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 Masai 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, 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 damn 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 got my shit together and 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 damn good memories, even if I’m the only one who remembers them. 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 while the wheels below us hugged the bumpy dirt roads. If our journey was a song it would be the 2011 Grammy nominated, 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 as well. But what do I know, I often confuse astronomy with astrology and lasted two weeks in grade 11 physics wondering why there were letters in this math class before crying, “ME NO GET!” to the high school guidance counsellor. Me fail hard.
Gravity was here in this new world, along with time and space and velocity blah blah. Everything looked the same – well actually, according to the Theory of Relativity – not now Einstein, not now. 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. Reflecting off the tired yet determined face of a woman balancing a bucket on her head with a 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. And it reflected off the beaming smiles of children running, sometimes 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 pristine 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 to come join them…wait, no. Not a mirage, the lake is definitely there. Can confirm. Sorry, where was I? Oh right, Liam Hemsworth entered me, gahh sorry, no no, stupid 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 beautiful 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 and magnets and the occasional painting when I’m feeling highbrow and fancy, not a fricken rhino horn. Rhino horns and elephant tusks should belong to no one except for rhinos and elephants. It’s such a shame because to see animals of this magnitude in the wild is truly amazing. 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 these animals, 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 suicidal squirrels, 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 a bullshit amusement park. Lake Nakuru cut all the bullshit. The only rides were the cars we held onto. There were no cages, no overpriced snacks and no flamingos (I’m not bitter or anything) just one big home to wild 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 that 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 and thoughtful chats and of course 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, kick ass, power couple, whom my family is lucky to call friends, on this day several years ago. And so on this day we celebrate Har. Today is Har’s Forever Day. That night a group of strangers became family. We ate cake and danced with the entire kitchen staff and sang in between fits of laughter and more cake. I watched Har’s beaming parents hug him after he blew out the candles and immediately felt like my ovaries were going to explode with joy.
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 enough, why rush? I walked back to our camp that night pole-pole, I didn’t want to miss a thing.