Samburu. A slice of heaven.
The night before, I had half a mind to sleep in the car. Not because of the excitement around the trip, but because I have had such bad luck with keeping time this year. The problem, however, is that I am always constantly trying to plug-in as many tasks as possible into whatever pockets of time I may seem to have free. There’s this time we had a parents/teacher meeting at Xena’s school on a weekday at 12.45pm. The mister messaged to say he would pick me up from work at 11.00am.
“That’s a whole hour and forty-five minutes for a meeting whose venue is only half an hour away in the absence of traffic!” I complained. “Did you just transfer Xena to Naivasha?”
“Not funny. You have to learn to respect other people’s time.” He typed back.
“Showing up an hour plus before the set time is ridiculous. I have so much work.” I retaliated.
So, we came to a compromise and agreed that I would find him downstairs at 11.20am. From my desk at work, I have this vantage view-point where I see cars turning in from Riverside Drive heading towards my office. At exactly 11.00am, I briefly lifted my gaze from my laptop to see him driving up towards the gate. He was twenty minutes early.
At 11.25am (hehe, I couldn’t help it) I jumped into the passenger seat and we set off to Kilimani. It was a beautiful day with just enough cars on the road and the stupid new traffic lights at the Riverside/Ring Road intersection were not working, which meant traffic was flowing. We were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves on Oloitoktok Road near the Likoni Road roundabout at 11.40am.
Our destination was 10 minutes away, so we would have slightly under an hour to wait before our turn to see the teacher. At this realisation, panic engulfed me and suddenly I was struggling to breathe. It was as if someone had placed a polythene bag over my head. I had to find something to do. As we went up Likoni Road towards Dennis Pritt, an ingenious idea came to me, saving me from my near-death state.
“Please pull over here I buy fruits and vegetables.” I requested the mister while pointing at the mini market on the left.
“You are kidding, right?” He jeered in total bewilderment.
“I am being very serious. We have fifty minutes. I can shop in fifteen leaving us plenty of room to get to school on time.”
“Why don’t you do that after the meeting?” He inquired.
“Because I can do it now? Pull over.” I demanded.
So, he did while grumbling and whining and saying how I need to see a doctor, but I ignored him, jumped out of the car and got all the supplies I needed. By 12.25pm, we were seated outside Xena’s teacher’s office with twenty minutes to spare. That was still too much time and I found myself exploring the possibility of dashing home to drop the shopping!
Fast forward to Wednesday last week when the next day we would be travelling to Samburu for three nights, a road trip that would take no less than six hours. It had been agreed that we leave at 6am so that we would make it to Elephant Bedroom Camp by noon. I wasn’t going to take the blame if God forbid we did not leave on time, which is why spending the night in the car seemed like a brilliant idea.
That night, I got home at 10.00pm. My cousin Sophy had visited and we stayed up until 1.00am catching up. Later, I had to pack for the kids, a mission that I always dread and could easily hire someone to handle for me. Done with parking at 3.30am, I put all the suitcases on the stair case landing then hit the shower. It was 4.00am by the time I was getting dressed, which meant I only had one hour to sleep before the prefect (read the mister) rung the Great Bell of Dhammazedi (rolls eyes). I did what we used to do in boarding primary school -brushed my teeth and dressed up in my travelling earth leisure pants and Gap hoodie and jumped into bed.
One hour later when the mister rudely pulled my covers, I simply slipped into my canvas shoes and grabbed my handbag. Blind walking to the car, I curled myself into a ball on the back seat and carried on with my sleep as I waited for those who couldn’t keep time. Moments later, I woke up to the mister’s hysterical laughter when he opened the back door to find me asleep in the car.
“You deserve a medal for this. Well done.” He teased.
“What time is it?” I asked, and proceeded to pull out my phone from my handbag. It was 6.30am.
“So why are we late, Mr time-keeper?” I seethed. “And don’t even think of putting the blame on me, or the kids. Because I gave Mercy clear instructions to have them ready by 6 am.”
