There we sat in the rented 4WD vehicle looking at each other, stranded in the Aberdare Mountains, in the wild, with all the engine oil making a black river running downhill from under the vehicle. What do we do? Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Not all our family holidays were spent basking in the tropical sun, frolicking in hotel pools, relishing cool tropical night breezes in our faces. Personally my, and indeed Chip’s favorite place to go for a much-needed break was the mountains in the central part of Kenya. The cooler temperatures, the awesome scenery, the fresh, drier air all were more appealing to us than the kids’ choice of the coast.
Our favorite go-to spot for the non-coastal holidays were the Aberdare Mountains, ranging up to 14,000 ft in height. In these mountains we could enjoy hob-knobbing with the forest elephants, Cape Buffalo, waterbucks, bush bucks, bush pigs, a multitude of varied bird life, even lions at one time, and the elusive, rare black leopard. Did you know, by the way, that black leopards actually do have spots? That’s right! If the sun shines on its coat just right, and if you can manage to get close enough, you could see the typical leopard spots on its black coat. Which reminds me of one of our earliest trips to the Aberdares…
Chip and I were on a break and enjoying our new holiday spot. There were no kids in those early days, so it was like a honeymoon. We were driving in our vehicle around the rocky, dirt roads (more like paths, really), when something went loping across the road – something large and all black. We had just recently been staying with friends who had a big black mut (looked like a cross between Irish Wolfhound and Labrador Retriever) and my first thought was “What’s Duke doing up here?” Chip, however, got all excited and yelled “Woah, did you see the black leopard?” Oh, is that what it was? I thought it was a big black dog, frolicking in the mountains! But it was exciting to have been among only a few who get to see a black leopard in the wild.
Some years later, we were back in the Aberdares with our sons, Joshua and Samuel. Josh was in primary school at that time and Sam in preschool. We had left Amanda at home with our hired house help who was happily spoiling the baby. We had discovered some cabins operated by the Kenya Wildlife Society, which people could rent quite cheaply. We had a little 4WD Suzuki by then and so were more daring exploring the more remote parts of the mountain range. It was fun…that is, until we got royally stuck, in spite of the 4WD capabilities of our vehicle. *sigh* What to do? Not many people visited the Aberdares in those days and we had not seen another vehicle for a long time. We had little kids with us. We could hike for help, but there were wild animals about…scary animals…lions and tigers and bears, oh my! OK, actually, lions and elephants and buffalos, oh my! There were no cell phones in those days (not sure they would have worked anyway in the wilderness). We had 3 choices: 1. All stay in the car, waiting for the chance passerby, which carried the risk of our skeletons being discovered after some time had passed. 2. I stay with the boys in the car while Chip walked alone to get help. 3. We leave the kids alone in the locked car while we both got help. What a quandary. Chip walking alone carried risks with the wild animals. Two walking would be better than one. Going with 2 young boys, however, would make us more vulnerable because everyone knows that wild animals always go for the young and vulnerable. But would Josh be OK watching little brother Sam in the car? Now, Josh was always a responsible and obedient child, always doing what mommy and daddy said (unless he was just really good at hiding his sins). So, in the end, we decided that Josh and Sam would stay in the locked car while the two of us trekked for help. In hindsight, I’m not so sure I would have chosen this option now, but that’s what we decided at that time. I tearfully looked back towards the vehicle several times, convinced that may be the last we would see our sons. We managed to hike to one of several posts where KWS guards lived and worked and were taken back to our Suzuki to find an amazing sight. There was Josh in the car, having the time of his life as he ‘steered’ the Suzuki while it was being towed out of the mire by a powerful 4WD vehicle with a winch (which we had seen quite some time earlier). Sam was grinning in the back, also having a grand old time. Josh meanwhile had made new friends and all we had to do was thank our new friends profusely and drive off back to our cabin. Here I thought the boys would be terrified all alone, but even out in the wilderness, they managed to make new friends! We were so grateful that God sent such wonderfully kind people to the right spot at the right time.
I had mentioned lions previously. In the early days there were lions in the park, imported there because someone had the bright idea they would be good for tourism. But in the end, they proved disastrous for the local ecosystem and were later all killed or removed. But before that time, we were once again at our favorite cabins in the mountains, this time with all 3 kids. We had just arrived in the early evening just before dark. Chip had dropped us at the cabin to settle in while he went off with the car for firewood. I thought we would be helpful and collect kindling, as our food was cooked over a fire in the central fireplace. Oh, and did I tell you it was very foggy…so foggy you could hardly see 10 feet in front of you? The kids and I spread out in the compound looking for sticks and other kindling, with me calling out to the kids to stay near the cabin and within eyesight, so nobody would get lost. I felt quite secure because we were near the building where we could run for safety, and as long as I could see or at least hear the kids’ excited chatter. Eventually, as darkness began to descend, I was thinking it time to gather my brood inside. Chip, meanwhile, had collected a good supply of firewood, noting with amazement on the way to the cabin, a rather good-sized pride of lions a bit uncomfortably close by. He got home just about the time I was about to gather the kids and seemed quite agitated. He urged me to quickly get the kids in the cabin…now! I was puzzled, but we corralled everyone and went inside. It was then he told me about the lions who were too close to the cabin. I could feel my flesh crawl at the thought of one of the kids being dinner for them. We didn’t say anything to the kids. Next morning, we saw lion spoor all around the cabin! Oh my!
Finally, back to being stranded with a wounded vehicle with no engine oil…It was wet and rainy. The roads (read, paths) were extremely slick and Chip was sweating trying to wrestle the vehicle and keep it from sliding into the deep ruts. He was largely successful and I, though experiencing white knuckle syndrome, was impressed. Nevertheless, the inevitable happened. In spite of Chip’s best efforts, the car slid none too gently into the ruts and the undercarriage hit bottom with a bang! The car died and Josh, who was a teen by that time, got out to inspect it. He announced that there was black liquid all over the road coming out of the car. Uh oh! That’s where we found ourselves looking at each other, wondering what to do. Well, at least that’s what the adults were doing. The kids were all chattering excitedly about this adventure. Meanwhile, it was raining outside. Ugh. Chip announced we were actually close to the cabins and that we had no choice but to carry our stuff and hike to the cabins. Did I mention it was getting close to dark? Did I also mention there are lions and elephants and buffalos in those mountains? OK, by that time the lions had been removed, but still…So we loaded ourselves with all that we could manage to carry and slipped and slid and sweated (in spite of the chilly air) to the cabins at last. Thankfully, there is always a KWS ranger posted at the cabins, so Chip began the long, arduous process of trying to contact the rental company, somehow get the crippled vehicle out of the mountains, get a replacement vehicle, and return to his relaxing family holiday in the mountains. Poor guy! The kids and I huddled around the measly fire we constructed, cooked our evening meal, tried to be cheerful, and worried about Daddy. In the end, he did manage to replace the vehicle (the KWS and rental company were helpful and kind) and did get some relaxation in before we had to return to the drama of everyday life.
Why do we do these things anyway…go to weird places, with vulnerable little humans, living in primitive conditions, with questionable tools (read vehicles)? I guess within the human heart is always a thirst for adventure, for something out of the boring ordinary, and so we’re willing to take the risks in the hopes of something exciting and new. Well, exciting we got, for sure! We also managed to develop quite a collection of fun memories and stories to tell to boot, not to mention plenty of reminders of God’s protection over His children when they insist on doing dumb things all in the name of adventure!