Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mongoose! How to get a free night safari (or, The Miraculous Rescue of Adele and Laura)

Last night, Laura and I were stuck at the top of a hill in Nakuru National Park for 4 hours, with the Kenya Wildlife Service rangers looking for us. If it were a game of hide and seek, we won. But it wasn’t. We were desperately trying to be found. Here’s what happened.

The propeller shaft of my car broke. I don’t know how it broke.* I only know that by 5 pm, Laura and I were heading west, towards to lake. The roads in the park aren’t clearly marked, and we inadvertently ended up on a different road—a road less traveled. This is important information, because as we were heading up this road, suddenly there was a TERRIBLE clanging sound and I felt something hit the body of my car right under my feet! I may have said some words I shouldn't have. I don't know. I do know that I stopped and carefully got out of the car (lo0king out for any predators). Below, right under my feet, hung this “thing,” an important-looking thing, might I say. I scooted in under the car and tried to see if I could simply pop it back in place, wherever it had popped out of. No luck. As soon as I’d start driving, it would pop back out and make the same terrible noise that had gotten my heart rate up in the first place.

I checked, and my cell phone had no reception! The hatch of my car was open, so I stood on my seat and got reception. This is a major praise! Next, I called the warden’s office. (The number is printed on the map.) However, the number had been changed.... I called Kenya Wildlife Service in Nairobi, and they promised to call the warden in Nakuru right away. Let me remind you that it was just after 5 pm by now.

In the meantime, I also Ben, called my mechanic in Nairobi. I explained what had happened. He did several things that helped. Firstly, he called the hotel where we’re staying. We found out hours later that it was merely by the tenacity of our hotel porter (Wilson) that we were found. Wilson kept pressing the warden to keep looking, and to try different things. He also called and asked me to honk non-stop, and the honking was finally heard by someone outside of the park, who called the warden and told him where the noise was coming from... But back to Ben: He also was able to connect me with a local, dependable mechanic who helped me this morning. And he sent me credit for my phone since I had by that time run out of credit and could make no more outgoing calls!

So, we’re sitting on a road with absolutely no view. We’re not sure if we’re on the road where we intended to be. And 90 minutes after reporting that we need to be rescued, we started getting phone calls from the wardens asking “Where are you?” (And, "Call us back! We don't have credit on our phones to call you!" to which I had to urgently say "NO, I CAN'T! I've run out of credit by now and I am not in a place where I can buy credit!")

Emotions in the car ranged from slight panic (at first) to laughter to prayer and praise to being somewhat worried again to total frustration with the wardens (we were on one of two stretches of road about 10 miles long, how could they be searching for 4 hours without finding us?) to fear of being found by a feisty black rhino or an ornery buffalo bull. Seriously.

After it was obvious that the rangers were not following my directions with regards to where we might be, I called a friend in Nairobi who was very familiar with the Nakuru Park, and he, too, tried explaining to the search party where he thought we were. But in hindsight, it seems like his calls weren’t heeded. What put pressure on the wardens was our porter at the gate!

Seven pm came and went. Seven-thirty, still no sign of anyone coming. Eight? No luck. Laura and I started betting what time we’d be found! She thought between 9 and 9:30. And so it was. Minutes after 9, I hopped inches off my seat when she yelled, “They’re here!” (I think I got a fright because I thought she might be talking about the rhinos! Not that we could see far, but we did have my parking lights on so the wardens could see us when they approached.

Things that kept us busy in the four hours? We couldn’t get out (other than trying to see what was wrong, and jumping back into the car quickly. Oh, Laura got out to answer the call of nature. She had to.) We prayed. Sang. Told stories. Prayed. Laughed. Took photos of Laura and Kiptoo (my M&M friend--will upload those from home tomorrow). Sang some more favorite songs. Answered many phone calls from the wardens and our porter between 7 and 9. Explained as many times exactly where we thought we were. Prayed. Got our stuff together so we could quickly evacuate the car once we were found. Made a list of things we were thankful for at that time:

  1. That the car hadn’t broken down earlier in the day when we were driving down an even more remote side road, looking for a leopard. (We were told later by the rangers that someone had gotten lost in that remote area once and weren't found for 3 days!)
  2. That though 3 buffalo threatened us during the course of the day, that we were never chased by one. Nor did we have any encounters with heavy-duty game during our wait.
  3. That while we were enjoying the scenery at the waterfall earlier and a baboon decided to climb into the car to raid it, that he took only cookies, not the keys, a camera, or Laura’s passport.
  4. That we saw some spectacular animals, starting with thousands of flamingos in the morning to a long-crested eagle, lions, collobus monkeys, a saddle-billed stork, and far more.
  5. That I had had enough credit on my phone to make the emergency call in the first place!
  6. That we were high against the mountain in an area with cell phone reception.
  7. That there was no-one at the front desk when we left this morning, so I just kept our hotel key with us, which meant I was able to tell Ben the number of the hotel, which got our porter at the gate, pressing the wardens to find us.
  8. That this all happened the day before Laura’s flying home, not the day of her flight. (I was able to get her on a bus to Nairobi today and a taxi to the airport.)
And finally, after the rangers found us, I told Laura that she had gotten a free night safari in the process. We were driving home with the rangers at night and she could see some animals—a hyena, some hare, more buffalo, and yes, a mongoose.

P.S. We never got to see the leopard we were looking for. Ironically, as our porter was waiting at the gate, he saw one!

* I have since found out that my wonderful mechanic in Nairobi hasn't been greasing the joints, which dried out the universal joints which caused the entire joint to break and damage the shaft. I learned more today about the way my car works than I care to know...


  1. OH My Adele!!!! What a day!!! I was reading that with incredulousness, and laughter I admit. Wow! Glad you got out of there, and glad that you saw the good in it too!

  2. Great stuff, our driver also had a problem,(a brake problem) at Nakuru . He was able to take off the wheel, strip the brakes and do the repair. Maybe, just maybe, you might consider a course in basic car repair for land rovers? and you could carry basic spares for your next adventure! Jim

  3. LW, throughout the course of events unfolding, I kept telling Laura, "I sure don't want to miss what God is teaching us through this..." I'm still trying to figure out the lesson, though there are many. Thankful to be home safely.

    Jim, I can change a tyre & check oil and water. Somehow, I don't want to be as self-sufficient as to be able to fix my own Landy! Though I love to do things with my hands, serious automechanics doesn't appeal to me. But you live and learn. By watching what happened, I now know
    a) how to remove a propellor shaft should the rear shaft break! With my car being 4WD, it can actually operate with just one propellor shaft.
    b) how to grease the prop shaft. However, though I know how to do this now, again, it simply doesn't appeal to me to crawl in under my car every so often to grease things...