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Fridays with Firdosh

Dear Friends and Colleagues

February 05, 2021

New Year 2021 - where did that hope and anticipation go? I know it's still around but with the emergence of new variants of the virus and the bigger challenges of vaccine rollouts setting the clock back a bit, it's going to take time to reach that new normal. We simply have to dig a little deeper and wait it out. So while waiting, what better than to reminisce about past experiences, and I couldn’t have imagined I would accumulate so many adventures - enough to fill a book, perhaps? A lifetime spent travelling the globe and a career made out of helping folks travel the world certainly has its share of thrills.

In the autumn of 1986, I hosted an educational safari to Kenya for a group of Canadian travel agents. One of them, upon her return, immediately set out to promote our product through her agency, eventually landing a fair-sized group which she personally escorted to Kenya in 1987. A year later, she requested that we arrange her second group, such was the success of the first one. Her 12-night safari itineraries visited various regions and in those days, safari outfitters used Toyota or Nissan mini-vans specially fitted with heavy suspension for rough terrains and pop-up roofs to optimize game viewing. We always ensured a maximum of 6 passengers per vehicle thereby giving everyone a guaranteed window seat in those minivans. As is customary, most safaris end on a high-note with a visit to Kenya's best know game reserve, the Maasai Mara (also home to the great East African wildebeest migration) where guests would enjoy morning and afternoon game viewing, tracking not only the “Big-5” but also a multitude of antelopes and birds. Following tea, this group set off in their respective safari vans for their afternoon game drive, and were scheduled to return no later than sunset as per the Park rules. However, by dusk, all the vehicles but one had returned to the lodge. Somewhere out in that vast savannah in a lone mini-van were 6 members of her group including herself! While a late return is not unusual because vehicles can get stuck or have a breakdown, it was after dinner when our safari operator, by permission of the Park Authority, started sending out search parties. Now, the Maasai Mara is approximately 600 square miles in area and extends into the massive Serengeti Plains over the border into Tanzania. Searching for a small vehicle in the dark across these endless plains, full of roaming wildlife was a daunting task even for our seasoned game rangers, and these were the days before radio-equipped vehicles or cell phones. The searchers were making no headway and late into the night, a halt to the search was called, to then be resumed at daybreak.

I kept receiving reports from the lodge at regular intervals, leading me to spend hours praying for the safety and well-being of those stranded folks. I don’t believe I have experienced a longer day (given the difference in time zones) turning into an even longer night, entirely drained of emotions. As the Kenyan dawn approached, search parties again fanned out into the wild and joining them were more vehicles with other guests embarking on their early-morning game drives and willingly keeping an eye out.

Around 8:00am as guests started trickling into the dining hall for breakfast, and anxious for any kind of news, when suddenly there was a loud cheer and claps all around. In walked the 6 guests who had spent the night stranded in the wilderness. Their vehicle, stuck deep in the mud wouldn’t have budged without a tow. Amid complete jubilations, they described the sights and sounds of total darkness as the night wore on, how they discovered their survival instincts, how each one of them rose to the occasion, how they sang songs and shared memories of their families and loved ones, and how calm and relaxed they ended up being as the night wore on. But above all, were their stories of their driver-guide who did such an incredible job all night of keeping the group’s spirits high and hopes alive. They told how he boldly ventured out to periodically collect branches, twigs and whatever he could find to keep a fire going around the vehicle as they needed to answer the calls of nature, how he remained vigilant with his trained sight to spot any lurking danger, how he kept the group cheerful and positive with stories of his own wilderness adventures, and of his ‘survival 101’ teachings. Though each individual confessed to his or her personal fears; without exception they were all in agreement that this adventure was their ‘once-in-a-lifetime experience they’d cherish forever’! As for me, it only enforced my belief in the power of prayer!

The best part of this story is that the travel agent, who had led the group and had been part of this ‘lost party’ shared with me the group's feedback in response to her post-safari questionnaire which I could hardly believe when I read: “Such a thrilling adventure that we had, should be an INCLUDED attraction on future safaris for others to experience”. For a fleeting moment I did consider the idea, but on speaking with our liability insurance underwriters, it finally became a moot point.

Until next time!

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