Masaai Mara is one of those places you should visit before you die. More than just a regular “should,” like, you should eat an entire package of oreos just once. This should actually happen. However, you might make it the thirty something hours from Los Angeles to Nairobi only to stop because you’re convinced you won’t survive the seven hour drive. But that’s not true. You’ll make it, along with the dozens of other tourists, and your life will forever be changed. Especially when you get to the lookout for the Great Rift Valley, and you hear James Earl Jones telling you about the land of your inheritance.
I want to talk about the road. We had a larger-than-average driver. Immense. Not fat, don’t get the wrong impression. Just a large man, like a mountain. His voice was low, rumbling like a storm in the distance. His name was Martin. He didn’t seem fazed by anything.
Vans which, in my opinion, looked neither like four-wheel-drive vehicles nor like satisfactory shields against a charging rhino (which Martin told us he saw once. It probably didn’t faze him, although he said he was afraid, I think just to make us feel less like wimps). The non-existent shocks did nothing when we went from the “road,” which was dirt, to the “unpaved road,” which was rocky, dusty dirt. “Close your windows,” Martin called out, just before we hit the unpaved road. The vans driving in the opposite direction kicked up such a thick cloud of white dust that when we drove through, we couldn’t see inches in front of our windshield. I have never lived in fog, but I could imagine a thick fog felt something like that dust. Martin wasn’t fazed.
We drove with the windows rolled up for an hour. Then over an hour. It began to grow hot. Then hotter. I could see the sweat dripping off Martin’s forehead. Occasionally he brushed it away, as nonchalantly as someone brushing a crumb from his lip. We were all sweating profusely. It seemed like the threat of dust clouds had passed an hour ago, and still we rode on in our hotbox. Finally, one of our British companions spoke up from the rear of the van.
“Martin,” she inquired, with the politeness organic to the British above any other peoples of the world, “Might we roll the windows down now?”
“Oh yes,” he replied, with the accommodating tone found only in the Kenyans, who would apparently wait an eternity for you to voice an opinion and wouldn’t think to suggest their own, even if it is something as practical as rolling down a window, for fear of offending you. “Yes, of course. Roll down the windows.” Instant relief.
Martin probably would have rolled down the windows during the dust clouds if we’d suggested it. He would’ve kept them up forever without our desires. My first experience with hot and cold climate cultural differences. I wondered for a minute how anyone ever got anything done, but I didn’t have much time to consider this idea. We were in Masaai Mara, and there were animals to be seen.