There’s a baboon in my bedroom

If you do not believe a God exists, come to Africa.  And know it through Julius Mwangoma, a big part of our story here.  Julius was our driver guide, although he has also become my good friend.  He is a proud Kenyan and one of the best men I have ever met.  In Kenya, a driver guide is not simply a “tour guide.”  Julius went to school to learn how to better assist someone visiting his country.  He speaks four languages, has spent weeks in the bush learning about different plants and animals, including hundreds of species of birds — he can spot simba lying on a rock, in a shadow, at about a mile out.  Seriously, this guy puts Crocodile Dundee to shame.  He also has a warm soul, loves his fellow-man, and has a laugh that will make you laugh even on your saddest day.  If you want to hear his laugh just rent a Eddie Murphy movie; Murphy copied that guffaw spot on.  He is from the Taita tribe and comes from the town of Tsavo (featured in The Ghost and the Darkness,) and has taught me much about the land, the language and the people of his country.  He is also funny as hell, and he and I shared many of laughs together.

A real picture of Julius at Lake Nakuru

Julius with us










In the first few days of a trip, the jet lag has you waking at strange hours and, throughout the day, your mind is not completely right.  It as if you are in a dream and the actions and hours are accented in a vague sense of unease and anticipation.  I always think about Interview with a Vampire when Brad Pitt sees his last sunrise.  Life shows its most raw beauty.  This is how Julius picked us up.

We headed south towards Amboseli and my little homage to Hemingway: Kilimanjaro.  In these first hours, Julius felt us out, negotiating how much of a tour guide he should be.  He took us out of Nairobi, pointing out hospitals, schools and slums.  Katherine and I sat and listened, tentatively asking questions, hesitant ourselves.  Cattle and car accidents cluttered the road, and bright eyes looked at us with interest and suspicion.  About two hours in, we decided to stop for our first bathroom break.  Curio shops scatter the countryside, and Julius knows all the ones with the cleanest wash rooms.  To get to these wash rooms you must pass through the store where all the African souveniers are being sold.  You are greeted by someone who wants to show you around the shop.  Now Katherine and I are smart travelers, and we know to not buy gifts at the beginning of our trip, but the knives and wooden masks were too much to pass up.  Tom, who said he was my brother, followed us around collecting all those objects for which we expressed the slightest interest.  He would not tell us the prices of anything, saying we would instead discuss at the cost at the end.  This is never a good sign.  We finished shopping, and he and I started to negotiate. Still in the jet lag haze, this was the last thing I wanted to be doing.  He started at 210.00 USD — I almost threw up.  Fuck, why am I stuck in this?  I offered 40.00.  We went back and forth and settled on 70.00, which was probably 20.00 too much. Julius finished a coffee in the side shop and we departed.  I asked him how I did and, even though he said okay, his eyes in the rearview mirror told me I had paid 20.00 too high.  Our friendship was beginning.

My first African deal

The roads in Kenya are interesting.  Some are very good and some are not.  As a driver you must always be aware as cows, goats, pedestrians and “diversions” frequently pop up without any notice.  We came to the road that heads into Amboseli and Julius told us to hold on for the next 5o kilometers.  This guy wasn’t kidding; the next thing I knew, Katherine and I were flipping and flopping all over the back of the van.  The dirt road was filled with rocks, holes and ditches and Julius was going about 100 km per hour.  All I was thinking was Shit, we are going to die before even seeing Kilimanjaro.  At one point, half the road was sunk in and, maybe I was still pretty jet lagged, but I swear, Julius pulled that van up on two wheels.  We finally reached the gate and were told, Please wait here, I will pay, you can do business if you like.  Before I could even comprehend his words, the van was surrounded by our first Masai.  Over the next few weeks I would meet many from this tribe. At less than 200,00, the Masai are very few compared to some other tribes, but they control the majority of the land in the southern part of the country.  There are 42 different tribes in Kenya, but the Masai are the most easily reconizible due to their red clothing, their customs and their cow-dung villages.