Ignoring me, he went ahead to haul the luggage and kids into the car.
At 6:55am, we were all set. Xena and her cousin Shani on the boot seats, Xia in her car seat on the left of the back seat and I on the right, and the mister and his brother at the front. I went back into foetal position, covered myself in this fluffy throw from His & Her Scents and drifted off into a heavy sleep. But not before asking the boys to wake me up once we passed Nanyuki town and only if they saw views worth interrupting my sleep for.
See, I had been on this road several times before, but only up to Nanyuki and I really did not care about missing views of pineapple plantations or verdant hills. This journey was about the destination, Samburu, which I imagined to be an extremely arid area with manyattas scattered like stars on a vast night, and pastoralists with thin braids doused in red ochre and dressed in lessos herding their flock. I was wrong.
Later, when the mister shook me mercilessly, I woke up with more rage than a bull that had been shown a red flag, ready to throw my shoe at him. It was not until I sat up and looked at the windscreen that a wave of tranquillity came over me. Rolling golden fields of wheat stretched out on both sides of what appeared to be a newly tarmacked road. As we drove on, the wheat fields would dramatically change from golden to green and then back to golden. This was Timau, about an hour away from Samburu. The air was fresh and nippy. It felt as though we were driving through an English countryside.
As we approached Isiolo, the setup changed to a busy town with street lights and petrol stations, plenty of shops and vibandas, reminding me of my Shagz, Ngorika. Later, we found ourselves driving through vast land festooned with green shrubs and acacia trees, framed with a beautiful backdrop of a range of sky blue mountains. We were finally in Samburu and it was nothing like I had imagined it to be.
At Archer’s post, the gateway to the park, a brown and white arch hang over two gates, which made it look like a really tall giraffe. There was no fence attached to the gate, just two small stone cubicles that housed the wardens.
The kids who were asleep the entire journey woke up just as the mister was handling the park fees. As if on cue, they demanded to know if we were finally in Samburu.
“Yes, we are.” I said to no one in particular.
“You are lying, mama. Did I ask a rhetorical question?” Wondered Xena.
“What’s written on the gate?” I said pointing at the sign ahead.
She mouthed the words Samburu Game then turned to her cousin screaming “We really are in Samburu! That was fast!”
Side note, if you ever plan on going on a long trip with young kids, whether by road or flight, it helps to deny them sufficient sleep the previous night and start your journey really early. Our lot had gone to bed at 11pm and were up at 5am, forcing them to sleep on the trip and saving us numerous bathroom breaks, hunger calls and questions like “Are we in Samburu?” when we probably had just passed Museum Hill overpass.
Inside the park, we went through incredulous landscapes of great diversity and beauty, including a clear view of Mt Kenya’s highest peak at a distant far on the left. On the right were several mountains including one flat-topped one that looked like a loaf of bread. We drove through a narrow murram road that cut through tall grass and shrubs. Everything was right with the world.
There were numerous puddles of mud along the way that the mister’s bro was keen to avoid for fear of getting stuck.
“You are doing a disservice treating this car like it’s the Merc. It was built for the mud, stop babying it.” Said an impatient mister to his bro.
He then uttered what would be his famous last words, “Let me drive.”
They switched places and with the eagerness of a formula one driver, he accelerated so hard that everyone was clinging onto the nearest support for dear life. He then veered off the road and took a left turn, leading us to a place with no roads or 4×4 tracks either, just muddy puddles. He continued to showcase his Rhino Charge driving prowess, swerving round a shrub here, diving into a puddle there while wearing a sheepish grin on his face. A grin that was immediately wiped out when the car front wheels stopped moving and instead started spinning in the mud.
“Are we stuck?” I taunted the mister.
“I think you are asking a rhetorical question, mama.” Said Xena, at which point I couldn’t help but burst out laughing.
“You are a smart girl Xena, touché.”
