A SERIES OF UNEXPECTED EVENTS (LAST PART). They had been six wonderful and incomparable days, but also exhausting, and we deserved a rest that, apart from recovering strength, gave us time to digest what we had lived. Charles, our Kenyan chauffeur, picked us up at dawn when the dawn was barely announced. For the next two hours, as we watched the sunrise over the savannah of the Masai Mara National Park, Charles proved himself to be a top pilot by skillfully driving over the muddy ground that had left a glaring night storm.
You will understand the difficulties better if I add that the only two vehicles we saw were sunk in a mudflat and would need help to move forward. With this we had a picture of how complicated our safari would have been in the rainy season that could start from one moment to the next. When we arrived at an asphalt road, the truck was completely covered in mud and looked like a croquette on wheels.
We were on our way back to Nairobi, but this time we didn’t go into the capital either, stopping at the nearby Wilson airfield. At the entrance door there were signs which read: “HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS” and “NO IBORY ON BOARD”. From there, together with about twenty other passengers, we left in a twin-engine Safarilink (a Canadian-made Dash: we still didn’t know that a Boeing 737 Max 8 from Ethiopian Airlines had crashed that same day; the same model with which I had flown first from India and then from Oman).
An hour later we landed at Ukunda Airfield, off the coast of the Indian Ocean, where the popular Diani Beach is located. Our destination, which followed this one, was Galu Beach. A taxi took us to the Simba + Onix Beach Cottages Resort, where we had booked a small white house in an architectural style similar to Ibiza, which had two rooms and a large porch with a table for meals and three sofas where we could get fed up with Tusker beers while playing some “bloody” backgammon games.
The house was surrounded by gardens decorated with dozens of bougainvilleas of different colors. There were many trees among which three impressive baobabs stood out. On its branches, apart from the expected tropical birds, ran several monkeys that played friendly despite belonging to two different races: the vervet, with an appearance similar to Indian langures, and the precious colobos (angolan black and white colobo). There was a swimming pool in which the warm, slightly salty water could float for hours without getting cold or tired. Then came a white sandy beach, continuing north and south, enclosed between the resort gardens and the greenish waters of the Indian Ocean.
We were admiring our new home when our Valencian friend commented: “It’s the icing on the Kenyan cake we’ve been savouring this week, isn’t it? Indeed, it was, and we congratulate ourselves on being there.
After mentioning all this, perhaps you will find it difficult to believe that this watercolour still had a final touch with which it already surpassed everything imaginable: at our exclusive service we would have a cook named Martin who (for the nice price of ten euros a day; the average salary of a Kenyan is around three hundred euros a month) would delight us with local cuisine based on fish, squid and prawns. Better, impossible!
One last detail: it was shitty hot, 38º. How much I like the relaxed atmosphere of the tropics despite starting to sweat tomorrow and being forced to sleep with the ceiling fan at full speed!
It never ceases to amaze me at the rapidity of the dawn and dusk of those places. My routine would include jumping out of bed in the first light of day and taking a walk on the beach for a while while as I watched the sun’s big-headedness loom over the horizon.
Kenya is one of the few countries where disposable plastic bags are banned. But nature’s children are also cared for in other ways and, for example, over Diani Beach streets they have built bridges called colobos bridge, similar to rope ladders, so that monkeys can cross them without running the risk of being run over by vehicles; they told me that baboons don’t use them because, like Indian macaques, they have learned how road traffic works. They also take care to prune the branches of the trees near the high tension lines to avoid that some monkey ends up electrocuted.
Following the wishes of the Valencian friend, we went to visit the nearby Colobus Conservation Center, created in 1997 to welcome monkeys that had been released or were injured. A young local volunteer guided us through that small jungle-like enclosure and gave us some interesting facts about nature: “Baobabs trees live for more than three thousand years (she showed us one that had sprouted after being split in two). The elephants pierce their trunks with their tusks to extract the water they store. “In Kenya there are only five thousand colobos of this subspecies, and in the vicinity of Diani Beach there will be no more than four hundred. “Monkeys should not be fed directly because doing so will cause them to believe they have power over you.”
That information lent credibility to the dramatic anecdote Burroughs mentioned in The Malaysian Trilogy about a British man who fed macaques daily; apes who one bad day attacked and killed him for showing up empty-handed.
In Galu Beach we also made a boat trip to a sandy atoll that looks out to sea at low tide. The reason for going there was to take a look at some coral reefs and the goldfish that inhabit them; to us, after seeing those of Pulau Kapas (and let’s not say if I compared them to those of the Red Sea), they didn’t seem too interesting. Anyway, we liked sitting with the water up to our waist half a kilometer from the shore and sharing a pot of pot with a nice local rastafari: Good vibrations, man!
I had two incidents with the children of nature: the main actor of the first was a vervet monkey who snuck into the house pulling the mosquito net from a window in my room and went to the kitchen in search of fruit. But he was left with the desire because, unlike the macaques of Varanasi, he had not yet learned to open the refrigerator, Pandora’s box that hid mangos, passion fruit, watermelons and bananas. In the second incident there was a whole anthill of tiny ants that chose my electronic book as their home and I only managed to get them to take a long time leaving it under the burning midday sun.
