Camping with lions.
I will never forget the smell first thing in the morning in Africa. More often than not we had early starts, normally between six and seven am, with the aim to be setting off by eight when we had a full day on the road. The smell I’m trying to describe can by enjoyed at the same time of day in the UK out in the countryside. That crisp, clean, fresh, cool, slightly damp air. The big difference between that sensation in Africa and the UK is that it is enhanced by the fact that you can’t hear a single unnatural thing, such as the roar of cars on a distant motorway or planes overhead; it was bliss. It was pure peace. I was completely relaxed and that was to last for the whole trip.
We retraced our tracks back into Kenya, heading towards Nairobi where the next stage of our tour would begin with new group members. We had a stop to make in Nakuru beforehand though, being as we were already nearly three weeks into the tour and had done very little ‘safariing’ so far. Nakuru has a lake called……..wait for it…….Lake Nakuru. The lake is surrounded by a protected wildlife park which is particularly well known for its hundreds of thousands of pink flamingos of which we saw several. Not several thousand, several. But that’s safariing, you win some you lose some. Our surroundings were everything you would expect from a safari. Tall dry grass, trees, bushes, dusty tracks, rock formations, clear blue sky and a huge lake as the centrepiece. This was to be our first proper safari and the benefit of being in the truck meant we had an excellent vantage point from up on the ‘beach’. I can clearly remember entering the park and the first animal we saw was a tortoise crossing the sandy road. I kid you not. God knows where the hare was but the little tortoise didn’t give a damn that a huge yellow truck was towering over it with seven stupidly excited people on top acting as though they had just seen a lion take down a giraffe. It was a fine afternoon of viewing animals including baboons, giraffe, buffalo, zebra, white and black rhino, flamingos, pelicans and I quote from my diary, ‘God knows how many grazing animals’. I must have written that because I had no idea what the difference was between a springbok and a gazelle! Alas we saw no lions. The black and white rhino were obviously terribly exciting but a lion or leopard were what we really wanted to see. It’s quite amusing how immune you become to all the awesomeness around you in pursuit of something else! We also didn’t see any elephants but Stu told us a wonderful tale about camping out in the park one time. He chose to sleep up on top of the truck, under the stars, and was awoken in the early hours by the trunk of an elephant just nosing around! Instantly on hearing a story like Stu’s you become a devout Christian (or any other religion of choice) and pray like hell that the same will happen to you. A lot like the Jason and gorilla act. Unfortunately for us, we were not going to be allowed to sleep on top of the truck as the company did not allow it for the obvious reason that one may roll over in the middle of the night and fall off the roof. Our time for an incredible tale however, would come. This was Africa, she never let us down.
“Arrived in Nakuru at lunch time for a good feed and then headed down the road to Lake Nakuru National Park for a good ode safari”.
Naturally, knowing we were to camp out in the middle of the park amongst everything we had seen that day, we were all incredibly excited, yet also a little anxious. After all, it was our first time and we knew lions were out there because as we were sat around the camp fire we could hear lion cubs calling for their mother not too far away. Now there are some considerations to be made when camping in this environment. Do your very best to not need a bush poo. A night time wee wasn’t really advisable for obvious reasons and so the last thing you should do is go off looking for a suitable bush for a poo. If you did need a wee then best to get your tent buddy to keep watch (for animals, not you weeing) and wee close to the tent. Also, do not put anything in your tent that smells, except of course for yourself. No toothpaste or soap and absolutely no food. The theory goes that an animal will see your tent as a solid object, a giant rock if you will. It will therefore merrily wander by as though a rock is in its path. This makes perfect sense to me. Then again, I’m sure some poor lad was slaughtered by a polar bear in the Arctic a few years ago and he was in a tent! 10pm soon came around and we all had a nervous pee before hitting our sleeping bags as we were due an early start the next morning. As with almost every night in my life, I slept wonderfully all the way through to 5.30am. We had purchased pillows one day in Uganda which was one of the best decisions of the trip.
As per usual, that wonderful African morning smell filled the air with pure bliss. We immediately packed up camp and continued on with an early morning safari. This was always a good time to go because it was cool and so the chances of catching the end of any night time animal related festivities was much improved. As it happens we saw pretty much everything we saw the day before. We saw a lot of giraffes that looked particularly elegant in the early morning sun. Giraffes turned out to be my favourite animal when on safari. I think it’s probably because I can relate to their height issues. They are just fantastic creatures to watch, beautifully graceful yet bloody hilarious watching them drink. We also got to see our first wild lions of the tour, two male lions that looked just incredible, majestic and kingly as you can imagine. This made us all very happy, so happy in fact we decided to become budding wildlife photographers. The problem was the lions weren’t overly close to us, great to look at but not so good for a photo. We came upon a clever yet completely idiotic way to get a better photo, bearing in mind none of us had a ‘proper’ good camera such as an SLR. So, we made the best of what we had which was; a pair of binoculars and a compact camera. By aiming the camera through the binoculars which were pointed towards the lion we could get a pretty decent close-up shot! We thought we were being rather clever, little did we know that people with real cameras would soon be joining our tour and ‘real’ cameras, it turned out, could take real awesome photographs. We also spotted ten hyenas chilling out by the side of the lake. I feel sorry for these critters because they lack any elegance, majesty or kingliness! In real life they are exactly as they are portrayed in ‘The Lion King’, grotty little bastards! That’s probably a bit harsh, from what I saw they actually looked quite laid back and playful. Half of them were by the side of the lake and the other half having a paddle in the water. I suppose, they are just not really that photogenic compared to what else is on offer.
After a good few hours we were soon ready for breakfast and we ended up at a view point that looked back down across the lake and surrounding area. The view went on for many miles and was simply stunning. This was most definitely one of the best places I have ever eaten breakfast. This is the beauty of overlanding. Park up, whip out the kitchen, put the kettle on, rustle up some grub, enjoy amazing surroundings. Now I know I sound like a caravan enthusiast and I don’t like it. Overlanding is absolutely not like caravanning. Overlanding is for adventure. Caravanning is for tea and biscuits in a field. We were also lucky in that Kristy was an expert at crafting delicious food quickly and with minimal ingredients. It is safe to say that this was to be the last great moment that the nine of us would share together for the rest of the tour, nay the last time ever actually. I will always remember the first three weeks of this tour as an incredibly fun, peaceful, relaxing time in my life. An absolute pleasure. After breakfast we made the drive back to Nairobi where we would start to meet our new travel buddies.
Taken from my unpublished ‘The African Trigtale’. My experience on a ten week overland tour I did in East and Southern Africa in 2008. Kindly edited by Lauren Goringe.