Written by: Aleema Noormohamed
I must have been born in the bush because I feel like it is where I belong. I have a photograph in which I must be 6 or 7 years old and I am leaning against a sleeping bag on a camping trip. I suppose this is where it all began… my love affair with the outdoors.
In the years after that snapshot, I found myself globetrotting to be near to the sights and sounds of mother nature. But in the end, my keen sense for exploration brought me back to Kenya – the place I call home – with the sensation that I hadn’t fully explored the beauty of this place. I landed back in tourism, and was given the opportunity to visit a part of Kenya I’d never seen, so I grabbed it.
Early the next morning, I was on a flight to a place we call Selenkay (meaning “a young girl” in the Maa tongue*) in Amboseli National Park. Then touchdown. I was offloaded. The Cessna engines roared for a few minutes and then took the plane away. I watched it disappear and looked around me. There was nothing but bush. Dry air, a light breeze, bush and more bush. I was in my element.
I settled into my seat on the waiting safari vehicle, and glanced around at the surroundings and then suddenly my eyes widened. Unbelievable! Five cheetahs?! And it hadn’t even been 10 minutes since I arrived!
There weren’t any other vehicles around us and we stopped right in front of these glorious cats, but they were oblivious to our presence. I took a few photographs, but then put the camera away and just enjoyed watching them. Not a single sound. I could have been the only person in the world (well… with the tour guide and spotter!). Eventually the guide asked whether we should move on. I said no. I wanted to stay for a few more minutes to take in every one of those five cats, their spotted coats, their sitting shadows, their tear mark stripes. Then we drove away and even though I had just spent a blissful ten minutes with these beautiful animals, I couldn’t help craning my neck for a last glance as we left them behind.
We continued along the unbeaten paths to Gamewatchers Adventure Camp. Surrounding me was pure bush. At the campsite, there was one large mess tent, with tables and chairs, a fire place, and a peak further behind the bushes, the top of which I knew to be dome tents. As I reached my dome tent all the years I’d spent camping came flashing back to me. Ironic, since I coudn’t even remember the last time I had actually slept in a tent or in a sleeping bag.
Memories of cooking over the fire and watching the “sufuria” (cooking pot) blacken with soot, digging pit holes for disposal purposes, looking for different logs to sit on and streams for fresh drinking water. I even remembered eating off of plastic plates with plastic forks.
I had loved roughing it in those days. These days though, the cravings for comfort have crept in, even if the need for adventure still burns high. Gamewatchers Adventure Camp catered for these comforts. There was a foam mattress under my sleeping bag and a flushing toilet in a covered structure right behind my tent. I was seated on a wooden chair (not a log!) and lunch was a three course meal, served at a table set up under a tree.
That afternoon we went for another game drive. Between the guide, the spotter and I (I’m proud to say I managed to see a herd of elephants before either one of them!) we spotted plenty of game. A mongoose flashed us a smile, bat eared foxes raced away from us and giraffes played an interesting game of “let’s see whose bottom is bigger!”
Afterwards we stopped for a sundowner at the waterhole. As the sun set, the surroundings turned from a bright orange to a deep velvet purple, and ‘they’ came out. All I could see were silhouettes. Large silhouettes. And then I heard the friendly shoves and the sound of displaced sand every time the silhouettes took a step. Then the ears of the silhouettes flapped open, and finally I could just make out the shape of these magnificent creatures as they sucked water up their trunk to quench their thirst.
When we arrived at camp, small lanterns lit up the paths. The table was once again set for a fine dining experience under the stars. I kicked back by the already burning camp fire and listened to its crackling. This experience was an upgrade from my good old camping days. And I loved every moment.
* The fascinating story of where the word Selenkay comes from:
Selengei or Selenkei (g and k is interchangeable in Maasai) means girl, maiden, young woman, unmarried girl.
The Selenkei lugga is a seasonal sand river and takes its name from a rock near its bank shaped like a young woman. The Maasai story is that a young woman (selenkei) was looking after her father’s sheep and goats when she was distracted by some Maasai warriors passing by. She flirted with the warriors and did not give her full attention to the sheep and goats so that some of them strayed and were lost. Her father was furious and cursed her and she turned to stone. Unfortunately this rock of legend eventually crumbled and only the base remains now.
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