I usually dread the long drive from Nairobi to the Mara – six hours at least two of which are usually on bumpy roads and the constant prospect of getting lost given that I tend to travel alone is not my cup of tea. This year it was different. Having driven an average of eight hours a day for four days in a row I was ready. So I finished up my supply shopping and final meeting and headed to the Mara with no hesitation. I would like to say the ride went on without a glitch, but in Kenya this is rarely possible. After surviving the traffic in Nairobi, it was at a gas station in Narok that I hit my first speed bump. Backing away from a pump a gas station attendant stood motioning me onwards. Between two spare tires, camping gear, vulture trapping equipment, and my clothes the back window of the car was barely visible. I used the mirrors and the waving of the clerk to ensure that it was safe to continue backing up. Then came a loud honk, but when no crash followed and waving continued I just kept backing up. With the second honk I stopped anxiously noticing a small car had pulled in behind me. As I went to pull forward an angry man came rushing to my window.
“You must be thick,” he bellowed.
I continued pulling forward to escape the harassment only to have the man step in front of the car.
“You can’t leave the scene of the crime,” he yelled. I parked and got out the gas station attendant still standing calmly alongside.
“You scratched my car,” came the man. I walked backward to inspect the glistening Subaru that had snuck in behind my dusty Toyota. He pointed but there was little more than a line along the bumper (perhaps from a fingernail) and certainly no clear mark on either car.
“I don’t see anything and I didn’t hit you,” I said. The gas station attendant nodded in agreement.
“Liar,” came the man again. It all seemed totally absurd. I hadn’t hit the car, the “scratch” was hardly detectable, and three witnessed had gathered agreeing with me that no harm had been done. Nonetheless the man stood yelling and blocking my car saying that we must call the police to inspect the accident. This really did seem a bit much and I said so but the yelling continued. After 20 minutes of this nonsense had continued, I asked the guy what he really wanted. By this time a small crowd had gathered and a tour guide had come over his two tourists alarmed at the situation. They assured me that I hadn’t hit the vehicle and that this was all a rouse to take advantage of me while their guide talked to the disgruntled driver. Using my Kiswahili to its full extent (which has sadly declined considerably over the last six months), I took in the discussion and chimed in occasionally. Still furious the man demanded an apology.
“I’m so sorry,” I said with as much sincerity as I could muster hoping this meant I would be able to leave soon. He seemed satisfied as if this was all the justice he deserved. I thought about asking for an apology myself but thought better of it. I was just glad to get out of there. I still don’t fully understand what happened and couldn’t find a scratch or dent on my bumper. On with the adventure I thought as I pulled away rather disgruntled myself.
Entering the Mara I felt immediately relieved. Finally away from the bustle of Nairobi and the rows of settlements I had reached an area saved just for wildlife. Zebras and gazelles abounded and in the hour long drive to get from one gate to another I had seen more scavenging raptors than on the four day trek through the North. With recent rains the Mara was looking green and lush – with long grass covering much of the plains. As I pulled into the driveway of Ilkeliani the magic of the Mara swept over me as the sun dipped mercifully beneath the horizon. I was home.