THE RETURN. After that pleasant week dedicated to loitering, we went by taxi to nearby Mombasa, where we arrived by ferry at Likoni quay because it is on an island. Although the views of the surroundings were very beautiful, this city of a million inhabitants seemed ugly to me and we crossed it without me getting to put my feet on it.
We immediately went to the railway station that a Chinese state company had recently built on the outskirts (actually, the railway line and the trains were also Chinese). The station looked like an airport, but due to the latest attacks by Somali Islamic terrorists, the exaggerated security controls outweighed those of the former: there were even dogs in charge of sniffing the luggage that would later pass through two different X-ray machines!
I have mentioned more than once the general height and corpulence of Kenyans, and proof of this was in the wide seats of the wagon (prepared for someone with long legs), and the high shelves of luggage (which I had trouble getting to).
We were on our way back to Nairobi, and during the five-hour journey I did not take my eyes off the window so as not to miss any detail of that Kenyan film: villages, isolated houses, children returning from school, women carrying barrels of water, men working in the orchards and an infinite plantation of pineapple sautéed from baobabs.
We also passed by Tsavo National Park and I was able to take a last look at the local fauna: camels, wild boars, zebras, impalas, buffaloes, ostriches and several herds of elephants that wore the reddish color of the land they were covered with. I enjoyed some unusual images when one of them got scared of the train and went out by legs as if it were a gazelle. An electric wire fence (and not the hateful barbed wire) separated them from the railroad track.
We spent the last night in a boarding house near Nairobi airport (a city of four million souls in which we could not even set foot), and took advantage of the following morning to visit The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphans Project; an orphanage for elephants and rhinoceroses located next to the capital, but already inside Nairobi National Park, where we saw nineteen elephants, aged between three months and three years, who had lost their mothers due, above all, to some of the frequent droughts. There was only one rhinoceros a few months old, which reminded me of the one who played with me in Sauraha.
Each one of these elephants consumes twenty-five liters of milk daily in a formula similar to the one given to babies; ration that they drank gluttonously and comically from some big bottles. The number of African elephants in 1940 exceeded five million. In 1980 there were only one and a half million left. And in 2016, three hundred thousand. 90% of the ivory they’re killed for goes to the Chinese market. Bastards!
SOME DATA. Although Kenya receives a constant flow of foreign exchange thanks to rich international tourism, it is still a third world country in which the majority of the population lives in miserable neighbourhoods that are separated from the rich neighbourhoods by high walls guarded at all times by armed guards. It was only when I was about to leave that I noticed that, apart from the privileged places we had visited, I really did not know Kenya because I had not kicked its streets or traveled in its crowded buses or eaten in its street stalls. After repeatedly seeing posters announcing, “This land is not for sale,” I was told that this was a precaution taken by owners to avoid the frequent scam in which someone sells a property that is not their property.
FACING THE WORST ENEMY. Those two fantastic weeks were over in which I constantly enjoyed while cementing my friendship with my Valencian friends, and I went to the airport without suspecting that the damned bureaucracy (burrocracia) could set me a last-minute trap. It was like this when, after overcoming the long security lines, when I went to pick up my boarding pass I was asked for confirmation that I had been vaccinated against yellow fever. “How?!” I exclaimed in alarm. “If he’s been in Kenya for more than a week, he should be vaccinated,” explained a very nice girl who didn’t come to reasons when I replied, “But don’t people get vaccinated before, not after? No, no, no, no, no: if I wanted to leave the country I would have to accept being pinched, something that would cost me 2,500 shilings (euro: 108 Kenyan shilings) and force me to go through an ATM.
Luckily I was not short of time, otherwise I would have missed the plane. Following the girl’s directions, I left the terminal shitting on all the gods and, asking here and there, I got sent in the wrong direction. At last a soldier came to my aid, standing guard with his machine gun on my chest, who, seeing me lost, took me by the hand to the basement of a building where I was received by two nice women. These, apart from joking about my sorrows, when I told them that I didn’t even take aspirin and that the vaccination was very disgusting (I didn’t even get vaccinated against yellow fever when I spent several months in the Amazon, where I managed to get rid of the police controls), when I learned of my “advanced age” they made it clear to me that people over sixty years of age didn’t have to get vaccinated, and they even gave me a leaflet of that medicine that contained such information.
I returned to the airport terminal so angry that the security guards allowed me to jump the lines. The girl before me asked for a thousand pardons, and I granted them magnanimously controlling the desire to strangle her. But we weren’t finished, and then I had to suffer a few more moments of anguish as I watched the computer desperately typing in a new girl refusing to spit out my boarding pass; I only calmed down when she called her boss and he came up with the problem and the solution. Goodbye, Kenya (pronounced Keña)
And that’s all for today, my dear papanatas. Bom Bom.
The Cosmic Chronicle, by Nando Baba