I was working in Nairobi and my wife with our three children aged 15, 13 and 10 had iust arrived for Christmas. We were booked to stay at Watamu on the coast, 400 miles from Nairobi if we travelled via Mombasa, but 300 miles if we took a short-cut through Tsavo East Game Reserve. I could not leave work until noon on Christmas Eve, so that the short-cut was particularly attractive. However, that would mean driving on a dirt road through the Reserve; and it was unlikely that there would be any other cars on this remote road. Furthermore, the Reserve was notorious for its man-eating lions.So the decision was not an easy one.
When we arrived at Voi 200 miles from Nairobi, we had to decide,so I made careful enquiries about the road. "No problem" was the reassuring reply. With that, we went for it, and for the first 80 miles, there was no problem. But then there was a detour 100 yards across a sandy river-bed. I knew that if I drove at full speed, I should make it. However, I had underestimated the weight of four extra bodies. I nearly made it--but just could not get up the far bank.
It was now late afternoon, so we had to hurry. I needed many stones to put under my jack. But try as I did, I still failed--we were now in for a night in the car with just a couple of sandwiches each; water was no problem as we were near a river. However, five people sleeping in a Ford Cortina in the hot season on the equator? Sleep was impossible, so, as there was a moon, I decided to sleep by the car, to which my children commented, "For heavens sake Dad, don't be crazy". This opinion was reinforced when several lions appeared on their way to the river.
Back in the car, I still could not sleep, so at first light, I started collecting stones--better then than when it got hot. But then when I moved a large stone, there was the fierce hiss of an angry cobra. That really freaked out my children, who now insisted on closing all the windows. By 8 am, it was obvious that I would have to go for help. I had a choice--either 50 kms to certain safety at the Reserve's exit or a more uncertain 40 kms to a police post marked on my old map. 10 kms further in the tropical heat? I gambled and chose the latter, having first told my sons that if I did not return within 48 hours, to walk the other way and, "if a lion appears, do NOT run away--you would have NO chance!"
As I walked, there was bush close by the road--a lion could be just ten feet away without my knowing. And for most of the way, there were lions' footprints on the road. I was just too tired to worry. At least the river was close by. But as I walked, I became obsessed with a great worry: what should I do if the police post had been abandoned? There were another 40 kms to the main road. If I walked during the day, I would soon run out of water, while to walk at night when lions hunt would be. potentialy suicidal..Meanwhile, my family had nothing to eat. As the sun went down, the police post appeared, so I went down to the river to fill my waterbottle. I was gripped with indecision. What should I do?
Then, suddenly, I thought I heard an engine--was it a plane? But no, it was a landcruiser. I screamed and yelled. Would it see me? Oh, God in heaven, hear my prayer! Then as the vehicle was going past, it suddenly stopped. I knew instantly that all would be well. We eventually arrived at Watamu early on Boxing Day. We certainly enjoyed our Christmas!
And now, whenever I think of doing that walk at night, I perspire with dread! Lions being cats,often play with their victims--they might well run past in front of one and then behind one and then again in front, before, finally, pouncing. Even then, if they are not hungry, they might not kill one straight off. So one's death could be accompanied by an agonising terror.