Luckily, Owen had seen the giant truck tyre that lay in the middle of the Mombasa road in advance. It gave him time to slow down, swerve around it and pop on his hazard lights. Unfortunately the van behind us hadn’t been so hawk-eyed, and drove directly in to it with a look of shock smeared on his face. We watched in the wing mirror as the tyre morphed out of shape under the impact from the car and popped out from under the bonnet, nearly toppling over a passing motorcyclist as it bounced its way into the grassland beyond. Needless to say, our drive from Nairobi to Mombasa was an experience.
We left Nairobi about half past three in the afternoon, headed for our night’s accommodation in Tsavo East National Park and, ultimately, Diani where we would spend the weekend becoming certified scuba divers. We knew that the Mombasa road was a single track the whole way there, and as expected this lead to many hairy overtakes. There were many sharp intakes of breath as we watched crazy vagabonds dodge in and out of cars, barely squeezing back on to their side of the road before an oncoming lorry thundered past.
It didn’t help, also, that the journey took longer than expected, and we still had an hour or two of driving to do as the sun set, casting us in to twilight and then darkness as we edged closer to our destination.
Technically, Tasvo National Park closes for visitors at 6pm, but we didn’t actually manage to get to the gate until gone 9pm, when the place was eerily quiet. It felt like arriving at the entrance to Jurassic Park when everyone has gone home, and wondering what is going to jump out of the bush and guzzle you up.
Happily, however, we were greeted by a very friendly ranger who emerged from the darkness, wielding an AK-47 and donning a tank top. We chatted nervously about which football team he supported and he told us how the famous Tsavo ‘man eating lions’ regularly come right up to where we were standing. Which was reassuring. Eventually, we were sent on our way into the gates of the shadowy park, alone, toward our camp 9kms down the road.
Inside the park, the road was rough, bumpy and totally washed away in places. We edged along with caution, and after a couple of minutes were grinning from ear to ear – we had this entire majestic, rugged and wild park to ourselves! What a privilege it was to drive the roads without passing another human being or revving jeep. I rolled down my window to hear the croaking of a million insects and the unknown sounds of the wilderness.
As we turned a corner magically, spectacularly, we found ourselves behind a lone giraffe, sauntering silently along the road just in front of our headlights. We crept along behind this splendid creature for several minutes, holding our breath in awe until it branched off into the bush, it’s tall silhouette blending in to the distance. What a moment! I shall remember that evening for the rest of my life.
Finally we reached Loyk camp where we enjoyed a warm welcome from their Masai staff and after a quick dinner zipped up our tent and slept dreaming of the creatures around us. In the morning, we ate breakfast outside surrounded by a family of monkeys.
The baby ones jumped between the two hammocks whilst the adults sat in the trees and groomed themselves or eyed up our fruit salad.
As we drove away from the camp in broad daylight the next day I felt a pang of longing for our night-time adventure that had been. I had to remind myself that our next adventure lay just a few hours down the road – this time, under the water…
IN PICTURES: LOYK CAMP AT TSAVO EAST