Our second day with Gordon and Vanessa promised to be as interesting as the first. The Murrays had invited Zannah and me to join the family on a trip to Samburu National Reserve, just an hour drive north.When we first saw Vanessa that morning, she asked if we’d heard about the bombing in Nairobi. “What bombing?” we asked.
“Someone exploded a bomb on a bus to Kampala.” Vanessa had already seen footage of bleeding victims and shattered windows. It turns out that a Muslim terrorist, intending to punish Uganda for sending peacekeepers to Somalia, attempted to get on a Nairobi bus bound for Kampala but panicked when he was stopped for a routine security check. A grenade dropped out of his backpack and detonated, killing the terrorist and seriously wounding many others. That wasn’t news I wanted to hear, especially given that I planned to take the bus from Nairobi to Kampala in two days.
We loaded up our Samburu caravan – three SUVs carrying 11 people, a fully-stocked portable refrigerator, and more than enough food for breakfast and lunch – and by 8am we were on our way.
“We had a bit of a hiccup last night,” Gordon mentioned soon after we started our drive.
“What happened?” asked Vanessa.
“There was a murder.”
At about 11pm a security patrol found a dead man in the middle of a road near the farm managed by Gordon and Vanessa’s son Jamie. It turns out the dead man was one of Jamie’s workers, someone who had been employed there for decades. He’d been shot or stabbed in the stomach. Other workers said he owed a woman a large sum of money, and two weeks ago the woman said that if he didn’t pay up she’d have him killed. A bit of a hiccup!
On a more star-studded, less tragic note, Vanessa told us that Prince William and Kate Middleton, who were in Kenya recently, paid a visit Gordon’s parents. William apparently supports a wildlife conservation effort that Gordon’s parents help direct. Gordon’s parents said they noticed that William, who proposed to Kate later on that same trip, kept a white-knuckle grip on a small bag, which they now realize held the engagement ring.
Over the course of just 40 miles we left the rolling fields of Lolomarik and crossed a variety of different microclimates as we dropped down to the hot, arid plains of Samburu. All of Africa’s Big Five are found in the park. I tried the whole day to spot a leopard (no pun intended), but, once again, had no luck.
At about 10am our caravan stopped for breakfast at an area called Buffalo Springs. The Murrays definitely know how to have a picnic. Gordon worked a gas stove while Colin cooked over an open fire. We had eggs, fruit, fried bread, sausages, juice, even cold champagne – an impressive feast anywhere, let alone in the middle of an African game reserve. We sat under a tree on wooden folding chairs. Several different kinds of birds landed in the tree’s lower branches to eat bread crumbs set out by Vanessa. Zebras and antelope watched us from a cautious distance.
After breakfast we packed up and went out to see more animals.
In the early afternoon we stopped for lunch. Gordon picked a spot right by the Uaso Nyiro River. “I hope we’ll see some ellies,” said Vanessa. She got her wish. Minutes later several families of elephants began to appear on the other side of the river. One group crossed over to our side, but they didn’t appear interested in getting too close. Over the course of our lunch we counted over 40 elephants. I think it’s safe to say I’ve never been at any picnic with a better view.
Picnic Lunch at the Uaso Nyiro River in Samburu (Video)
Before leaving the reserve we made one more loop around the game trails. Gordon helped me get a photo of the skittish gerenuk, a long-necked antelope that feeds on trees while standing on its hind legs. Thanks to Gordon’s driving I even managed to get a shot of a gerenuk next to a super-stripy Grévy’s Zebra. We left the park without seeing any big cats, but our lunch with the elephants more than compensated.
Baby Elephant Getting Cheeky (Video)
Elephants and Baboons Making Noise (Video)
Zannah and I worried about overstaying our welcome, but Danni invited us to have lunch with her and Jamie at their farm the next day, and there was no way Zannah was going to miss that. Danni breeds and trains polo ponies on the farm, and in Samburu she and Zannah spent almost an hour talking about horses. Zannah loves riding (despite once being in a riding accident so serious that it left her in a coma), and she was thrilled to have a chance to meet Danni’s horses and – if Danni happened to offer – go for a ride.
The next morning, before leaving for Jamie and Danni’s, Zannah and I played tennis while black-and-white Colobus monkeys watched from nearby trees. I felt like I should quote from the country club scene in Trading Places – maybe something along the lines of “… and she stepped on the ball” – but Zannah’s appreciation of movie quotes starts and ends with Lion King. And maybe Dumb and Dumber. And a couple of lines from Office Space.
Gordon and Vanessa loaned us one of their trucks – a big green 4×4. Zannah, who was used to driving on the left side of the road, happily took the keys and did a great job powering over paved highways and bumpy dirt roads to get us to Jamie and Danni’s. Their house is on a 6,500-acre farm at a significantly higher altitude than Lolomarik. The views from their front yard are really impressive. On a clear day, Jamie said, you can see for 200 miles.
We sat on the grass drinking cold Coronas with Jamie, Danni, their young kids Lachy and Vespa, and Danni’s mom Christine. I had fun playing with their dogs, Carter and Hogan, and helping Lachy fly a kite.
“Would you be interested in going on a ride this afternoon?” Danni asked Zannah, whose face lit up so brightly that I laughed.
“I think that’s a yes,” I said. After lunch Danni took Christine, Carter, Hogan, Zannah and me to meet two groups of her horses, the adults and the yearlings. Then we drove to a barn, where stable workers stood ready with two horses saddled and waiting. While Danni and Zannah rode, Jamie and Christine took me for a tour of the farm.
Zannah loved her time riding, but it ended on an unfortunate note when Hogan, still just a puppy, made the mistake of tangling with a warthog. Danni and Zannah heard squeals and howls from the bushes, and Hogan ran out with three nasty cuts. Jamie and Danni needed to figure out what kind of treatment Hogan needed, so we got out of their way and headed back to Lolomarik.
The next morning we did our best to thank Gordon and Vanessa for their above-and-beyond hospitality. It was really special to be able to spend a few days with them, and we genuinely appreciated it. I also owed a big thanks to Zannah for letting me tag along while she visited her parent’s friends – what a great way to wrap up our time in Kenya.
Vanessa gave us a ride into Nanyuki, where we caught a matatu back to Nairobi. At a hotel restaurant we celebrated one last Tusker Time. Normal flights had resumed at Heathrow, so Zannah was able to take off as scheduled, and I left on a (bomb-free) bus for Kampala the same night.