“Change the dressing within 48-hours,” the doctor stressed.
After two days of gently being handled by experienced doctors, I was butchered by the interns who dripped Betadine on the open hole in my leg without warning.
“Mother of Pearls!” I hissed between clenched teeth and ass cheeks, staring into Rohini’s eyes as she coached me and reminded me to,
“Breathe,” she said soothingly.
I exhaled while the surrounding interns giggled at my disposition.
Note-to-self: Don’t get bitten by a recluse spider.
We hit the road just after noon. Within ten minutes George, a local farmer and Roman, co-owner of the Distant Relatives Eco Lodge & Backpackers, pulled up in his three-seater truck. Sure, it helped that we both knew the guys and that we were all friends but a ride’s a ride.
“You guys going to Kasigau for the party?” George asked.
It was Lindi, Laura and Cara’s birthday weekend. They lived in Maungu working for Wildlife Works – an NGO providing job opportunities for a community of over a hundred thousand locals. Located an ostrich wingspan away from Tsavo National Park (or 3-hours north of Mombasa), the party was to be held at the Rukinga Ranch Conservancy.
“Yeah, why not?” I said as Rohini nodded. We were hitchin’ to Nairobi but we didn’t have much of a time frame except to hit Kenya’s capital by Sunday.
“Meet you across the bridge,” said George. “Pass the police checkpoint.”
Throwing our gear in the back among the energetic Snowflake – a mixed black Labrador slightly smarter than George W. Bush (but dribbles just like ‘Dubya) and the quieter, more settled, Marvin – a mix of Doberman and Lab – Rohini helped me limp across Kilifi Bridge. Passing the bribe-inducing checkpoint, we climbed in among the canines and gear and headed off.
The shortcut that bypasses Mombasa is a red dirt track with construction trucks feeding us dust as they barrelled past, Snowflake raining his saliva on us while he hugged the tray. Marvin stood balanced against the side-panel, ducking his head when oncoming traffic roared by.
When Snowflake lost his balance and stood smack-bang on my wound, detaching the shoddy bandaging, I shot up, cursing mainly in French but throwing in some Arabic that I knew.
“Sheesh kebab, that stings,” I hissed.
“Wewe!” (meaning ‘you’ in Ki-Swahili) Rohini scolded the pooch, helping me fix up the bandage. “I think you should cover it with something because of all the dust,” she suggested.
I looked up at the hot, blue-skied day. I can work on my tan. I removed my shirt and tied it over my leg, placing a protective cushion over it.
We stopped in a small town to get some beers when a chicken bone – launched from George behind the wheel – landed on Rohini, answering the calls of Marvin’s hunger. The dog didn’t hesitate, leaping on the poor girl, scratching her arm as he snatched the bone off her chest.
“Wewe!” she pushed him off.
I dozed off for a half-hour, Rohini acting as centaur for my leg when I awoke to find both dogs snoozing on my torso. We arrived at Muangu as the setting sun lit up a huge rock wall above the residencies. We picked up Lindi and met the other party-ers before driving over to the campsite.
Drinks and a buffet meal were served as we conversed and sat by the fire. Rohini and I were pretty knackered from the day’s adventure so we chilled on a mattress in the back of George’s truck, staring up at the starry sky. We dozed off to the crackling fire, emitting it’s warmth from a perfect distance.
“Oi, you two!” George saw us waking up. “There’s a couch in the second banda. Much more comfy.”
We gratefully moved, falling asleep to the stillness of the African bush, among the whooshing wings of bats, the zips of grasshoppers and the calls of small mammals.
The next morning, awaking to the movement of the same African bush, among the chirping of birds and Snowflake’s wet tongue, we drove through the conservancy to the Rukinga Ranch. Awaiting us was,
“A 1962 French Army lorry,” explained Rob, head of Wildlife Works. “We’re going to do a safari booze-cruise in it.”
I was going dry as the antibiotics were knocking me out (but the painkillers… oh, those wonderful painkillers). We packed eskies of drinks and piled into the truck that comfortably held the fifteen of us. The eight dogs and a baby stayed behind.
Bouncing through the bush we spotted a female ostrich and some zebra. At the first watering hole fresh, lion paw-prints, the size of a volcanic crater, and elephant footprints the size of a comet crater, were embedded in the mud. As we drove off a warthog appeared for a drink.
