If not now – When?

Adventures around the world (with Beth and Chris)

Roar, guffaw, chirp

By now, our friends and family have stopped asking us, “You’re going WHERE?” or “WHY are you going THERE?” But if they were still asking, our response this time would be,“we are going to Kenya to build a bridge”. The WHY answers come in many forms: “for as long as I’ve known Chris, his dream has been to help build bridges in Africa”, “Harmon and Teri Parker offered this amazing opportunity and we took it”, “it gives us a chance to really spend enough time in a culture with traditions, languages, beliefs, lifestyles very very different from our own and learn from it”, “so we can support an organization, Bridging the Gap Africa, who change lives in a walking world where a bridge can literally mean the difference between life and death”, “because we can – and if you can, you must!”, “if not now, when?”. You get the idea….


Our current abode is Tent 4, a spacious, bright, well-appointed enclosure, nestled along on the Ntiakitiak River in Mara Plains Camp in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, adjacent to the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Suffice it to say we are in the African bush, but we are, by no means, roughing it (the project is a fund raiser, of sorts, for Bridging the Gap Africa – BtGA).





Through the drawn curtains and mesh screening I become cognizant of the sounds of morning. Chris has been up for hours, contemplating. I hear the distinctive sound of the screen zipper sliding quickly up its track as he lets himself in after his trek across the river to the dark kitchen with, of course, our morning coffee (it is sometime between 5:30 and 6 am). The bird noises go beyond chirping; there is a call that sounds like “co-coa-puff”, another resembling the igniting of a gas burner, another sounding like rusty squeaking bed springs, others are sweet repetitive singing, warbling, and responding. There may be a final huffing roar of a lion or barking whoop of a hyena before they settle for the day. The hippos are periodically guffawing like crusty old men laughing at each other’s off color jokes.




I am aware of the sounds surrounding me, particularly since we must be sensitive to the experience of the guests at Mara Plains; I try to “stretch my hearing” throughout the day. I want to sense what I can only hear in this present moment; the noises of the Kenyan Mara. The dramatically striped zebras with their yipping barks and snorts of air graze and watch. The skittering and sliding on the roof of our tent we realize are the vervet monkeys who peek over the edge of the canvas and give us a side-to-side head shimmy. The wind gently blowing through the leaves relieves us, a bit, from the heat of the day. The distant rolling and rumbling thunder bringing cleansing rain that might or might not cross directly over us. The raucous jackhammer croaking of frogs in the river who are heard, but not seen, begins at dusk. The hippos bellow 24/7! The Kenyan BtGA men confer in low Swahili murmurs. The Land Rover engines turning over at dawn to begin the morning game drives indicates that we have some time to do our clamorous work for a few hours. The droning chugging of the generator, high-pitched sound of hack sawing through re-bar, and the clinking of hammers on nails signify progress on the building of the bridge.





More later……




We have left the playful barking sea lions, the clanging cable cars, the innumerable restaurant choices, the unbathed homeless people, uber rides, and the hilly streets of San Francisco to start our RV adventure.



We are now traveling as a hermit crab does, with his bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and transportation all wrapped up in one package. Chris and I have our roles and I think we work together with synchronicity. Chris drives the behemoth, sets up charging cords and speakers, oils the squeaky doors, and tends to the camp fire. I organize, keep things swept and tidy, navigate, find cheap gas, and make the peanut butter and jelly while Chris pumps the gas into the deep tank.

I wake up before the sun rises. It is a brisk morning in Pinnacles National Park and we are camped in a secluded, treed spot. I walk out of the campsite up the camp road a bit and my senses are so alive that I can feel the texture of my flip flops on the soles of my tough feet. The sky is becoming blue; the birds are flitting and chirping; the conifers emit that fresh piney fragrance that alerts you to their presence, and I can feel myself breathing. I see the scrabbly footprints around our picnic table from the raccoon visitors who most likely scooped up the remnant breadcrumbs from our previous night’s dinner. I plant my feet on the ground, straighten my spine, fill my lungs, and look up in the sky; my gratitude is overflowing. We are lucky to be here.

Chris maneuvers the RV up, up, up as we ascend into King’s Canyon/Sequoia National Park at over 7000 feet above sea level. We travel along the park road into the Sequoia National Forest and find our way to Stony Creek Campground. It is a piney area with shafts of sunlight shining through the trees. After getting the RV leveled, Chris builds a blazing fire, we open a bottle of red wine; we absorb and enjoy. I look up through the clearing in the trees and see one bright star. As the sky darkens, there are more and more pinprick stars and it is dizzying. We philosophize about the vastness of what is above us….

About 14 or so miles up the road, stands the largest tree (largest is defined by the volume of its trunk, in this case) in the world – the General Sherman tree which is estimated to be about 2000 years old!. There are many people visiting and it is impressive – we decide to go a little further up Congress Trail to experience more of these majestic and nearly everlasting trees.  Of course, this is black bear country and we are lucky enough to see a bear lumbering through the Giant Forest not far from the path. There are many sequoias – some in groves and others fairly separate; some are named (McKinley, President, the Senate, etc.). I touch the base of one of the gigantic trees – the bark feels like a scratchy wool fabric and as I gently tap it, the noise sounds almost hollow. It is not what I expect. Again, the fragrance is prevalent and beautifully aromatic.

