Do it yourself safari....Don't do it!
At the time it all seemed rational. I was told that I (in Magori) was less than 2 hours away from the Masai Mara national park, the costs I was given were about the same as the arranged safaris and most of all, I was just too sick of African travel to go back to Nairobi, drive to Masia then back to Nairobi then to Tanzania.
The morning of the safari I should have known that self safaris are not the way to go when I was ready to go at 6:30AM our promised departure time and was told we had to go get the car fixed. Apparently, the back windows were stuck down. My host mentioned the need to just get them fixed so they would stay up and we would be fine. Some stroke of genius came to me and I pointed out that if I was going to see animals then I needed to roll down the tinted windows. With a little luck, the only of the day, the problem somehow worked its way out as we toured town before our departure. During the tour there was a lot of confusion as to who was going. My host's plan was to ditch the driver to save costs since he did not know that I had invited another friend (who does not know how to drive). The only reason I invited the other friend was because my host never committed to going and I did not want to be alone with the driver who did not speak English. So finally, we have the driver, my hosts and my friend all in the car and we are off BUT my host insists on driving the first part!
After about 2 hours, we arrive at what we are told is the closest town to the park. We sit down and have a cup of tea and a small pastry. We decide that in order to save on entrance fees we will leave the driver in the town and he will search town for our lodging. Just as we leave town, we run into a police barrage which my host manages well considering he does not have a drivers license. We call the driver after passing the barrage and the driver comes and gives my host his license. After another hour of swerving in and out to avoid rocks and various other obstacles, we reach signs of the park. I read in the guidebook that if you are going to a rather remote gate, which we are, you should try and bribe the park official to save on the $40USD entrance fee for foreigners. Not sure if this is a good idea or not, I decided to give my host the entrance fee for all three of us as if we were all residents, only about 7USD per person. The worker demands that we pay the full amount for me and that he will return some of it on our way out. Almost 100% positive this is an empty promise, we drive into the park. I am just glad that I did not get arrested or reprimanded for my tactics, very poor form but hey, it's Africa.
My host is exhausted from all the driving so me being the only other person that knows how to drive in the car, I take the wheel. This is a huge park and we are clueless as to where to go in our small GrandAm-esque car. Luckily we spot a safari vehicle so we follow this massive 4x4 land cruiser up and down the plaines in search of animals. I have now resorted to freeloading a safari. With a little luck and a bunch of different tour operators, we manage to spot, zebras, wildebeests, antelopes, wild boar, hypos, crocodiles and even some giraffes. After driving around for about 3 hours, my host realizes that we don't have much fuel left. The park is the only place to buy fuel before we get home. As we finish fueling up, my host says to me did you pay? I say that I gave him the money for the car yesterday and that covers it, right? His response is no and that I owe him for the fuel that he bought that morning. This was not a part of the deal that I understood yesterday when it was explained to me. Who knows, maybe the problem is that he pronounces fuel as foil and I use the word gas so neither of us understands each other. Quickly realizing I missed other things about this safari, I decided to ask more questions. My impression was that we were staying only minutes from the park and could do an early evening safari and early morning safari when all the animals were present. The light bulb went on and I knew this was not what I bargained for or did not bargain well enough for.
Realizing the costs were getting way out of my budget, I asked if we could go back to his town that night. We determined the best course of action was to start our voyage back to pick up the driver. As we exited the park, my host stopped to pick up the money they promised to return. As expected, he walks out with a ticket saying I paid 40USD which is true at this point. So irritated by Africa, I step into his office and emerge within minutes with a large portion of my money! My host takes over the wheel and the green flag drops. What took us nearly 1hour20 minutes to get to turned into a 30 minute race. Highlights included skidding off the road and barely missing a huge rock. At one point, he asks me if I am scared. I had resorted to curling up in a ball in the back, closing my eyes and saying Hail Marys (1st time since Catholic Grade school). Somehow, we managed to arrive in one piece to pick up the driver who has already booked and paid for the rooms. In true African fashion, we wait for them to get the lady for 40 minutes that can give back our money.
It's now 4.30 PM and time to go. The driver takes the wheel and we head off hoping to make it before dark. Our hopes were dashed as about 3 minutes out of town, I hear a huge crash and look up in time to see the cloud of rock dust that has entered our car and the person in the passengers seat (which is actually our driver's side in the US) bouncing up and down. The car slowly skips to a stop and the engine dies. This is no surprise as we have been opening the hood and pushing the battery wires together all day in order to get the car to start. BUT this time there is a streak of oil running gushing down the road and a big metal piece that has been bent beyond recognition back near the rock that me managed to unearth and even break a few large pieces off of.
We send the driver to go back to town to get a mechanic. He arrives about 20 minutes later in a car that barely runs and with a wrench as his only weapon. Within minutes the whole town is out to see what happened. To make it even more exciting, now they have a reason to stare at the white women on the side of the road. AND she cannot escape. Hours later, they determine that they will weld the piece back and maybe we can drive the thing. I sit with the children in the grass, playing soccer, trying to juggle, anything to pass some time. We watch the sunset and still no sign of the driver and the welder. At around 7PM they come back in the same car that does not even go in reverse and this man told us was a gear shift problem...boy are we out of luck if he does not even fix the gears on his car. At this time I am so sure we are staying in town, the road is scary, its dark and how will we know if the car is really fixed with the red super glue they were using. There is only one other town about 1/2 way home.
By the grace of God or some prophet the man gets out from under the car about 4 hours into the operation and he cranks it and it starts. My host yells at me to get in the car and we are off. He will not let the driver touch the car. I hold my breath the whole way home. Each time we gently or no so gently scrape a rock, I know its over. Finally, at 10.30PM and still trying to operate off our morning meal of a pastry, we roll into a Kenyan dinner in my host’s hometown! I have never praised the lord so much in my life!