We stopped for lunch at the next watering hole and just as we finished our sandwiches a herd of elephants stopped by for a splash, a mud-shower (to protect their sensitive skin from the sun) and a drink. They stuck around for about 20 minutes when I noted the sudden silence.
“How to get a group of drunk people quiet?” I whispered to Rohini. “Bring a herd of elephants.”
Ecstatic from the sight, we bounced our way back towards camp as the sun headed west.
“Wait!” Rohini called. “Stop!” She had seen what I had seen yet, I wasn’t sure that I had seen what I had seen. “Reverse a bit,” she instructed as Rob drove us back. “Stop!” she called out as everyone leaned out of the left side of the truck to see the Marshall Eagle by the side of the dusty red road.
It was a giant of a bird. I’ve never seen anything that can fly that big and up close. And it didn’t look pleased by our company.
Perhaps because in its talons lay a dead species of small antelope with the unfortunate name of dik-dik.
“That’s a bird about to eat an antelope,” I blinked, perplexed by the sight, a rarity to witness. It’s not that it had scavenged a pre-kill. It looked as though this raptor had hunted.
We whoa-ed as the bird of prey attempted to fly off with its catch, only managing a few feet, unable to take-off.
I mean, it is grippin’ a fuckin’ antelope.
Leaving it to be, we drove past an acacia tree that elephants had reassembled upside-down. Returning to camp for a buffet dinner of steaks, sausages, chicken wings and sides, we sat around the fire. I jammed a few tunes, helping to lull Rob and Laura’s baby to sleep. As the night progressed and the stars showed up for their nightly show, folk began to retire. The brave remaining few danced to some hot tunes that Lucy laid down.
Rohini and I danced on the balcony where, once the party died out completely, I strummed some more tunes before we all headed to bed.
During the night, Rohini rose to use the bathroom which reminded me that I too needed to empty the bladder. As she came back to bed I headed in and even though it was dark, the soft moonlight was enough to illuminate the large arachnid sitting inside the porcelain bowl. It looked like a harmless flat spider. Grey and white markings, intimidating hair, a body the size of an Olympic medal with legs that spread out far enough to have you reconsider any movement.
“Er, Rohini,” I called her back. “You gotta see this.”
She peered into the bowl and saw the company she had been with while she answered nature’s call.
“Did you shat a spider?” I grinned.
“Lovely,” she said, un-nerved.
Sharing the bathroom with two Belgium sisters crashing in the room next door, I figured I’d rather not be woken up by screams so I decided to leave them a note. Careful not to hit the spider which disappeared as soon as I evacuated my bladder, I avoided flushing (if it’s mellow, keep it yellow. If it’s brown, flush it down. And if there’s a spider in the bowl – burn the house) and stealthily closed the lid. I grabbed a pen and paper and wrote:
Big spider in the bowl.
And drew a small cartoonish spider to emphasise the gravity of the situation (cause nothing says ‘grave situation’ like a cartoon).
At breakfast the next day the two sisters approached us. “I was wondering why Sofia was going to the communal bathroom outside when we have ours,” Esther began her tale. “Then I walked in and saw the note. We’re very grateful.”
“No worries,” I grinned.
Having a septic hole in my leg due to a spider bite makes you a cautious fly in the big world-wide web – especially coming from Australia.
Around a breakfast buffet of eggs, Nutella (Mmm… Nutella…Rrr), toast and fresh fruit, I found a ride to Atha River, “An hour and a half outside of Nairobi,” Lizel, our hitch, explained.
“Sweet,” I said. “Got room for two?”
“Yeah, not a problem.”
We packed Lizel’s car along with Lucy. At noon we headed to the highway to begin the 6-hour drive (turned seven cause of traffic) to Kenya’s capital city. Lizel, a South African, let every driver on the road know about their driving flaws.
The region we sped through, Voi, is famous for its sweet, sweet oranges known as Voi Pixie oranges. We got a box of 10 kilos between the four of us and chowed. No pips, enough juice to fill a cup and sweet, succulent flesh that reminds you of your sweetest childhood moments.
Like when you ate worms.
It was dark by the time we met up with Lucy’s cab driver (everyone who lives in Africa has the numbers of one or more cab drivers). It was even darker when we met with her other cab driver that took us to Julio’s pad in Westlands, Nairobi, where we were to crash for the week. Julio shook his head in disbelief that we had made it.
And just in time for his Brazilian barbecue.