Felicia’s Family History In Kenya (Chapter Two): The River Mara by Jane Collie

Returning to Nairobi, (half a stone lighter, having survived on an awful lot of biscuits and acute embarrassment to go to ‘The John’ in the bush with two hunks watching-on), I was greeted by Wendy with the words, “you look as if you could do the weight for a ride on my race horse Fair Candy” (trained by the remarkable Beryl Markham). Who was I to say no, to these two amazing ladies! I duly rode in the flat race and only disgraced myself when I jumped off, after the race, and collapsed splat in front of the audience, as nobody had told me to slide off clutching the mane.

…….. This at the time, meant very little to me, but to my aunt, it was all systems go – a trip not to be passed over.

I will return to an episode on our road-trip when we were in the Masai Mara and Patrick decided to drop-in on a friend who was building a camp, (which was duly called, Governors Camp). We pitched our tents nearby and were summoned for supper where plans were being discussed for the future incumbent’s entertainment.

As the camp was being built on the banks of the Mara River – what better idea than to do boat trips? It was suggested that we do a recce the following day, rubber dinghy and outboard motor duly produced and as a precaution, a rifle as well. Off we set, lulled by the tranquil current propelling us downstream, spotting an odd hippo on the far bank. My friends didn’t say anything to me, but it had quickly dawned on them that the river wasn’t really very wide enough to accommodate humans and hippos.

After about half an hour, having encountered rather too many large pods of hippos, we started up the outboard engine hoping to make a rapid return back to camp. Unfortunately it became painfully obvious that the current was far stronger than the engine. We were making absolutely no headway at all and it started to get very hairy indeed. At this stage the boys were telling me to get ready to try and jump off the moving boat and onto the bank. The gun was also being prepared. We eventually made it back, very shaken and very happy not to have been capsized into the river, as by then, a few crocodiles had emerged – to add to the mix!

Patrick later, over a stiff drink, couldn’t emphasise enough, that Mara River trips were absolutely not to be considered, as the river was not wide enough and would be a recipe for disaster. All the information was taken on board and off we went on our merry way, never thinking that six months later, when I was on a location-finding trip and we flew into Governors Camp to be greeted with, “you must do our Mara River boat trip while you are here”. I was absolutely flabbergasted! It can’t be true. The manager was adamant that it was safe and they had been doing trips for months with no problems. The director, and some of the camera crew, opted to go, even after I regaled them with my experience. 

Yes you guessed right, I was coerced once again into seeing how safe it all was and I was a real sissy if I didn’t try it again. I should have had misgivings and dug my feet in and said no definitely not, but in I got, to a larger rubber dinghy and thankfully a much larger outboard motor. Off we went, there were about seven of us in total, with Robin Camm manager of Governors, guiding us and mercilessly teasing me by making hippo noises.

We had not gone very far and all was peaceful except for the teasing chat, when as we rounded a bend and a really rather large and extremely angry hippo, with its mouth wide open, came straight for the dinghy and sunk its jaws just were Robin had been perched. He luckily had thrown himself into the river just in time to avoid certain death. The dinghy with the rest of us, capsized, and as I hit the water, my only thought was to get to land and safety. Somehow I reached the nearest bank and was scrambling out, when I felt someone grab my ankle! I just remember kicking out viciously and thinking, each to their own. Subconsciously I think I was furious and terrified that they were still insisting on doing this dangerous trip.

As I hit the top of the bank, I just kept running …… Miraculously, all of us were unscathed. The game wardens were duly notified about a very dangerous hippo on the loose, about two miles down river where a very battered and bitten rubber dinghy was abandoned with rather a lot of camera equipment, sunglasses, binoculars etc lying in the water.

The outcome of this story was that the hippo in question had been speared and the fish had been feeding off the wound. It had been in an extremely agitated state and the game wardens had duly put it out of its misery. The bitten and battered rubber dinghy was returned to camp where we, the survivors, had photos taken standing behind. As the photos were being taken, I thought that this would be the final episode to the wondrous trips down the Mara River. No! You guessed right. They changed from a rubber dinghy to a steel-frame boat and on they merrily went with their scenic trips down the River!

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