If I could do only one thing in this world, it would be to travel. I travel a lot on my own both out of necessity and opportunity. I am single and my friends have their own families and understandably want to spend the 20 days of the year designated as holiday with their moaning partner and pesky kids, rather than come to Africa with me. Fine. I’ll go on my own then. And I am not waiting for Mr Alright to come along either, because there is too much to see and I would get very bored waiting.
My children were off with their dad, so I spent a week in Kenya (advantage number 36 of being divorced).
I stayed at a place called Ol Malo in an area north of Nairobi called Laikipia. It is a ranch owned by Colin and Rocky Francombe who are die hard Africans with stories to match. Their hospitality is unrivaled. Fabulous people.
They produced, through the normal methods, I believe, a son called Andrew. Andrew has a toy:
Andrew is also slightly crazy. But more about that later.
Whilst minding my own business before lunch one day, some other guests returned from a trip in his helicopter. They said if there is any way on this earth I could do this, then I should. They were quite enthusiastic. In fact they kept going on about it. As a loyal disciple of the church of motion sickness, helicopters are not my favourite past time. And this was supposed to be a ‘no added extras holiday’ – you cannot really tip the zebras – so the extra expense was not welcome. But there was something about the sparkle in their eyes and their breathless recounting of what they had seen that made me say “Okay, fuck it. Let’s do this”. We don’t need jam on our bread for the next 10 years, or butter for that matter. Or bread. Gulp.
I had a very bad cold and was running a fever the morning we took off. I was not well and the prospect of the noise and the motion was not an appealing one. The doors came off (!) and Andrew showed me how to use the satellite phone (!!) and climbed in wearing his flip flops (!!!). Great. I am going to die with flip flop man.
He took off and I was holding on for dear life to my camera, my hat, my tissues, whilst trying to operate the speak button which was located on the floor as nonchalantly as possible. I am quite short. This was hard. The beginning was a gentle amble over shrub land and small villages, all the while heading north. Then we headed towards a mountain ridge, climbed up and up (questions about performance in high altitude were duly asked) and then saw this:
I cried. In front of a man I had known for half an hour and I did not care. It was the most breathtaking view, the Rift Valley. I stopped taking pictures and just stared, awestruck and humbled by the sheer vastness, beauty and majesty of what I was seeing. I swore. I apologised. I swore again.
And the day continued like that, landing on sand dunes, running down them and doing sand angels at the bottom (and walking back up the bloody thing), setting down on volcano crater edges (two landing attempts “Ina, can you just check whether the back of the skids are over the edge?”), where no white people would have walked before us because there is no way of getting there and no reason to be there. No water, no food, no shelter. Following crocodiles up estuaries, and seeing millions of flamingos fly. It was like living in a National Geographic magazine. And Andrew caught a baby crocodile. I told you he was nuts. He put it back. He’s a nice guy. He is also an outstanding pilot.
As I sat on the volcano edge and looked at what had been created by nature or God or whatever you believe in, I was once again humbled by what I was so privileged to witness, to see this makes you feel so small and insignificant but also so totally alive. I suppose this is a little what astronauts feel like when seeing the Earth from space.
“Don’t you cry for the lost
Smile for the living
Get what you need and give what you’re given
Life’s for the living so live it” (Passenger)