Katherine and I found ourselves smothered with beads, carvings and clothing.  Please buy, very cheap, please buy.  I was still stinging from the curio shop so I just started saying Asante si taki, Asante si taki, which means no thank you while Katherine looked at an item or two.  One woman asked, what about trade?   Now this was something I can get into.  To trade with the Masai tribe is definitely on my bucket list so I pulled a small LED flashlight from my bag.  She studied it with enthusiasim and told me it will help her see the scorpions at night when she walks back to her village.  I chose a necklace and two beaded rings.  Shit man, I was pretty damn excited to have made this deal, and Katherine hasn’t taken her ring off yet.

Masai woman we met

Upon entering Amboseli we were immediately greeted by wildlife.  Katherine and I had cameras blazing and even though he had just drove for four hours Julius was great at stopping to let us get the shots.  He was definitely thinking, Man, you guys are going to see so much in the next few days but he humored us as we were young in the bush.  Our lodge at Amboseli was beautiful.  I met and became friends with a few of the staff and we have exchanged emails already.  Our days consisted of early morning and late afternoon game drives, meals and relaxation.

Zebras with Kilimanjaro in the clouds.

Katherine at our lodge at Amboseli










I studied hard.  Julius taught me all the animals, taught me the kiswahili words for them, and taught me the topography of the land.  My senses were on overload. I wanted to inhale it all: I was here, Holy fucking shit, I was here!

Me mate Jackson and a Masai man. The Masai are hired to come at meal times and keep the monkeys away. They do this with rocks and sling shots.

Taking it all in and down












Malaria is a real threat and all our beds here have been surrounded with mosquito netting as well as other precautions.  I’ve joked before coming of what a great story it would be to get a mild case of malaria but once I was on the ground I was scared shitless.  Those first few nights I spent deep in African dreams, tossing and turning, itching, waiting for the malaria to come.  On our first night we quickly notified the lodge that there were two eight-inch lizards in our room.  Hakuna matata, he said, they eat the mosquitos.  That was enough for me.  We quickly learned not to notice the lizards sharing the shower with us.

Who knows who he is... but he is out there.

We realized that our environment would not adapt to us, we had to adapt to it.  Even though our lodges were surrounded most nights by an electric fence, the smaller more agile animals (especially the monkeys and baboons) had free reign.  Upon checking into Amboseli, we were told to always keep our doors locked as these primates will try to get in and look for food.  I didn’t know we had to lock the door when we were in the room too.  On our second day after our morning game drive, Katherine and I returned to our cabin for a nap.  We had laid down for about 20 minutes and I was in that warm place between dream and wake.  All of the sudden, as if the Grim Reaper himself had arrived, my cabin door flung open.  My first thought was Why would a staff member just barge in? But before I could even finish my thought, this massive male baboon walked in.  Now it is taking longer for me to write this than it took for this whole thing to go down, but luckily I was on the side of the bed closest to the door.  My first reaction was to stand up.  I put my hands high to make myself look big.  Right?  And I started screaming Get the hell out of here and other choice words that I know Katherine will edit out.  The beast looked at me with those ferocious eyes and then scanned the room.  I know, the audacity.  He then took flight and ran across our front windows.  Two seconds behind him was Eric, the person in charge of the care for our rooms, both running by at full speed.  Katherine and I could not believe it.

My buddy Eric, the baboon chaser










As the days came to a close, we were sad to say goodbye to our new friends in Amboseli.  We exchanged emails and promises to meet again.  We had seen many animals and were only three days in to our trip.  That morning, Julius took us back to a lookout so I could get one last picture of Kilimanjaro.  Excitedly, I raced from the van and headed up a small mountain for the shot.  Michael, slow down — cats have been here.  I turned to look at Julius studying tracks.  He wasn’t talking about house cats, either, and by the tracks we could tell that simba had been there earlier.  We proceeded with caution.  Three days in and I still had a lot to learn.

Hold it there cowboy, Simba is close.


Some pictures of the animals at Amboseli.






1 Response to “There’s a baboon in my bedroom”

  1. 1 Megan
    July 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Amazing Mike!!!

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