9. Travel Escapade – An African Safari in Search of the Big Five

Chapter 9

Kati – Kati 

We wrapped up for the day around 4 pm and started driving towards our camp which would be our home for the next 3 days. James kept on driving through mud paths and all we could see for miles around were grasses, zebras and wildebeests.  We turned a corner and came upon a cheetah drinking water from a puddle near the road.  We watched the cheetah for a while and continued the journey only after the cheetah walked away.

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Our camp was named Kati-Kati which in Swahili meant “in the middle”. I felt it was aptly named as we kept on driving into the middle of nowhere. We were surprised how James was finding his way with no landmark or direction boards. James said that there were 12 Kati Kati’s in Serengeti, one in each of the 12 hills around us. This information made no difference to me as I have a terrible sense of direction and cannot even get the basic left and right correct! James said that people do sometimes get lost on their own in the Serengeti. He narrated a recent incident where the tourists got lost in the park and were tracked only after two weeks.

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After a long drive we came upon Kati Kati. A staff member came to welcome us and took our bags to the tent. Again we were asked to leave all eatables outside. They allocated us tent number 2 and sat us down for the instructions. The instructions mostly consisted of breakfast and dinner timings, not to wander around the place in the dark, always ask an employee to escort you back and forth to the tent when it is dark and to strictly keep the tent closed at all times. To my surprise, hot water was available for shower on asking. Fortunately, there was no restriction on electricity as the entire structure was solar powered. After asking us to come for “Bush TV” around 6.30 pm, they took us to our tent.

Walking towards our tent, I could see atleast seven tents spread to both sides of the entrance. I was thankful that our tent was not the last in the cluster as there was wilderness beyond. Each tent was separated by some distance so as to provide privacy. Outside the tent, there were two foldable chairs and a table, a makeshift sink and clothesline for washing and spreading clothes with one bucket of water. There was an oil lamp hanging from the tent fixture. Inside, the bedroom was big with two bedside tables, a small dressing area with mirror and wash basin and a separate bathroom and toilet. We had a small LED lamp to use when we were stepping out at night for dinner. There was also an emergency whistle by the bed side which was to be used in case any animal was inside the tent. I really hoped that we would not need to use the whistle.

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As soon as we started unpacking, we heard someone shout “Jumbo” outside our tent. We were not sure that it was directed to us, hence we ignored the noise. Yet the calls kept continuing and I replied with Jumbo skeptically. They informed that the hot water was loaded in the tank in broken English. After one person took bath, they immediately refilled that tank and informed us. The water was really hot and its aroma reminded me of the wooden stoves at home.

After basic unpacking, we sat outside for a while looking at the grasslands and the colorful sterlings hopping around us. As the sun started setting a Kati Kati employee came to light the oil lamps at the tent. After exchanging basic greetings (in Swahili!) he asked us more about India. His knowledge of India was limited to Gujarat and Goa, as many Indians from these states were settled in Tanzania; and cricket. He was a third generation Masai who was employed in Kati Kati. He even spoke to us in basic Gujarati, but coming from the southern part of India, both Gujarati and Swahili sounded equally strange to our ears.

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We saw a campfire and walked over there only to realize that this was the “Bush TV”! We spent some time around the camp fire as it was pretty cold outside. Soon, it was time for dinner and we stepped inside their main tent. Each group had a table set up for dinner along with their guide. The dinner was really delicious with hot soup, main course and dessert. During dinner we had basic Swahili lessons from James in addition to talks ranging from US to India. We also listened to James’ stories when he used to be a guide to Kilimanjaro. Swahili was easier for me to grasp as many words were similar to Hindi with Urdu being common to both of them. He taught us how to greet in Swahili and also to count till 5. After dinner, the Kati Kati staff came with registers for capture any special requirements that we have for the following day, including the wake-up call! As we had our hot air balloon ride lined up for the next morning, we had to get up early as our pickup was scheduled for 5 am. We cancelled our breakfast and arranged for lunch from the camp for the next day.

After dinner, we went back to the tent accompanied by the staff. We could hear hyenas laughing not very far from us. We entered the tent and tightly shut the flaps. We opened the side flaps for ventilation and could feel the cold breeze inside. Fortunately, there were two layers of woolen blankest which was sufficient to keep us warm. As it was a tiring day due to the long travel, we fell asleep soon. At night I was woken up by the sounds of running hooves all around the tent. My heart beat started racing thinking of what all animals waited outside separated from us only by a narrow canvas sheet. I prayed for it not to be a lion chasing buffalos, closed my eyes shut and tried hard to sleep. Sometime later, I was intermittently woken up by the sounds of some animas munching very close to my ears. Hoping that it was an herbivore feeding on grasses, I fell asleep.

Swahili Lessons : 

  1. Jambo : Hello
  2. Mambo: How are things? (Informal)
  3. Poa : Good
  4. Moja – One
  5. Mbilli – Two
  6. Tatu – Three
  7. Nne – four
  8. Tano – Five

Continue reading here : Flying Over Serengeti

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2 thoughts on “9. Travel Escapade – An African Safari in Search of the Big Five

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