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Samburu Safari - Kenya

by Gordon Rattray,
C5/6 complete quadriplegic
Able Travel

In the yellow early morning light, we cruised under the canopy of Acacia thorns, the Land Rover tyres soundlessly puffing fine clouds of dust into our wake. Lewis allowed us to roll to a stop and scanned the horizon with his binoculars, a worn steel-cased pair from the British Army. We were in Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenya and this is always my favourite part of a safari - just after six am, entering a game park with the taste of morning coffee and biscuits still lingering and a tempting hamper full of brunch beside me.


Lewis whistled softly. "Vultures". He said. "About two miles away, I think on the riverbank". I looked too, and could see in the distance what looked like three or four brown specs lazily circling above the trees. More arrived and joined the whirlpool as I watched, as if they were hoping to be sucked into the centre and down out of sight. But none landed. Lewis started the engine and we moved on, turning towards the river and following a red dirt track as it snaked through the long grass.


Our two-week African safari was just beginning, and I'd already been surprised by how easy it had been get around with a wheelchair. There's always someone willing help push me or to carry our bags, and sure, not all buildings are accessible, but which country is perfect? Our first stop to change money was in the Nanyuki branch of Barclays Bank (between the beautifully named 'Good Time Cafe' and the 'Total Bliss Restaurant'). At first sight I saw about ten steps, then I noticed that it had a ramp! And not an ugly afterthought of a wooden contraption; this was a proper ramp, which had obviously been built at the same time as the steps. I'm informed that the Kenyan Paraplegic Organisation is actively promoting laws to make all public buildings accessible - good to hear!

Lewis (our driver) was excellent. He went out of his way to accommodate the extra time I needed, and to help George (my assistant) manouvering me over or around the less accessible obstacles we encountered. George himself is an experienced physiotherapist specialising in spinal injury and taught me some new Kenya style transfer tricks!

Cooling off

In this photo you see George pouring cold water over me, a trick I've learned to cool me down in the middle of the day!

And the animals? No discrimination from them either. They turned out in numbers. Millions actually. From the lake of pink 'ballet dancing' flamingos at Nakuru to the unbelievable spectacle that is the wildebeest migration of the Masai Mara. But these were guaranteed. Game driving is like fishing, Lewis had told me. You can be lucky on your first time out and see something special.

We were.


So, back to Samburu. The sun rose quickly, and I had to remove my fleece as we followed the twisting track along the river track. The Land Rover groaned and lurched through a dried up stream, and within minutes we arrived under the vultures in a clearing where the river turned sharply to the south. Standing less that fifty metres away, with her head low and her sunken eyes looking up at us was a huge lioness. One side of her face was turning black with blood and her breathing was heavy, her chest heaving.

Lewis cut the engine and we were silent. Slowly the lioness recovered her breath and looked around her. By now I'd picked out the tawny shapes of at least four cubs waiting patiently with another big lioness. It was as if they were all waiting for something, as if I was missing something. Then I saw it. The first lioness turned and padded slowly back towards the rest. Behind her was the body of a full grown Grevy's zebra. The lions had made a dawn kill and would feast here for several days. The lioness stopped, looked back at the zebra and the circling vultures, and went no further. She wasn't in the mood for sharing yet. A jackal trotted in a wide circle around the group, being watched by the other lioness. We waited long enough to absorb the scene then left.

Later on the drive we met a group who'd not seen any big cats and Lewis informed their driver of our find:


"Kunaye masharufu!" [There are lions!]
"Wapi?" [Where?]
"Kando ya mto." [On the riverbank.]
"Asante sana! Kwaheri!" [Thanks! Bye!]

We stopped for a welcome brunch in the morning sunshine, before heading back to our lodge for a swim in the wheelchair accessible outdoor pool!

About the author

Gordon's motto is that "true experience begins when we break out of our routines". An avid traveller, he has documented his adventures and travel itineries on his web site at Able Travel, as a resource for other people with spinal cord injuries. Kenya is his most recent trip and also included time to explore Nairobi, Lake Nakuru National Park, Masai Mara National Reserve and Mombasa.

For more information contact Gordon via his web site at Able Travel

Published: January 2006

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