They say that the truth comes from the mouth of babes. So when editor and journalist Heidi Mitchell headed to Africa, we asked her kids to report on the trip. Gideon, age 11, delivered one of the funniest and most fabulous trip reviews we've read, from underage driving to Freddie Mercury sing-a-longs and New Year's Eve at the Mara Bush House. Follow his journey, bumps included, through Kenya's Maasai Mara.
BANG! Hope that wasn’t important.
The car scraped a few bushes, hit a tree, then another. You see, this is the problem with driving off road. The trouble with me and the car was—wait, did I mention that I am 11 years old?? You know, now that I look back on that, that might’ve, been the issue. I’m not so sure. It probably was. I’m not joking when I say that my six-year-old little sister is a better driver than me—fearlessness helps. Heck, on this terrain, she’s probably better than Mom! Fortunately (for me), I got to drive the car all the way to the sundowner on the top of the mountain. I don’t see why adults don’t take as much pleasure in driving. It’s actually quite fun. The rhythmic jolting of the rocks and the screaming of my Mom made it rather… soothing. You know—BANG! I hit another tree! I really hope I don’t have to pay for all the dents in this car. About seven close shaves later, we arrived at the sundowner, cocktails for Mom and Dad prepared. Believe it or not, the car had no dents in it. It was a New Year’s Eve miracle.
When we arrived at the top of the mountain, the view was stupendous. We overlooked a vast valley, in which we could see the mountain ranges that ringed it, and the rain clouds below in the distance. The land was green and fertile, and we could see to the horizon. It was like being a God.
Our guide, Salaash — on of Asilia Africa's best — began to look for a camphor bush. It had the same texture and flammability as cotton, but it was yellow, and was split into smaller pieces. In a flash, our guide broke the world record in fire-starting. He used the traditional Maasai method of taking a long hardwood stick and placing it atop a centimeter-thick flat piece of wood. He twirled the stick back and forth between his two hands, which produced tiny bits of ember, which he gently poured onto the pile of camphor. It started to light.
For the next fifteen minutes of so, me, my nine-year-old brother and my six-year-old sister were bustling around collecting firewood. The fire gradually grew and grew and soon we had an inferno. While the grown-ups talked about politics and other whatnot that, as you would imagine, bore us kids, we waved flaming sticks at each other and sang “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. (A week earlier we had made a “pilgrimage” to Freddie Mercury's house in Zanzibar.) It probably had something to do with the large amount of Coca-Cola we had consumed before hand. We invented something called a fire show, where we waved glowing sticks in circles in front if the grown-ups and they would all applaud, and say how pretty it looked against the night sky.
I’m pretty sure the only reason they paid attention was to make sure we didn’t “accidentally” poke each other’s eyes out. Fortunately, it never came to that. After singing “Don’t Stop Me Now” another fifty times, we had to leave. I can tell you firsthand that being in a car with your baby sister driving is terrifying. It’s even more terrifying when you are standing on a seat with half of your body sticking out of the roof of the car, on the top where the jolt, at least feels like it increases by 50%. If this is at all possible, the experience is even more terrifying while you have a spotlight in hand and you’re trying to find cheetahs—which was exactly what we were doing.
While scraping through bushes (DUCK!) and barely surviving our little sister’s bad driving (as I mentioned, I can’t brag; I’m no better—though she was on Salaash’s lap, so at least he had some control in case) we talked about who would be killed first, if some monster (we imagined Slender Man) came out of the gloom, dimly lit by our red light—which is not something you want to be talking about in the bush, at night. We decided it would be the driver, then us, then the people in the back seat, then whoever sat shotgun (Dad!).
We were rounding a bend when I heard a rustling sound. I exclaimed: “What was that?” in a (I admit) scared tone. My brother cautiously shone the light at the area where the sound came from. We saw a pair of red gleaming eyes, and braced ourselves for the driver(s) to disappear in a splatter of blood. But as we shone the light upon it, it turned out to just be a lonely gazelle. This happened five or six times. We continued our usual bump-bump pace, lolling about forty degrees side to side, which by itself is terrifying, even without the addition if seeing a pair of glowing red eyes every twenty seconds.
After about fifteen minutes of this I was convinced that I was lost, when the final, New Year’s Eve miracle occurred: The Mara Bush House came into view.
I know I never saw the cheetah that time, but I’ll always keep my eyes peeled for one. Well, for that—and the monster.