Don’t Do What I Did! Another Oops! Travel Moment.
Anyone who has been to Kenya is familiar with the Carnivore restaurant in Nairobi. Known as “Africa’s Greatest Eating Experience” it is an institution for locals and tourists alike – a must visit. For my husband, son and myself, it was a novelty and a convenient stop for Sunday brunch prior to grabbing a domestic flight from Nairobi to the Mara. What we didn’t count on was the Dawa, the Carnivore’s own special brew – a liquid of such immense pleasure and lethal toxicity, it can make even the most organized of travelers lose all credibility in a matter of hours. And that’s just what happened to me.
The Carnivore is famous for meat of the all-you-can-eat variety. Here, the fun is in trying the game meats, which include zebra (not striped, as my astonished son remarked), giraffe, impala, wildebeest and alligator (chewy, but good). For our PETA friends, the game meats come from eco-friendly game ranches, which support local conservation efforts. The atmosphere is open and warm, with tables inside or on verandas, overlooking lush gardens or the famous fire-pit, where the meats cook on skewers over an open flame. The skewers are passed around table to table by waiters, who expertly slice off a portion of the steaming meat onto your plate, and point to the enormous Lazy Susan on your table, gesturing which sauce or condiment goes with which flesh delicacy.
And because this is a family place, if you follow the path beyond the garden, you will come to a large bamboo gate that when opened, reveals a child’s version of Nirvana – the most fantastic play yard ever imagined, where a bed of wood chips provides the necessary soft foundation to a truly remarkable assortment of kiddie amusements – from tire swings dangling from an authentic jungle tree house to a carnival stage set up and ready for acting. The Carnivore, it must be said, is a restaurant focused on a seriously long customer experience – where the grown ups tuck into pounds of flesh while the little darlings are encouraged to play for hours only a few short, overfull hobbles away. I knew immediately this was our sort of place.
A lesser-known feature of this famous restaurant is their signature drink, called the Dawa, which in Swahili, means medicine. First warning. It is a concoction of sugar, honey, lime and something akin to jet fuel, all of which is ceremoniously hand-blended at your table and garnished with a short straw. It is the mission of these devil waiters to troll from table to table in search of unsuspecting tourists, with all the necessary ingredients to make your life enjoyable for at least an afternoon, until the medicine wears off, and you are left wondering if anyone got the description of the rhinoceros that ran over your head. Needless to say, they found a very willing victim in me.
After two of these liquid ruffees, I was buzzing, giggling uncontrollably and chatting to everyone and everything. This continued on the short flight to the Mara until just after we checked into our lodge. I remember specifically because that’s when we realized I had left the video camera on the plane. Which wouldn’t have been that big of an issue – except for the fact that the plane didn’t come back until the next afternoon, which made it extremely unfortunate that on the morning game drive of that same day, we experienced the ultimate, elusive African safari experience – the kill.
We were lucky enough to have caught the entire sequence of events, from beginning to end, at a distance of maybe four feet away. It was an awesome thing to experience – to watch a lioness take down a wildebeest is horrifying and majestic all at once. But as furiously as I snapped both still cameras, there was no means of capturing the motion and sound of the kill. No way of recording the satisfied, guttural purring of the victorious lionesses, as they prepared the breakfast for their hungry, playful cubs. No way to capture the slow loping gait of the lion, who showed up to take his share only after all the work had been done by the women. No way to capture the sound of the bone breaking when the lion ripped at a leg or the gurgling sound when an eyeball was removed. And worst of all, no way to capture the hyena which, coming home from a night of hunting, stumbled upon the incident, and began frantically running in circles, peeing – as much from fear as from the excitement of realizing he was on clean up crew.
In my defense, as the designated family photographer and videographer, I take my job very seriously. I’m the one out in the bush with a spider web of cameras slung across my chest and torso. There’s the video camera for action; the old-fashioned Nikon loaded with black & white film for mood and landscapes and the Olympus digital for everything else. I look like a pack mule half the time, and frankly, the sound of my voice played back during the video re-hashes, with its grating, supercilious non-stop narrative and embarrassing attempts at humor is enough to make me watch with the sound completely off. This is the first and only time I have ever been deficient in my camera duties – before and since. Admittedly, it was not great timing, as my husband, who had been to Africa seven times prior and never seen a kill, takes great pleasure in reminding me. Of course, I blame it on the Dawas.