We called the hotel’s manager and in about 15 minutes, a tourist land cruiser with a driver and a lesso clad guide was there to tow us. Except that it also got stuck in the process! The rest of us stayed put in our car, while the mister gladly folded his pants and jumped into the muddy scene. He was having so much fun sinking his feet in the mud which made me wonder if he got us stuck on purpose.
It took about half an hour to get the land cruiser out of the mud. More guys came over in a Nissan van. One of them, a stocky man in a bright yellow vest with a protruding round belly walked over to my window and without acknowledging us, asked
“Watoto wamekula?” To mean, “Have the kids eaten?”
“Wamekula crisps na sandwiches, wako sawa.” (They’ve just had crisps and sandwiches so they are fine.
“Mama yanguuuu ngozi ya punda milia!” He exclaimed, a statement I won’t bother translating because neither I nor the rest of my crew understood what it meant.
He then offered to drive the kids and myself to the camp to eat as the rest were left behind towing the car. I was afraid I would find myself holed up in a Manyatta, only leaving to milk goats and collect firewood. So I politely turned down his offer.
At 2.13pm, seven hours after our departure from Nairobi, we were seated at Elephant Bedroom Camp’s open dining area awaiting our three-course lunch. Wuaso Ng’iro River gurgled in the front yard and across the river, on the bank, two crocodiles basked in the sun. The food was amazingly tasteful, from the butternut soup and greek salad starters, to the pork chops and turkey main course and the banana tiramisu and cinnamon cake desert. I immediately knew I was in weight gain haven. As we were winding up, a stocky guy donning a toque and whose bulging pot belly was well defined under his white coat walked over to us.
“How was the meal?” He inquired.
“Is this heaven? Because everything, including the meals, is perfect!” I acknowledged.
“You don’t remember me?” He asked. “I was one of the guys that pulled you out, the one that offered to drive you and the kids to come eat. I am the chef here.”
“No wonder!” The mister’s bro exclaimed. He had been too fascinated with the guy’s obsession with food earlier on, as I was.
After lunch, we walked down a narrow path defined with lanterns and small rocks on either side. We passed several luxury tents on our right, all elevated from the ground and facing the river. Our tents were number 9 and 10, so we had eight tents to cover before we got to ours. On the left was open space with palm trees and bushes and tall grass that stretched out into the park. It might please you to know that Elephant Bedroom Camp is not fenced, so your luxury camp is smack in the middle of the jungle and it is not unusual to bump into an elephant.
When we got to our luxury tent 9, I knew I was in heaven for sure. We clambered up the wooden staircase to a terrace with a sitting area on one side and a plunge pool on the other. Wuaso Ng’iro River ran right outside the tent, its brown waters violently rushing downstream. A lone elephant flapped its ears across the river. The potter zipped open our tent to reveal a simple but exquisitely done bedroom, with two queen size beds on either side and off white floor rags covering most of the space. The furniture was antique and the lighting was in form of bedside lamps with beaded lamp shades. The bathroom had stone flooring and stone surfaces supporting the sparkling white sinks. The craftsmanship was a joy to see.
The kids quickly changed into their swimming costumes and were whisked to the next tent to take a dip in the plunge pool. To my relief, there was no television or wifi, so I took a shower and settled in our tent’s plunge pool with my book. The only sound was that of birds chirping and the river gurgling.
For the next three days, we went on early morning game drives, a pleasant discovery of unique wildlife only found in the arid northern regions of Kenya, including Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk and Oryx beisa. We were treated to delightful meals that we struggled to find fault in. We read, played board games and put together puzzles and the kids spent a chunk of their time splashing water in the plunge pool. As darkness descended, the lions took over, roaring so hard one would imagine they were right outside the tent. In the morning, we woke up to glorious sunrises and the sounds of one million birds.
Samburu was a dream. The feeling of peace and of being removed from the hustle of the city was restful and healing to the spirit.
PS: We have been nominated once again for BAKE Awards under the Best Lifestyle, category 19.b. If you haven’t yet, please vote for use over here.