We have arrived at Red Rock Canyon State Park. We are camping in a sparsely attended, primitive Ricardo Campground. We have left the lush woods and are in rocky, sandy, and dramatic landscape amongst the gusts of wind, joshua trees, textured rock formations, and the ubiquitous silence..We have another clear, crisp, starlit night. Time for wine and another campfire.

What the bush wants you to see

The wipers are going like mad on the windshield as we travel yet another clay dirt road, full of bumpy ridges, potholes, and huge puddles from the drenching rain. The South African dry spell has ended with our arrival to the Entabeni Private Game Reserve in the Waterberg Mountains (there is a misty cloud cover at the base of the mountains for our entire stay). Our drive in allows us to experience a small teaser of what is to come (we see warthogs with their alert tails, wildebeest with their blue-ish manes, and a small animal we find out later is a jackal).





Chris pulls the mud-streaked rental car into the covered entrance of Hanglip Mountain Lodge where we are met by several smiling black people and one rather serious white fellow. We shake hands and introduce ourselves all around. The young white dude, turns out, is our ranger for our stay; “Hello, I’m ‘Sinjin’” (his name, I sort out eventually, is StJohn, but pronounced “Sinjin”) I ask if we will be able to go out for our afternoon game drive and he responds: “It’s going to be wet. It’s going to be cold. And it’s going to be miserable. But we will check on the conditions later”. ALLLLLrighty then. Instead of being bothered, I get the giggles.  StJohn gives us the spiel: “there’s a TV up there in the lobby area, but I don’t know why you’d want it, you’re in the bush!” and “After dark, I will walk you to your room but there are no gates here and there are wild animals everywhere – this isn’t the city – you must stay aware when you are walking between your room and the lobby because you could get eaten”. At this point I actually give StJohn a little shove in the arm as I’m laughing. He gives me a funny look.


The skies have cleared just enough for us to go on our “wet safari” (as StJohn puts it). We climb into the canopied truck with our camera, binoculars, and some green rain ponchos that serve to cut the wind and keep us dry. StJohn dons his blue tint sunglasses, leather safari hat, and similar green poncho – and (quite possibly reluctantly) begins the game drive. We start asking our twenty questions as we get acquainted. StJohn is a 26 year old good-looking, bearded, intense young man who has been a ranger for several years (2 at Entabeni). He tells us he has been studying the Latin names of various species since he was 13; it is increasingly apparent that he has an extreme respect and passion for nature. He seems to have the bush in his blood; he comes alive as we make our way toward the mountain where we can see waterfalls heavily flowing, the brimming reservoir, and the gushing stream: “See the waterfall? We’re going to go over there. We’re going to give it a go! The water is PUMPing!!”  We slosh through the muddy roads (the rain makes them “slippery like snot”) and find the snout and the knobby back of a crocodile, water buck with his toilet seat rear end, hippos round ears, plentiful and beautiful impala, curly antlered kudos, wildebeest (also called the brindle gnu – “gah new” for the sound he expels), many birds, and another delicate and skitterish jackal. StJohn seems to use all of his senses; he listens, looks in all directions (while navigating the rough path we call a road);  I even hear him inhale deeply. He watches the ground for animal tracks and dung, listens to the birds, frogs, and telltale signals that prey animals give off when a predator is nearby. As we are ending the drive at dusk, we see a cloud of king and queen termites exploding from a termite mound.








We go on a total of four game drives with StJohn as he shows us the wonders of the bush – the big, bold, powerful animals – the minute colorful flowers, the multitudes of birds that StJohn seems to know so much about, the singing toads and frogs (“at night, you’ll hear the loud raucous of the spotted toad!”.  StJohn is passionate about nature. He reminds us that there is so much more to the experience than spotting the Big Five and says “we will see what the bush wants us to see!” – Chris and I respect that and are on the lookout for what is offered.  We are driving a few minutes away from the lodge when StJohn stops the truck abruptly, reverses and says “who can find what I’m seeing – it’s a five out of five”. We all start guessing – Elephant? Giraffe?  Lion? (maybe it’s behind the tree line). He says its right under our noses – turns out he’s spotted a flap necked chameleon – it is about three feet from the truck, but camouflaged incredibly; it is holding onto the  thick blade of tall vertical grass that it blends in with so well and it’s eyes move independent of each other . We all snap photos and watch for about twenty minutes as StJohn gives us more details of the reptile. StJohn is like a mini encyclopedia with an incredible memory.














On the last game drive, StJohn takes us up the mountain where the road has been closed due to heavy rain. It is a long, steep climb and we are rewarded with more animal sightings, incredible panoramic views of the rondavel called Mount Entabeni where we learn that we are standing on rocks that are about two billion years old. StJohn starts the beautiful descent – it is another perspective of the same road and the steepness affects us differently (my knees are pressed against the grab bar in front of me – I can even feel my toes against the front of my sneakers). We pass another ranger who speaks to StJohn in Afrikaans  – I ask him if there is something good – he answers by vigorously nodding his head (he does this with his whole upper torso). I know not to ask what it is; I wait and anticipate – like a little kid awaiting Christmas morning. I can see our lodge and this surprise hasn’t presented itself just yet. Suddenly he stops – there are two adult cheetahs lounging under a tree – they are brothers who travel closely together – and they are magnificent!






When we say our farewells StJohn and I hug – a real hug. I feel privileged to have encountered the Entabeni, StJohn’s “happy place”, with him as our guide.

We leave with a sense of satisfaction and at the same time, wanting more. We have seen what the bush wants us to see.


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