Some “Light Extortion”, Praying for Lions, and a Reunion in a Cave

Driving down the highway at 145 km/hr on the left side of the road, in a car whose steering wheel is on the right side, took some getting used to. passing cars on the road by going into the oncoming traffic lane on the highway also took some getting used to. Something about seeing that truck charging at me as i pass another truck, is kinda unnerving.

The coast was a nice change, it was kinda tiring though. Ended up sleeping early all nights, though!  On the first night, i was just tired. On the second night I had to wake up at 330am for a safari trip, and the last night, my friends just kinda lamed out so we went back, and there was nothing to do but sleep.

“Light” Extortion

I couldn’t afford to go on a solo safari tour, so I planned to go with a group: two Brits from another hotel, to drive through Tsavo East, one of the largest protected areas in Kenya. We agreed on a price, and agreed that the van would pick me up at 4am on Saturday. 

Its 4am, and I make it to the front door, no one is around, and its dark out there. The van pulls up, he confirms my name and room number, so I enter the van.

About 20 minutes on the road he lets me know that the other 2 Brits have cancelled so its just going to be me, and the price is going to almost double. 

Are you serious?

Little did he know, I’m a New Yorker, and we don’t stand for that shit. So after some minutes of discussion, that had us talking in circles, he let me know we would meet with the safari tour owner, and I could discuss with him.

Its 5am at this point, still dark, i’m in a van with a stranger, in some unknown part of coastal Kenya, the streets are barren, but I’m not feeling uneasy really, just more annoyed because of the lack of sleep, and I had no problem telling him to turn his ass around and drop me back at the hotel.

The driver, an older Yemenese man, and the owner, a Kenyan guy are both telling me that because the other tourists canceled, they would have to raise my rate to match that of a private tour.  I told them that I would not be held responsible for two strangers canceling their tour, but that there was a simple thing called communication. When they found out that the two British tourists had cancelled the day before, they should have done everything in their power to have the hotel contact me, to give me the choice. Instead they picked me up from the hotel, drove me out into the middle of nowhere before dawn and demanded $100 that I had zero intention of paying.

So the owner resorted to begging. And that was just pathetic. “Please, sir with all your mercy, please just give us the extra money.” I’ll tell you something right here and now, these hotel sponsored tourist companies are not hurting for money. Meanwhile there are legitimate and honest people who can’t find a job for more than 1 dollar per day, and this guy is trying to scam me.

I told the man to stop begging, and that it’s not about mercy, that it’s about business. Finally I was getting a headache and I added 20 dollars, and the owner accepted, but the driver was not happy. The driver started yelling at the owner in Kiswahili. He didn’t realize I understood that he was calling me a “rich American from whom he could have squeezed much more out of.”

And it was at that point, that I broke out into Kiswahili, and that ended that conversation.
At this point the driver’s tone changed and things got a little less tense. He told me that he would pray that I see lions, (since I’ve never had much luck in safari trips, beyond a few zebras).

Praying for Lions

It’s an interesting thing to pray for. Not sure if I understand so much the concept of asking for things in prayer. I understand praying for strength, patience, and hope… but for lions, not so much, but I let him have his moment.

After 2 hours of driving through the grasslands, I spotted one owl, a bird, and a baby monkey in a tree. I felt cheated on so many levels. 

Until, to my surprise, my Yemenese friend’s prayers were answered! Multiple times, in fact! Over the course of the day I saw 8 lions, way up close too. I got one shot of the lions, a herd of elephants in the distance, and a posse of warthogs. 

Afraid of Elephants

I discovered something very interesting about my driver. While he had no problem driving up close to the lions, which I know could rip us to shreds, he had a phobia that I did not expect.

We’re driving and there’s an elephant off to the side of the road in the distance. I was pretty excited to get to see this elephant up close, but all of a sudden the car comes to a dead stop.

“We cannot go this way”

“Why not there’s an elephant right there, its a great shot!”

“No no, you take the photo from here”

“Sir, please, lets just get a little closer”

“No! I am afraid of elephants!”

I thought he was joking, but I came to find out, he most certainly wasn’t.

I told him “Sir, he’s just eating he’s not even looking at us”

He said “Ah… he is just PRETENDING to eat. He has very bad intentions. he wants us to think he’s just eating, and then we will drive to him, and he will kill us both I can see it in his eyes.

I looked in the elephants eyes, which were about a quarter of a mile away in the distance, and so I didn’t see much. Maybe if we were a little closer I could see the vindictive stare of an ill-willed giant mammal serial killer.

But all I saw was an elephant eating grass.

It just so happened, that this road was our only way out. What did we do? We waited. For almost an hour. Driving away, coming back to see if it was still there, and it was, so we would drive away again. Finally I had enough of the bullshit (no pun intended) and when he asked me if I saw the elephant still there, I lied and said it was gone.  And off we went.

So as we drove closer, the elephant must have seen us coming and walked away because by the time we got there, the elephant was behind a tree. And guess what, it was eating. As soon as I prepared myself to take that glorious photo, my timid friend stepped on the gas pedal and zoomed us out of there yelling,  “I hate these animals!”

Maybe this man is in the wrong field?

After our tour came to a close, the driver asked me if I would quit my job and spend my days promoting his safari business, and also sponsor him for a green-card.  A reasonable request if I’ve ever heard one.

Back to the Beach Boys

The previous day I got to the beach, and was approached by a beach boy “Hey man! How you doin today Mr. Tourist”.

The beach boys are non-licensed vendors and tour guides who are locals in any beach town, who are just trying to make a living, but because of increasing pressures by the tourism industry and the police, they are losing their only means of livelihood, because tourists fear them.

As I saw during this trip, even the licensed tour guides can be shady.

But this beach boy approached me, and I looked at him, and I knew him.  “Amony!”, I exclaimed.

He took off his sunglasses “Paulo” And he ran as fast as he could towards me and gave me a hug and he was as shocked to see me as I was to see him.

He was a friend I made on the beach in June 2007, and we ended up becoming friends. Him and a few of his friends seemed really cool and honest, and they ran their businesses with integrity. They were guys with great spirits and good hearts. Rastas at heart, with always a warm smile on their face, despite the tough times they’d been facing in recent days. I made plans to meet up with him and Kakaa, the other dude I’d met, for later on that day.

We walked and talked that afternoon past the eyes of the tourism police, since now these guys cannot go on the beaches of their own villages because of the laws to protect vacationers.

They brought me to a cave made of dead coral that had been there for hundreds of years, it was tremendous, and we just chatted about politics, economics, relationships, and life in general. One of the things my friend said, still rings in my ears, a translated saying from Swahili:  “Haraka haraka haina baraka”

“Hurry hurry, has no blessing.” 

Something we learned Sunday on our way back to Nairobi, on a vast stretch of highway with no gas. We managed about 60 kilometers with an empty tank, taking it slow, putting it on neutral, staying in the blazing heat without A/C, and of course, no radio. But we made it to a petrol station.

Kakaa just texted me “We pray one day, the poor man will go shopping.”

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