NAIROBI, Kenya — Jomo Kenyatta International airport in Nairobi will never be confused with the opulence of Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok or Singapore’s Changi airport. But it is still possible to find a quiet space when preparing to leave the capital of Kenya so I cool my heels in the airport lounge while screening The Experiment on my laptop. It’s a provocative, psychological thriller that examines the interactions between two groups of men playing the roles of prisoners and jailers with a Lord of the Flies-like finish of savagery and survival.
As the film concludes, I could not help but think of the last week spent in the Kenyan bush and the connections between this movie and Africa, humans in their rawest form and nature in its rawest form.
I had arrived in the country relishing the opportunity to see the animal kingdom in its natural habitat. It was a uniquely enlightening chance as we travelled though wilderness areas in our convoy, trying to be as innocuous as possible. After waiting impatiently for hours, a migrating herd of over 6,000 wildebeest not far away from us finally decides to brave the crocodile-infested waters and cross over the Mara River. In a deadly irony, a herd on the opposite riverbank is also waiting to cross believing that the grass is literally greener and more abundant on our side.
As the herd stampedes madly into the rushing water, our guide guns the engine and races to a better vantage point directly overlooking the river. We are close enough to hear the beasts’ grunts and smell their dank odour now. And despite our modern clothing and, frankly, our humanness, we are every bit as susceptible to the legions of flies that torment these animals. The bugs clearly cannot differentiate between animal species.
The morbid and bloodthirsty among us may be slightly disappointed because on this day the wildebeests are spared and all of them make the crossing unscathed. It seems that the lurking crocs have sated themselves on animals taken during earlier migrations.
But any thoughts that everything was going to be peaceful in the animal kingdom during our safari were quickly dashed. The exhilaration of witnessing some of nature’s most enthralling spectacles soon gives way to a scene that I can only describe as disturbing.
Making our way back to camp, our hawk-eyed tracker signals the driver to slow down then stop. He lasers in with his binoculars on a Topi antelope in distress on the distant plain.
The reason for the Topi’s fury soon becomes apparent as we approach a bit closer. The antelope has just given birth but a pack of villainous jackals have wasted little time and been at work snatching her defenceless calf.
The mother, who apparently does not realize yet that her baby is already dead, charges the jackals time and time again trying to chase them off their kill. But her desperate attempts are futile; the jackals taunt and take turns luring her away from the carcass while the others scamper in to feed. It’s teamwork of the most perverse kind and almost on cue, the garbage pickers of the savannah fly overhead and assemble sentinel-like waiting for the scraps.
The Topi attempts to gore the vultures with her horns but their bodies - all beak and feathers - escape in a flutter, compounding the hapless antelope’s grief and desperation.
The haunting scenario stays with me for days and having just finished watching The Experiment in the airport lounge, I quickly try to relate the events in the movie to those out in the wild. I can’t help but think of Joseph Conrad's profound statement: “Civilization is a veneer hiding the savage reality of the human condition.” And it is oh so true. Regardless of the creature, civility is relative.
At one point during the trip, I had a conversation with a member of the Masai tribe, whose fierce warriors were once the dread of all other tribes as well as the colonizers of East Africa. An eloquent young man, he spoke to me in an enlightening tone. “The time of the traditional Masai Warrior is over,” he said. “The new warriors of our tribe use the weapons of education and knowledge.”
It seems that perhaps the veneer of civilization is now progressing across the African continent. One can certainly hope.
AsiaXPAT’s Kenya adventure was organized by Asia to Africa Safaris. We enjoyed the superb hospitality of the owners and operators of the following camps:
Ol Pejeta Bush Camp is a traditional tented safari camp, set on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River, in a 100,000 acre wildlife sanctuary called Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The aim of Ol Pejeta Bush Camp is to take game-viewing and conservation to a whole new level, an ideal place for those wishing to get 'a bit more' out of their safari. The camp is owner-managed by Alex and Diana Hunter, and offers a unique safari experience – described by guests as 'real Africa'. With a variety of interactive conservation activities, guests have the opportunity to experience modern wildlife conservation first-hand. Likewise, for those seeking a nature retreat and wishing to distance themselves from a busy schedule, rest and relaxation are equally encouraged.
Saruni is a design lodge set high up in a remote valley Aitong Hills, looking down across the vast open plains of the Masai Mara. With accommodation for only 12 guests in six spectacular cottages, Saruni offers a new concept of safari: a real African adventure experienced in harmony with Masai warriors, and coupled with high standards of style and comfort. Each cottage has hot and cold running water, elegant Italian bathroom fittings, polished wooden floors, and large bathrooms with canvas fronts that can be opened to offer an amazing "shower with a view". From each cottage's large veranda, one can watch many wild animals visiting the nearby waterhole. The camp also offers its own private spa treatment centre, the "Masai Well-Being Space".
An elegant oasis in the arid lands of Samburu, it is built on the site of Joy Adamson’s tented home in Shaba National Reserve. The camp overlooks a large natural spring where elephant, buffalo and lion jostle for watering rights with Kenya’s rare Northern species. Its ten sumptuous tents are uniquely decorated with handmade glass and the vibrant fabrics of the local nomadic tribes, creating a chic, sophisticated and stylish camp. Each tent has its own private veranda, ideal for game viewing, relaxing, reading and soaking up the truly wild environs in Shaba. Joy’s Camp is the perfect choice for guests interested in a glimpse of Kenyan history, an authentic wildlife experience, as well as the comfort of a luxury-tented camp.
Elephant Pepper Camp is situated within the protected Mara North Conservancy wilderness area, in the Northern Masai Mara. Small and exclusive, the camp consists of only 8 tents, and is located away from other lodges – in the heart of the African bush. Overlooking the Mara’s picturesque savannah plains, the camp’s spacious canvas tents are comfortably furnished, featuring en suite bathrooms with eco-friendly flush toilets and traditional safari showers. There is also a Honeymoon Tent, a large and luxurious tent set slightly apart from the others – with its own private campfire area. Elephant Pepper Camp brings people back to nature – no traffic, no permanent structures, just the sights and sounds of Kenya’s spectacular Masai Mara.