Lowering Skies in the Game Park

March 2018, and we are coming towards the end of my month’s holiday in Kenya.

I had a tiring morning shopping with Dennis at The Hub, a new shopping centre on the site of the former  Rusty Nail pub in Karen. The very thought of shopping always gives me back ache. I’d already marched for twenty minutes round the block exercising Sassie, an adorable golden retriever, rather big and boisterous for the confines of their home with pocket-hankerchief lawn. But they’ve got used to their lives, and Sassie tries so very hard to curb his exuberance.

In the afternoon we dropped Sassie off with obliging baby-sitters, and under lowering skies headed for the Nairobi Game Park.

“Shall we leave it to tomorrow?” I suggested, pointing to ominous thunderclouds hovering over the city. But no, Dennis was determined the weather would hold.

 The Park fees were cheaper than I remembered. We got as far as the first dam, and Dennis opened the roof of their new second-hand Toyota X-Trail. The first big drops of rain spattered onto the windscreen. He sat down to close the roof – and it got stuck on the runnels. Every time he pressed the button, an unhealthy grating sound scrunched at our ears. The rain settled into a steady downpour, and Dennis opened the umbrella he had thoughtfully brought with him.

Beneath the shelter of the large orange and yellow dome of the brolly, which admittedly covered the roof hatch quite effectively, he continuously tried to work the mechanism free.

Tamara set the wipers to full speed and I tried to peer through my darkened side window at herds of impala, and hundreds of  buffalo. A warthog. No birds. They were most likely cowering under cover of the downpour.

We went in the direction of the Ngong Hills, glowing under weak rays of sunshine, while the black clouds dumped their outpour over Nairobi city behind us. I persuaded Tamara not to test the new vehicle by venturing onto the treacherous black cotton soil of the plains. So we crawled along the fringe of the forest towards the dash of sunlight over the hills, eyes skinned, with little hope of spotting lion.

Buffalo met us at almost every corner.

We twisted and turned towards the plains and approached Kingfisher Gorge, avoiding the darkest clouds where we could, Dennis all the while concentrating on the scratchy roof hatch, trying to manhandle it closed.

“Sounds as if there’s a stone or something in the runnel,” I said.

Four other cars were parked at the campsite, and a group of dripping tourists huddled under the roof of a small banda. We stopped and refreshed ourselves with water and biscuits. The thermos Dennis had bought at The Hub for our tea proved useless, as it was missing its screw cap.

The rain didn’t abate, so we moved off, heading towards faintly lightened skies to the south along the Park border. Dennis renewed his efforts with the roof. The umbrella turned inside-out in a guest of wind. Tamara drove doggedly onwards, stopping to observe a giraffe, some kongoni, a few zebra and more impala. She’d been hoping to try out the 4-wheel drive, but I was glad to see that the well-constructed road was holding up against the weather.

With a shout of exhilaration from Dennis, the roof finally moved – and he managed to close it, hauling the broken, sopping wet umbrella back through the hatch. We all breathed sighs of relief. Ignoring the tempting fork in the road indicating return to the Park entrance, we followed the lighter sky southwards, and were rewarded with a sighting of rhino. A great specimen with a healthy long horn.

Dennis took the wheel as the rain turned into drizzle. We passed another vehicle, the driver indicating where to find lion. Going through drifts of expansive water, Dennis successfully engaged the four-wheel-drive. But we spotted no lion. A young giraffe observed us with mild curiosity and we spied a wildebeest amid a herd of kongoni. Several birds of prey lurked on and around the tree tops.

I spotted a group of cars on the skyline. Did that signify lion? We crept in their direction. People were outside their cars. Were they in trouble? No. I raised my binoculars. Diplomatic number plates – men splashing about in the mud. No problems… no animals.

“They shouldn’t be out of their cars!”

It was time to turn towards home. I felt refreshed after my first experience in a game park for many years. Just being in the bush, experiencing the rush of anticipation and adrenaline of making a sighting. And the birds had come out in the end as the rain abated. Even the twisting roads, now so much better preserved than I remembered, brought back memories as I recalled places I’d seen lion before.

Lion in Nbi Park Tamara

We saw no lion, but this photograph was taken in the park on a sunnier evening by my talented daughter-in-law Tamara de Melo. Soon, on canvas, it will grace my sitting-room as a constant reminder of warm and sunny Africa, which these great beasts call their home.

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