By Ken Hegan for The National Post
I’m fixing my flaws by following self-help gurus and treatments in the world’s most gorgeous and inspiring locations. This week: Kenya!
The night wants to eat me.
I’m in the Kenya bush, it’s pitch black, and the air is menacing. All I hear are snorting hippos that sound like they’re chortling at my predicament.
Here’s the dire situation: A pretty Norwegian nurse invited me to her tent. It’s just 200 feet down the path. But I’m too terrified to open the zipper, because a man-eating leopard is prowling the river, and there’s a water buffalo that dearly wants to trample me to death.
Great country, but I must warn you: Kenya is filled with c–kblockers, and most of them are lethal.
Ironically, I came here to heal myself after a crap year. It started in Toronto. I was grimly studying a self-help book about how to avoid insanity/jail time after your relationship fails. It was so depressing, it felt like army ants were devouring my brain.
Suddenly, I received an invite from the Kenya Tourist Board. They were hosting an all-expenses paid safari in “Magical Kenya,” featuring lions and elephants and welcome drinks, oh my. Would I like to come?
Brilliant! So I ditched the book and hopped three planes to arrive in Nairobi. When the Kenyan customs official saw my passport, he said, “Your name is Ken? Welcome home!” Then I boarded a propeller plane to the Masai Mara Game Reserve. Located in southwest Kenya, the reserve was the starting point of a six-day safari. I was jetlagged as hell, but didn’t stop smiling all day. Picture 1,500 square kilometres of scrub brush, the occasional acacia tree, and flowing golden grassland. Beautiful.
My guide, Peter, stopped the Land Cruiser beside a hippo pond. That’s when I saw a stunning Norwegian in a jeep across the creek. She waved hello. I was about to go say “Hi,” but Peter stopped me. He pointed at a water buffalo.
“The boofalo, he is mean, man. He will trample you for fun,” he said. “Then he sits in the shade of a tree and watches you die! And if you somehow get up again, the boofalo will run over and trample you some more! Avoid the boofalo.”
Damn. We had to leave, so I waved goodbye, then flew to the Amboseli region in south Kenya. At the dusty airstrip, Maasai warriors greeted us. The men wear long black headdresses and bright pink and red sarongs that look like skirts. It’s quite alluring … they kinda look like The Supremes.
But make no mistake, Maasai warriors are fearsome fighters. Safari lodges hire them to guard the grounds and sling rocks at cheeky monkeys.
These warriors would teach me how to be a man again. In their village, I meet Tomas, 19, and his father Marimpet, who’s the medicine man of the village. He speaks no English so Tomas interprets. He says his dad’s job is to make healing potions for the tribe, including a Viagra-like aphrodisiac. It’s made from a mashed root, and gives Marimpet the strength he needs to visit his six wives, night after night. He’s 82-years-old — but looks 52 — and has 44 children.
“You’re just the family I need right now, Tomas. I’ve lost my confidence with women. Can you teach me how to be powerful again?”
“I would be happy to do this because we are now best friends,” Tomas says. “To be a confident man, you need three things. You must be curious in everything in nature. You must share ideas with friends. And —”
Just then, I see the Norwegian enter the Maasai village! Her group must be on the same tour. Tomas sees my smile and says, “Third way to be confident: Be close to women and they end up talking about you.”
I find the courage to say “Hi.” It’s hard, though — her teeth are crocodile-white and perfect. She’s so shimmery blond and gorgeous, she looks like Robert Redford in Out of Africa had a baby with himself.
Turns out she’s a nurse from Oslo. Maybe she’ll patch up my wounded heart! So I ask if I can borrow some diarrhea pills. Then I say, “Actually, I don’t have diarrhea, I just wanted to meet you.”
Horrible line but somehow it worked. She laughs and says, “Sorry, fresh out.”
We’re even staying at the same lodge, so she invites me to join her for dinner. Nice! I go thank Tomas for his wingman skills. He shakes my hand, gives me his email, and tells me to write if I have more questions.
Later, my prop plane lands in Tsavo National Park near the Kenya-Tanzania border. I check into a “luxurious base camp” called Finch Hattons lodge. Remember I mentioned Out of Africa? In the film, Robert Redford portrays Denys Finch Hatton, a real-life English aristocrat who invented white-people camping in Africa.
His lodge is nestled at the base of the Chyulu Hills next to three hippo pools. My tent is humongous — three times bigger than my crappy college basement suite and 99 times as nice. Picture a canvas-sided tent on a raised wooden platform with shaded verandah, hardwood floors, queen-sized bed, vintage writing table, ensuite bathroom, and a mini-bar.
There’s even WiFi so I email one last question to Tomas, then head to dinner. What a meal: six courses, delicious wine, there’s Mozart playing, and the Norwegian is witty and delightful. After dessert, she invites me “to admire the canvas” in her tent. Whoa. Game on. She excuses herself and I start chuckling at my good fortune. I might have even rubbed my hands together in anticipation.
In the bar, I check my email — and Tomas has answered my question. I’d asked him: “Tomas, what is the secret to happiness?” His reply: “Don’t laugh too much when you succeed in anything you’re intending to do.”
Very wise. He’s telling me to simply enjoy this moment but do not be cocky.
I head to my tent to freshen up, then darkness falls. I really want to visit the Norwegian because it’s important to bridge cultures and, as Tomas told me, “Be social to everybody you come across.”
But then I spot the manager’s note on my nightstand: “LEOPARD ALERT. Don’t walk ANYWHERE at night, unless accompanied by our armed escort.” He’s referring to the skinny bellhop at the front desk, wearing white shorts, and carrying 1) a flashlight, 2) a bow and 3) arrows.
That’s right: The escort has three life-saving items, but only two hands to use them if a leopard gores my throat. I’m no mathematician but that’s a disturbing flaw in the security detail.
Whatever. I reach for the phone to call the escort — except there’s no phone. Balls!
So I have three options:
1) Walk the path alone, get jumped by a leopard, die, and get no sex.
2) Get mauled but not die, drag myself to her tent, maybe get a sympathy kiss. Or:
3) Stay safe, do nothing, get nothing.
My heart’s pounding. I really want to see her and experience some Magical Kenya.
I think back to the self-help book on what to do after your relationship collapses. It said the last step toward recovery is to share my healthy self with others. Then I notice something disturbing. I see dark splatters on the canvas INSIDE my tent. Is that blood?!
Whoa. Maybe staying safe and doing nothing isn’t so safe after all.
It’s the moment of truth. I stand up tall. Suck a deep breath. Then I reach for the zipper.
— Ken Hegan
Ken Hegan likes the aisle seat. If couples ask him to switch so they can sit together, he pretends he is ESL or deaf.