PART 2: BEING A TRAVEL CONSULTANT: FIRST TIME AS A DRIVER GUIDE - I GOT LOST IN THE MARA FOR 7 HOURS WITHOUT GUESTS KNOWING. (Cont'd)

April 29, 2020
PART 2: BEING A TRAVEL CONSULTANT: FIRST TIME AS A DRIVER GUIDE - I GOT LOST IN THE MARA FOR 7 HOURS WITHOUT GUESTS KNOWING. (Cont'd)
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Dressed in my new khaki trousers, safari boots, a Kudu Safaris T-shirt and armed with two mobile lines, latest version of google maps, Giga bundles, a car charging system, a power bank, Money in Cash and M-pesa... I set off at 6am for the airport …

CONTINUATION:
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Day 1: The guests landed at JKIA at 9am; my assignment this day was simple: to pick them up and transfer them to South B; there were many airport procedures I wasn’t familiar with especially the parking policies and payments but I held my head high like a diehard veteran. I was picking 4 guests: Two elderly parents, their son with a magical American height and his Kenya fiancée rocking a beehive of Oprah hairstyle. With me at the airport was the Kenyan Family members who came in two saloon cars; a grandma (Shosho), her two sons (brothers to the lady being married), their wives, two aunts and a nursery of very healthy kids. The two Sons were smartly dressed in suits and some of the kids too making them look like rich Kenyan parliamentarians. The ladies except Shosho had outstanding make up applied on their faces and were all in uniform African print dresses. It was colorful! We waited for over an hour for the guests to appear from the checkout customs area a thing that made Shosho over anxious and irritated. She could not hide her disappointment for her visiting family coming out the last. By the way, have you watched the video of the father slapping his son severally for failing exams and coming last in class? What is your take on that?

The entire area was filled with ululations, songs and dance as we spotted them coming out of the customs area… I just started sweating for no reason. It was a big spectacle as the guest were made to wear the shinning decorations necklace like the ones used by the Kalenjins in graduation ceremonies.

The guest’s attitude towards me at first wasn't all that good; as I showed them towards the parking lot, I accidentally hit a pavement block and all the suitcases on my trolley scattered everywhere. I scampered to collect them in a big embarrassment helped by the sons. Shosho said a very long prayer in Kikuyu many times asking God to bless and cover the driver against all evils and to guide us through the safari. I felt born again and said a big Amen. I was introduced to the guests and we kicked off the 10 days safari.

NAIROBI CITY SAFARI:

The next day I was to take them to the Nairobi National Park, David Sheldricks, Girraffe Centre, Bomas of Kenya and do a bit of the city tour the KICC and a walk in town. It was the first time to drive guests in the National park. My car safari radio was working but it was also the first time for me to use it... I remember just after the park gates I called on the radio;

"Hello? Nairobi Park Nani ananiskia?"

Came the reply and conversation "Haha huyu ni mgeni msaidieni jameni..."

Over the radio guides interacted on their findings but their coded language made it so difficult for me to understand anything. Other guides seemed very rude and had a lot of pride when I asked them the directions and they could not understand how I didn’t know. They wore dark sunglasses and drove safari vans with erect aerials on the front. I ended up being lucky most times; I drove round and round the bushes seeing nothing until the point when I noticed guests sleeping and I called it a day.

“Wangu wamekula piriton” I learnt the code

Am going to skip a big part of this story so that I get to the last days and getting lost in the Mara... The next couple of days we did Nyeri, Serena Mountain lodge, proceeded to Nyahururu Thompsons falls, and then drove to Nakuru and Naivasha. Google maps in urban areas helps a lot and it was not so hard for me to move around. Whenever the guests requested for a toilet break, I would rush to google, sweating in my hands to check the routes and if the connection was slow I would speed dial my good friend veteran driver guide Anthony Mulama for help... He was paid handsomely to be on standby. Haha.

NOTE: Only use google maps for towns and urban areas… You will be 10 times lost using google to tell u direction in the parks and the rural areas...

 

TO MASAI MARA.

Naivasha 8am at a gas station; I was introduced to another safari van carrying other Kenyan family members joining the trip; The driver guide *John a middle aged man with white hair and rocking khaki from head to toe had 3 Kenyan female adults and the nursery of children in his Van. In my Van were the guests, the two brothers and Shosho who sat at the front passenger seat with a woven basket full of thermos flasks and snacks.  You should notice that I am carrying all VIPs.

The excitement and the joy in everybody was unstoppable, as it was all their first time to Masai Mara; Children were overjoyed, uncontrollable and could not stay calm. John and I were the men of the day to make it happen and the expectation on our shoulders was absolutely ridiculous.

“Dere! Dere! Tutaona Simba ikiwinda?”

“Tutaona Elephant?”

“Na Tiger?”

“Kati ya simba na Elephant gani iko na mbio?”

The children threw at us the questions in high pitched voices.

As we fuel, I went behind the vehicle to catch up with my other driver with a sigh of relief and a charming spirit as I no longer needed Google! Hurray!! I greeted him and after exchanging casual pleasantries he broke hell loose; Speaking with a Kikuyu ascent he said,

"ushaenda Masai Mara siku ingine; mimi ni mgeni sijawai enda huko.. hata sijui ni wapi… Msichana wangu ameninunulia hii gari ndio nimeanza tu juzi..."

I was dump struck and as confused as … (finish this). I knew if I told him it was also my first time, it will inflict fear in him and will bring arguments. How do two blind men lead each other?

"Yeah  yeah Masai Mara mimi ni nyumbani.." - I assured him.

Past Mai Mahiu John was a visitor like the rest. I was the car in front. To Narok it is pretty straight forward as I had gone on safari before; I knew upto Sekenani Gates.

