of days and nights spent outside doing physical things; but I wake feeling like I’ve had a blood transfusion. Dew soaks the top blanket, but I’m warm as toast inside, and the air is cold enough to steam my breath as Africa awakes once more with unbridled enthusiasm.
We tramp the red dust on foot, an armed guard walking ten paces ahead to watch for dangerous game. It beats walking the dog in a local park, this. My heart is definitely going a little faster, certainly. Walking through a patch of scrubby bush you know probably houses a lion is something of an awakener, let me tell you.
As is finding a large elephant suddenly appearing 30 yards in front of you as if out of thin air. I am standing watching some multi-hued birds with my binoculars, and when I put them down and look around, there she is, mammoth, testing the air, ears flapped forward and piggy eyes searching for me. Elephants are soooo, much bigger when you’re on foot.
And all the while, as equatorial night falls like a light switch and Ed and I gather around the campfire, I enjoy an end of day smoke – the perfect place to savour a cigar washed down by a drop of Scotch or another cold Tusker.
There are cigars from Plasencia, from Joya de Nicaragua, dark beasts from Tatuaje, and smooth, silky, ever-shifting master blends from Cuban H Upmanns, Montecristos, La Gloria de Cubanas and more. There is never more than a zephyr of a breeze, so a black night in good company and with the age-old feeling of peace and security of a campfire really is a fine way to enjoy your sticks.
One last nip of Scotch, a teeth scrub and you dive under those blankets – joy! a water bottle! – and after five minutes of watching shooting stars whiz across the sky, you are snoring the gentle snore of deep sleep while Africa goes about its business all around you…