Shadrack and I made an instant Kenya connection after I brazenly asked if I could join this local guide and his colleague in their Abercrombie and Kent Jeep back to Nairobi from the Maasai Mara. In other words, I hitchhiked in East Africa, something I hadn’t done but maybe once before and under far less exotic circumstances.
In my defense (sorry, Mom!), I didn’t want to miss the best aspects of this fascinating nation by going back to the capital city the way I arrived: On a small prop plane. I wanted to be on the ground, taking in everything, including the red dust that settled mightily on my clothing as we drove along.
We stopped at a Maasai village where I exchanged a couple of t-shirts and some chewing gum for a lovely choker made by the lanky woman who had been wearing the colorful necklace until I came along.
During our drive, we spotted a couple of stealth hunters, seeking out supper I suppose and hoping they were just looking for berries. We marveled at the wildlife, from giraffes to zebras to weird looking wildebeest. I even learned a few words in Swahili. What an adventure.
And so, with only one day before departure, I asked Shadrack about Lake Nakuru. Like millions of others, I had seen “Out Of Africa” and had marveled at the flocks of thousands (maybe millions?) of pink flamingos shot from above as Meryl Streep and Robert Redford’s characters flew in a much more antiquated plane than the one I had experienced in Kenya.
“Sure, we can go,” said my enthusiastic new friend. “You will be amazed.”
I had no doubt and could barely sleep in anticipation. Shadrack arrived at my hotel bright and early the next morning when we set out for the Rift Valley, a few hour’s drive away. I knew we were near Lake Nakuru when I started seeing all kinds of birds: Goliath heron, hamerkop, pied kingfisher, the African fish eagle–and of course, flamingos.
Setting out on foot, I charged ahead of Shadrack to try and shoot those iconic avian attractions with my Nikon. Apparently shy, the entire flock heard me coming and pushed back from the water’s edge to get away from me. I wondered if I should move faster? I tried that but those birds moved way faster, getting as far away from me as possible.
And then it happened. As I ran toward my elusive Kenya subject, I hit a soft spot in the ground and one of my legs suddenly sank to above the knee. The other one held firm on terra ferma (I was lucky), and stayed put until Shadrack came to the rescue.
He was half laughing as he pulled me from the muck (I was sure it was quick sand), asking me after that if I was really a sitcom star, like Lucille Ball in disguise. This son of a missionary thought I was funny. Very, very funny. I guess I was at that moment, even though shocked by the circumstances at hand, er, leg.
A SAD GOODBYE
All too soon after that unforgettable adventure, Shadrack delivered me to the airport for my return to Los Angeles. Before we said our goodbyes, I asked if there any any way I could repay him. He said he had always wanted some authentic American cowboy boots.
“Done,” I promised, as we took a pencil tracing of his feet to be sure they fit. In the end, though, there was no need for that because Shadrack turned up in L.A. one day not long after we met so I let him pick out the pair he liked best from a vast array of options.
Sure, this Kenya connection had introduced me to a whole lot more than cowboy boots in his native land, including Lake Nakuru and those fabulous flamingos, my dear mate was happy with his Hollywood bounty. He couldn’t thank me enough as we planned our next meeting for another time when it was my turn to turn up in mind-blowing, never disappointing Africa.
Flamingo/Lake Nakuru Image: Shutterstock