As the the morning sun shone over Nairobi National Park, we stuffed our faces with breakfast, stuffed the trucks with bags, stuffed our faces with second breakfast and began our journey into the wild – a road trip split up over two days. Because one does not simply walk to the Maasai Mara.
I watched Nairobi’s concrete jungle get smaller and smaller in the review mirror until the skyscrapers looked like towers for ants. Ahead of us, The Great Rift Valley waited patiently for our arrival. What’s a few hours, when you’ve been around some 25 million years.
This 6,400 km long crack in the Earth’s surface has stacked up quite the resume over those millions of years. It reaches from Northern Syria to Mozambique in East Africa, almost broke the continent in two, and has some of the World’s deepest fresh and salt water lakes. Africa’s tallest mountains call it home, Astronauts say it’s the most significantly visible detail on Earth from space, it’s lined with active and semi active volcanoes, abundant wildlife, horizonless savannahs, vast grasslands, okay, okay we get it. The Great Rift Valley is pretty great and it won’t ever let you forget that. I mean, it’s not called The Rift Valley, urgh the audacity! It will only answer to The Great Rift Valley. Or “The Cradle of Mankind” because this very place is where human beings first walked upright upon the Earth. Jeeze, Great Rift, overachiever much?
The irony was not lost on me when I failed to put one foot in front of the other and tripped. Some of us evolve slower than others, okay? I guess I just missed that step, maybe in evolution, but definitely the one on the ground. Once I stopped dragging my knuckles on the dirt I finally stood at the edge of the viewpoint, 2,140 metres up, and drooled over the beauty that lay ahead. Me fall hard.
Standing there, I couldn’t help but feel small and perhaps a little insignificant, okay a lot insignificant. I am a mere speckle on the Earth’s surface, there is no Great in front of my name and I certainly won’t be around for millions of years – 80 if I’m lucky and that’s not nearly enough time to make mountains. But it is enough time to grow roots and make some good memories. So thanks Great Rift Valley for letting me stand, as small as I may be, it sure is nice to be here.
And with that humbling moment, we were off to Lake Nakuru. We shook in our seats for hours as the wheels below us struggled to grip the uneven dirt road. If our journey was a song it would be the 2011 critically acclaimed hit “Turbulence” featuring Lil’ John yelling at you. In case you have successfully blocked it out of your memory, I have posted a link to it below. You’re welcome.
Wow, that song is awful.
And is Lil’ John wearing a cardigan?
Anyways, I didn’t really mind the car turbulence, I was too distracted by the new World I was seeing outside my window. The laws of physics that govern my homeland seemed to apply to this new World – what do I know, I often confuse astronomy with astrology and spent two weeks in grade 11 physics wondering why there were letters in math class.
Gravity was here in this new World, along with time, space, and velocity, blah blah. But there was something very different about this place.
According to me, esteemed physics expert person, I concluded that light travelled at a different frequency here, resulting in the most beautiful colours I have ever seen. The hills and valleys were painted with soft green grass as far as my over-stimulated retinas could see. Above us, the green roofs of trees were the only thing in the way of a bright blue, cloudless sky. And inside the sky was a giant, flaming yellow ball of fire that turned my skin red.
Even the people seemed brighter. You could feel the heart and hustle radiating off them. Off the tired, yet determined face of a woman balancing a bucket on her head; one baby strapped across her front and another little one holding on to her back – talk about multi-tasking, I’ll just be over here pushing on pull doors. Off the beaming smiles of children running, often barefoot, beside our car. I stuck my body outside the window like a golden retriever, “JAMBO!” we yelled to each other, reaching out our hands.
Our rumbling cars made their way through Lake Nakuru’s gates and entered the park one by one, where I could have sworn I was being fooled by a mirage. A sparkly blue lake filled with shirtless Hemsworth brothers splashing each other and calling my name…wait, no. Not a mirage, the lake is definitely there. Can confirm. Sorry, where was I? Oh right, Liam Hemsworth entered me – gahh, sorry, silly mirage. The cars entered the park one by one where we were greeted by a sparkly blue lake.
When one thinks of the quintessential image of Africa, a lake does not come to mind. Yet there it was, in the middle of the park, in all its brilliant blue glory. But Lake Nakuru wasn’t always blue. For quite sometime, it was pink. Every year, thousands of flamingos would flock to the lake, turning the water into a sea of bright pink. Now, ever since the rise in water levels, the flamingos have disappeared from the park. They straight up ghosted Lake Nakuru. After all those years together, nothing, not even a goodbye text. Don’t be fooled by their fluorescent feathers, the flamingos are as cold as the water they left behind.
There was no pink to be seen that day, what we found instead was more black and white. Rhinos to be exact. I couldn’t believe our luck. Despite countless initiatives to protect all rhinos…not just the white ones, they are among the most endangered animals on the planet. Poaching is still a huge problem in Africa, one that can’t simply be solved by making it illegal. Hundreds of black and white rhinos are killed every year, hunted for their horns which, in some countries, are worth more in weight on the black market than diamonds or cocaine. Move over Narcos, helloooo Netflix, I’d like to pitch a show.
When I visit places, I buy keychains, magnets, the occasional painting when I’m feeling fancy; I do not buy a rhino horn. Rhino horns and elephant tusks should belong to no one except for rhinos and elephants. To see animals of this magnitude in the wild is like seeing a friend you have been missing. You just want to scream and hug them, but you can’t because they might eat you.
I’m talking WILD here – not locked in a cage, cuddled for Instagram likes, bought for spectacle or hunted for sport. Wild. Free from ownership. This was not my first time seeing zebras or baboons, but it was my first time seeing them in the wild, because, believe it or not, African Lion Safari is in Hamilton, Ontario and the only animals native to Hamilton are racoons and every guy inside Dirty Dogs after last call.
It took me 23 years to see a wild rhino and I would rather wait another 23 years than press my face against the glass at an amusement park. The only rides at Lake Nakuru were the seats we held onto. There were no cages, no overpriced snacks, and no flamingos (I’m not over it) just one, big home to animals and a few humans invited for the day.
And what a day indeed. The tired sun eventually said goodbye in the most grandiose of exits. It set the sky on fire before slipping away, leaving everything it touched glowing orange. I remember thinking I would give anything to make this day last forever. But this day did not belong to me, it was Har’s day. Har was one of the three kids (I’m including myself) on our safari. He’s quiet at first, but if he let’s you in, you’re in for hours of goofy, yet thoughtful chats and, when there’s a pool nearby, lots of swim races. He was the only one in our group smaller than me, because he’s 12. By the time I finish writing this, I’m sure I’ll be the one looking up at him.
Har was officially adopted by this incredible power couple, whom my family is lucky to call friends, on this day several years ago. Today we celebrate Har. Today is Har’s “Forever Day.”
That night, back at the campsite, a group of strangers became family. Har’s parents held him as he took a big, swimmer’s breath in and blew out all the candles. We ate cake and danced with the entire kitchen staff and sang in between fits of laugher and more cake.
There is this phrase in Swahili, “pole-pole,” meaning slowly. It certainly doesn’t apply to driving in Kenya, I think it applies to living. Life is short, why rush? With a full tummy and heart, I walked back to my tent pole-pole, I didn’t want to miss a thing.