I had an extraordinary feeling of exhilaration. We were out in the wild weather, it was amazingly beautiful in a dark and forbidding way and all around me I felt the wilderness as it once was. Uncontrolled, forbidding, dangerous but magnetic in its magnificence. I laughed and laughed with the joy of it all and Baraka turned in amazement. Then he laughed as well, probably with relief as I certainly didn’t look like I was about to have hysterics.
Then reality started to hit as we came across a fast running river where only hours earlier there had been some sort of drivable culvert. And we couldn’t cross to the other side, the other side where the camp was. We had to keep moving, we couldn’t stop because if we did we would sink deep into the black cotton soils. So back and forth we went, looking for some way across the raging water. Eventually, Michael drove back the way we had come for a short distance and we drove across some rougher, stonier ground until we could make our way back towards Kakesio. Then we found a road, but a road which was lit by our headlights and all the ground around it was cloaked in darkness. Michael and Baraka had no way of knowing which road and which direction was towards Kakesio.
“Perhaps you could look at your gps and see whether it can tell us which way to go”, Michael suggested. Had we learned nothing at the honey badger den? This time it was getting a little serious, a little late, a little cold and oh so very dark.
Performing under great pressure I found my Serian camp waypoint (fortunately the Serengeti one, not the old one for the Mara camp which was still on my gps) and I selected the map option and there we were. We must turn left here, I said. That way is Kakesio. But then we saw a small light in the far distance. Baraka and Michael said that it had to be Kakesio as there would be no other camp or settlement here. We turned right and my gps started to spin in anxiety. No, no it said loudly. You are going the wrong way!! It was hard to hear each other over the rain and we could see nothing at all.
“Michael, Michael”, the radio suddenly blurted out. Camp had been calling us for some time but only now were we able to hear them.
“Michael, Michael, where are you”
(buggered if we know, I muttered to myself) but of course Baraka answered in a much more civilised manner but with similar effect. And of course, we didn't realise that camp couldn't hear us until we heard the radio's plaintive voice ring out again “Michael, Michael”.
Then we stopped, and almost for good as the 4x4 struggled in the mud. Michael asked me again to check the gps (what faith he had) and I again reiterated that we were going in the wrong direction. I showed him the little screen. The light gleaming in the distance had disappeared and I wondered what had made it.
Rocking back and forth Michael managed to extricate us from the sucking mud and we slowly turned around and headed in the opposite direction. Silence descended on us as we desperately hoped that the lights of Kakesio would soon appear. My gps was clutched in my hands and I peered at it hopefully. It was taking us in the right direction and the distance was closing between us and what felt like the civilisation left to us.
Out of the black we saw the beginnings of lights appearing and we all started to smile. Michael’s hands relaxed their grip and the mood lightened. The rangers in Kakesio flagged us down, concerned about a vehicle out in this weather, but when they saw that it was a rather muddy Serian vehicle they grinned and waved us on. All about us in the village, people were trying to keep mud and water out of their houses, but many had time to wave as we passed.
Now we had found the road home, the tension could dissipate, but I found myself unable to let go of my gps which finally had proved itself useful after causing us so much trouble in the beginning.
Bedraggled, damp and dishevelled we finally rolled into camp, many hours late. But we had returned and hadn’t needed to sleep out on the Kimuma Plains.
I wanted to find John and let him know that he had jinxed us with the “you’ll be glad of the gps one day when your guide gets lost” comment of that morning. But he had retired with the fever.
I wouldn’t have missed that adventure for anything. I may not have found the honey badgers but I learnt how to find my way home with my gps, realising that its value was far more significant than just decorating Google Earth.
This is one extraordinarily wild and isolated wilderness.