There is something about a campfire, especially on a clear night, far from civilization, that is special to remember. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some campfire stories. Enjoy!
Camping in Kenya was remote and adventuresome. We arrived at Tsavo East, on the Galana River, about 6 pm one night. We had a delicious dinner of fish, salads, and dessert, prepared by our cook and his assistant on a tiny primitive campfire. Our tiny tents were set up in a semi-circle. Mine was on one end near a tree that had been badly clawed by a lion!
Our small group with our expedition leader had become quite close, as we had already spent a week in Amboseli National Park hiking, then six days climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and now hiking in a different region of Kenya. It was remote and there was no one else there, only the animals and the unmistakable smells, sights, and sounds of the plains of Africa. We did have a fly over one day by the park ranger: he tipped his wings and we waved so he knew all was O.K.
The staff prepared a big campfire on the sandy river bank; we could see crocodiles and a group of hippopotamuses on the sandbanks. It was a beautiful evening and a grand place to view the stars and constellations, with not another light anywhere except our campfire.
As darkness fell, we set up our folding camp chairs, sat by the campfire, and listened to our expedition leader tell tales—all true—of Tsavo killer lions that lived there. This thousand-year-old trail by water from the middle of Africa (the Congo) to the Indian Ocean was where the natives, dragged by chains, were sold into slavery around the world. They were shackled by their necks and cruelly treated. If they fell because they were too tired or sick to move on, they were chopped from the long line of chains and left to die. The lions became accustomed to this easy way of living and soon became the man-eaters of Tsavo. Later, when the Trans-African Railroad was being built through this area, the lions attacked and killed many of the workers. The village people keep an eye out for them even today. The male lions here have no massive manes.
It was a warm and pleasant evening as we sat facing the fire; large scorpions started to arrive and began circling the fire to get warm. They were six to eight inches long! I decided to move my camp chair away from the fire some more and folded my legs up under me.
Soon after, I said good night to my hiking companions and went to my tent. I had left my tent flaps open, but being a bit concerned of the wild animals and creatures I had just seen, I went around the tent to put down the back flap and I had to go through some bushes. When I came around to the front of the tent, I bent down to go inside. Just then, a huge spider dropped off my head onto the floor of the tent. I didn’t shout, which wouldn’t do much good here in the wilds of Africa. We were so remote that by the time the poison went through a person it would be too late for help.
I instinctively grabbed my sneaker, killed the spider, and threw it outside my door. The next morning I asked my porter what kind of spider it was and he said, “Mama, it is bad!” I was the oldest in my group, and the guides and porters all addressed me as Mama—a very honorable name to them.
We didn’t have a campfire many days, since we were often too tired, and after a long day of hiking, we would usually go straight to a meal and our tents. Nevertheless, those few Kenyan campfire nights are precious in my memory. What campfire nights hold special meaning for you?
(posted June 14, 2016)