On my passenger seat sat a shosho with her basket full of breakfast and thermos flasks. She is a staunch Christian and a strict follower of Prophet Awor ministries. Today she was dressed in their usual long trench-coat like dress and a headscarf.

She carried tea and porridge in the flasks, Nduma, bananas, biscuits and slices of brown bread nicely spread with blue band. This I understand was to save cost of buying from hotels which she believes prepare food with ‘bad oil’. After every hour she will turn to me with bright smiling face and ask;

"Derefa niukunywa uchoro munini?" (Kikuyu for 'driver will you take some little porridge?')

On her first two attempts I said no until at one point she was getting really concerned and insisted that I should eat something; she had not seen me taking breakfast the whole morning and I was driving which was dangerous… I finally agreed to avoid being seen rude. We parked on the roadside, had some porridge with bread and proceeded with the safari. She treated me so special and with a lot of respect as I held the key to the hospital, heaven or hell at all the time haha…

Driving to Sekenani took Years!!! The road was horrible!! Veteran drivers will overtake us at a very high speed leaving a cloud of dust on our face; Shosho would however always encourage me to go at my own pace and not compete with them. She was lovely and I really liked her.

“Dere, bado mbali?” a question will come from behind.

“Ahh hapa dakika kidogo tu tuko karibu...” I will give them hope. After more than an hour potholes drive, the same question will pop again and again… my heart was beating so fast and I could not stop sweating… At one point I thought maybe I was on a wrong route but I kept on driving… John at some point couldn’t keep up with my pace as he drove slowly not to spoil his new car.

SEKENANI GATE 12 NOON; we checked in got our receipts and we were allowed to proceed. From here I was also a guest. Anthony (I hope you still remember him) had directed that at the first junction to the right with a sign Sarova 4KM I take the road towards Talek gate then proceed on towards Olkiombo Airstrip to Interpids... but because we were early and were to check-in in the evening, he had advised we do a game drive before we exit. I told myself to well mark the roads and not to be far from the main road at all times and also to look out for landmarks. All this time, John followed very closely.

To be a driver guide is really not an easy task; you need to be informed about so many things. A guest can shoot a question out of now where like "Why is this park called Masai Mara… which is that animal… what tree is this… what is the altitude here… how big is this park… has there been a case where a lion ate a tourist…?” And many others… I was however a pro in these theoretical information.


I took the right turn towards Talek gate from Sekenani gate. After a short drive, I decided to take a left off the main road keeping in mind that the road is on my right just to show the guests we are now on a game drive. I drove for about 30minutes through the bushes without seeing any other van... I was lucky to find a tower of giraffes in a valley on my way and the guests were really happy.   I proceeded on with John on my tail; another 30minutes elapsed and I came up a hill that I could now see to the horizon... There were many similar other hills all over without sight of anything anywhere. I couldn't show my fear coz the guests knew am a veteran. I drove round and round for like 2 hours in cycles spotting zebras and antelopes… at some point we got on dead ends as we could not cross the little rivers… There was nothing on sight anywhere and I kept on driving at a slow speed pretending to be keenly looking out for animals laying in the bush. Whenever I slowed down, the guests would quickly follow the direction I was looking hoping that I have spotted something; many times I was just trying to figure out my way around. I avoided the radio like a plague as I couldn’t tell where I was and absolutely didn’t know anywhere; to add salt to the injury, the guides spoke in coded language. I could hear

“Kikitu! Kikitu!”

“Kuja kwa Kikitu..”

Umetoa nini mwenzangu?

“Ahh hapa kwa miti ya kuinama ukielekea Ashnil vichwa wako maridaa… Asubuhi kulikuwa na waiguru kwa sausage tatu sahizi nalenga mto kubwa…”

“Roojo!”

WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT ABOUT?!!!

I Suddenly came up to a main road on my right and I remembered I was on a similar same road. This is now on number 24. I proceeded with high hopes of seeing Talek gate. The time was now 2.30pm. Number 24 with the direction I was heading is like you are at Nyayo stadium heading to Athi River while you are supposed to go to Limuru. I proceeded towards Keekorok airstrip. Along the way were more zebras and antelopes... I met another safari van and he informed me “Maskio” (Elephants) are a few minute ahead. At the T junction on number 24 to Sarova and Keekorok, we met a herd of elephants the biggest I had ever seen… I was scared to the bone by how big these creatures were; they were so close to the road and I could hear my heart beat… It is advised you switch off your engines when close to wildlife but that was a bad joke and even at gun point I could not be convinced; I had my gear engaged and my right feet was  ready for takeoff in case they decided to play catch.

The guests are now very happy seeing me as a hero to master all the bush tracks. I took right towards Keekorok and drove for about 30 minutes. I was feeling so lost… everything seemed new to me and I didn’t want to show am lost. I drove on. My fear to ask another van for the direction will water down my 3 years of experience I had earlier lied to the guests…more so, the 3 Kenyans understands Swahili and English perfectly. Shosho was really impressed with my skills and could not believe her eyes...

We had our lunch snack while on the road: Driving on for another 30 minutes I came to a sign Ashnil 18Kms. The time is now 3.15pm. I signaled a van coming our way to stop and the driver told me there is nothing much to see on those sides. He was particularly concerned we were going to “the river” at that time as everybody else was now going back to their lodges… I was like “Umm nafika tu hapa Interpids..”

The shock on his face was obvious. I was in Kitengela when am supposed to be in Limuru. When we were young, we would signal somebody to lie by putting out our tongue sideways on the cheeks. I quickly signaled him to lie as the two brothers were now all ears. He asked me out of the car and we went behind his vehicle.

“Boss where are you going?”

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