From the Archives: Laughing in Kenya’s Bush Country

Photo by Alison Nachman

Photo by Alison Nachman

I booked a safari before I arrived in Mombasa. One of those Hilton safaris where we drive around in Land Rovers, taking pictures with our Nikon’s, eating buffet’s at “lodges,” and sleeping in five star hotels, under mosquito nets, watching all the GAP tourists battle for the best list of “have you seen’s.”

But I have a knack for finding alternatives.

And those “alternatives” approached me when I was walking through the market and asked me if I wanted to be the sixth on their camping safari. You know the chicks I’m talking about: the short nailed, thrift store, granola-ish, have-camped-everywhere kind of chicks. The kind of girl I aspired to be, but knew I would never become.

They needed to make their safari cheaper, took one look at me and thought I would be the perfect addition to their crew. They were right, being the type of girl to never turn down an adventure, I blew off my “classy” safari and paid Ketty Tours $140.

So here I am in my Abercrombie and Fitch cargo pants, Kikgirl tank top, and John Fluevog boots watching my newfound friends pitch a tent. While our hired cook, John prepares cockroach spaghetti–truth be told the cockroaches were not meant to be a part of the pasta; they were just attracted to the light of the fire and kept leaping into the pot.

Alfred, our tireless driver, abandons us for who knows where. Kind of wondering how I got myself into this, I allow Ali to teach me how to pitch a tent. She laughs when I tell her that I never had to actually make the tent before. She adds that she likes to camp by herself sometimes.

Photo by Alison Nachman

Photo by Alison Nachman

Something I have never even thought about trying.

Being a Valley Girl from LA never left me the opportunity to be the outdoorsy type. Don’t get me wrong, I spent my share of time outside, but it was usually watching the skaters ollie off the half-pipe in my front yard. I was a cheerleader, not a hiker, nor a softball player. I liked to dance, not play soccer, nor camp, not when I could have a slumber party in my bedroom. I’ve been camping, but it was always on the beach with 20 guys and a case of vodka.


After dinner Alfred returns with a newspaper rolled joint, warm Guinness, and a machine-gun clad guard. Supposedly the guard is there to make sure no pissed-off water buffaloes stray near our tent. A group of them would be ok, but one by itself, that would be a problem. But a machine-gun? And that smile. He owns that leering I-am-an-African-man-you-know-you-want-to-sleep-with-me-kind-of-smile. Yuck…I hate that smile almost as much as I hate machine-guns.

When the rain begins, I stop thinking that I am in hell and just know it. Kenyan rain is nothing like American rain. It is not gentle. It screams fuck off with the harshest tone while the zigzag lightening and electric thunder, add to nature’s intense orchestra. Within the first few minutes of rain, I learn that I am in a non-water resistant tent. Water soaks through the bottom and seeps through the top of the tent, easily drowning my sleeping back and my only pair of clothes.

I keep trying to remind myself that this is an experience that I will never forget. One of those experiences that I will recount to all my friends when I get back to California, when they are feeling decapitated by the rain. One of those moments that I will brag about later, telling everyone how tough I was when I camped in the bush. But the truth is I want this rain to stop…yesterday. I want the scary noises to stop. I want the machine-gun guy to stand next to someone else’s tent. And even more, I want a real bathroom…because I have to pee.

To make matters worse, I am in the tent with a kick-ass girl who has camped by her self a million times. And she’s sleeping. Probably dreaming of the next place she wants to pitch a tent.

Suddenly, I start laughing.

You know when you are in an uncomfortable situation and you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. And you know that crying would probably make you feel worse in that I-feel-better-because-I-just-cried-it-out-kind-of-way. But laughter is really the only way to deal. Because somehow being able to laugh at a situation doesn’t make it seem so bad anymore. So I start cackling, like a hyena. I start whooping like a baboon, hiccoughing like a monkey. Ali wakes up saying that she has to pee too, which makes me laugh even more. It makes her laugh too. And suddenly I am not scared anymore. Because for some strange reason, laughing it out, made me realize the most important thing about camping in the bush. No matter what animal you identify with, you are merely just that…an animal. We are all just a part of this big world. It only seems scarier out here, because it’s darker, there are no rules, and I can’t lock my door.


3 responses to “From the Archives: Laughing in Kenya’s Bush Country

  1. Pingback: Taking the Kids (or not)? | Planet Playground·

  2. Pingback: The Ongoing Life of a Guidebook | Planet Playground·

  3. Pingback: Taking the Kids (or not)? | Michele Bigley·

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