Luke In Kenya Part 5: Elephants, Elephants, Elephants: Kenya!
The big elephant in the room is that there is no elephant at all. I’ve been in East Africa for two months and in none of my writings have I so much as broached the subject. Matt Stabile claims he’s not mad about this lapse, just disappointed. He has good reason: I am under contract to write about elephants.
Matt and my favorite drinking game is called, “Luke, sign this stack of contracts.” Matt came up with it. Here’s how it works: you take a bunch of whiskey shots with Matt Stabile, and then he hands you a stack of contracts and you sign them and he notarizes them with his power of attorney. Sounds fun, right? Yeah, it’s a blast until you wake up one morning and Matt is wheeling your grandmother out of the nursing home claiming he owns her.
Anyways, hold onto your contraband ivory letter openers The Expeditioner readers, because my elephant silence is officially over!
Nairobbery National Park
The first time I was promised elephants was when my brothers and I traveled to Nairobi National Park. Located inside Kenya’s capital, with distant views of the city’s skyline, this makes it one of the most unique game parks on Earth.
Further separating it from its countryside counterparts is the fact that it doesn’t seem to have any animals in it. It is home to grass. And trees. My brother has taken to calling it Nairobbery National Park due to the fact that we paid a handsome sum to be there for four hours of continuous letdown. After driving 100 or so kilometers through the park, we saw a total of three animals: two ostriches and a tortoise moving at the pace of our excitement.
“We should have brought beer,” my brother said as we admired another empty field of grass and trees.
Elephant Beer, Greatest Beer on Earth
Tusker Beer — as national beers always tend to be — is the pride of Kenya. It’s also my favorite beer. Not because it tastes better than my second favorite beer, Baltica 6, but because I am a guy who appreciates a good backstory. Tusker beer is named after the elephant who killed the founder of the brewery that makes it. Also, Hemingway use to drink it like I used to devour him as a Busch Lite-swilling undergraduate beer pong champion.
Maasai Mara National Park
My next chance to see an elephant came when my brothers and I went to Masai Mara National Park on safari.
The Grand Canyon is where you go to marvel at geology. Niagara Falls is visited for by-the-book honeymooners after a boring wedding ceremony. Guatemala City is where you go to get mugged.
Maasai Mara National Park is where you go to have that clichéd, but still great, proverbial moment of paused reflection that catches a glimpse of our humanity before we broke out of the Circle of Life to check our email and update our Facebook statuses.
Most of the animals are friends you realize as you watch giraffes giving a nod to a herd of elephants — which are smaller than you would think they would be, but still damned majestic — and where gazelles and water buffalo hang out like barnyard pals, while wildebeests, looking insecure with with their ridiculous manes, stare longingly at hippos, wondering why the crocodiles are not interested. And then there are humans, roving around in Jeeps, capturing photos for . . . what? Facebook? Posterity?
Anthropologists change their mind a lot, but they mostly agree that at one point in our history, this was our past stomping ground too. Maybe the giraffes used to let our kids hang out with theirs.
In this line of thought, an African safari is less about discovering and more about remembering. It’s a nod to our essence, a visit to our specie’s alma mater — nostalgically rewarding — a thought as unbounded as our capacity to explore it.
A Maasai warrior who let me hold his spear confirmed the adage that an elephant never forgets. If a person has ever upset an elephant, decades later, the animal will become unnerved at seeing that person again. An elephant also does not forgive.
I think that’s fair, even a bit human of the elephant. Unlike squirrels, who are racists and lump all seven billion of us into one category, elephants give everyone the chance to prove or disprove his/herself on an individual basis.
About the Author
After setting out to hitchhike from Chile to Alaska, Luke Maguire Armstrong stopped in Guatemala where he spent four years directing the social service programs of the charity Nuestros Ahijados. He is the author of, iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About (available for sale on Amazon.com) which is especially enjoyed by people “who don’t read poetry.” (Follow Luke on Twitter: @lukespartacus). His new book, How We Are Human, was recently released.