It is a truth universally acknowledged within the safari industry that even the most intelligent of guests degenerate to having the analytical abilities of a newborn kitten on the day they leave camp.
I’ve watched internationally-respected giants of industry mentally collapse under the strain of having to pack their bags, go on a game drive and embark a light aircraft all in one morning. In possession of a fortune but not their intelligence. If guests are travelling as part of a group the syndrome is exacerbated.
Alas, this morning a group of nine retired Americans and their Kenyan tour guide are departing after breakfast to fly south to a camp in the Serengeti. All have lost the ability to undertake the simplest task and are asking questions to which there is no polite reply. When I walked into the dining tent at 7am, George pulled away from what was clearly an unsatisfactory conversation with their tour guide, Robert.
“I’ll ask B,” he said, striding across the tent towards me, “she’ll know.”
I asked what I could do to help.
“Should I have a shower after breakfast?”
“The opportunity is certainly there,” I said, “we can arrange for hot water to be at your tent.”
George looked exasperated, “That’s what Robert said, but do you think I should have a shower?”
“Well I guess the question is, do you want a shower?”
“I don’t know. Do you think I’ll need one?”
“It depends how skilfully you usually eat breakfast, I guess.”
As George stared at the buffet, unable to foresee if he would end his morning meal covered in scrambled egg, one of his co-travellers, Barbara, joined the conversation and told George that he should wait to shower until he got to the second camp.
She looked at me conspiratorially and said, “Men!”
Sensing a kindred spirit, I nodded and started to tell her the newborn kitten tale. She laughed, agreeing with me and then asked me if I thought the camp in Tanzania would sell Maasai beaded bracelets. (Our little in-camp shop had sold out of bracelets the previous morning.) Knowing that most camps in the area sell variations upon a theme, I said that I thought they would.
“Excellent,” she said, “do you think they’ll have them in red?”
My superpowers had deserted me and despite having a beautiful old pair of Zeiss binoculars to hand I couldn’t quite make out the colour of a bracelet in a neighbouring country.
Barbara’s sister joined our huddle and waved an Apple charger in my face, “Is this mine?”
“Does it look like yours?” I asked.”If it looks like yours, let’s just say it’s yours.”
Joan comes up to me, “If I have a cup of coffee with breakfast, am I likely to need the bathroom before we get to the plane?”
Forty minutes later everyone has been served breakfast, (“Is your muesli like the stuff I would normally have at home?”) and they’re ready to leave.
It turns out that trying to get nine retired Americans into two Land Rovers and getting them to stay there is quite a challenge. Every time eight are in, one decides to pop to the loo, or unpack their luggage to get out a scarf, or to change camera lenses. Joan remembers she promised her son in California that she’d buy him a map of Kenya and pops to the shop. (“Will the map show where we saw the elephants?” “If the elephants were in Kenya at the time, yes.”)
Hearing the word ‘shop’ inspires Hilary. Although she’s been staying here for 96 hours, five minutes after she should have departed for the airstrip is revealed to be the ideal time to hunt for souvenirs. She holds up a branded t-shirt, “Will this fit my grandson?”
D is concerned that time is ticking on; we’ve got 12 incoming guests that morning and our staff need to stop waving goodbye and prepare the tents. He tells the guides to start the engines, I block anyone’s exit and pretend not to notice Howard, who’s been patiently sitting in the vehicles for twenty minutes, stand up from his seat and mutter something about a weak bladder.
“Bye then!” I said, closing and locking the door, “safe flights!”
The guides take the cue and drive off at top speed, creating a dust cloud. My last view of the group is of Howard’s panicked grasping at the lock and Barbara’s sister confusedly looking from one hand to the other, both clutching identical Apple chargers.