{{popup RiftValleyPanorama.jpg RiftValleyPanorama 1024×243}}tnRiftValleyPanorama (3k image) The camel race was in the morning. In the afternoon a bunch of us piled into a Toyota Land Cruiser and set out for the edge of the Rift Valley. As you can tell from this pic (not the crappy little on on this page, the big panoramic one that it links to) the sun was setting when we got there but the view was still spectacular. The mist made the hills in the valley look as if they were painted on cell and the sun glinted off a lake somewhere in the distance.

We didn’t stay very long as it was getting dark. And nobody wanted the return journey to feature a repeat of the adventure we had on the outbound one.

The journey to the Rift Valley was a dirt track through Samburu Land. There were about a dozen of us squashed into the back of a nice clean white Land Cruiser and the mood was happy: some singing and lots of giggling. It started to rain.

It looked as if there hasn’t been much rain up there recently. The rain didn’t soak into the ground but instead it rushed down the road in a stream digging gullies into the red soil. The surface of the road was a layer of red mud that quickly became a myre. Shortly after that the Land Cruiser slipped into a gulley and moved no more. The driver fiddled with the little baby gear-stick next to the big Daddy gear stick and ordered someone to get out and put on the diff-locks on the wheels. This is the procedure to engage Four Wheel Drive. When it was complete the vehicle continued to sit in the mud with its rear wheels spinning and digging little Land Cruiser wheel-sized holes in the road. There was some disagreement about whether the diff lock had engaged and whether the 4WD was really on. We were getting nowhere. Maybe everybody should get out.

We got out and stood in the rain watching the white car splashing itself with red mud but not moving at all. The front wheels were both still and the back ones spinning. If the 4WD was on the front wheels would turn. Even if the diff lock was off at least one of them would be spinning. Everybody who had ever driven a Land Cruiser took turns at sitting in the drivers seat and yanking the little 4WD stick about. The front wheels refused to turn; the 4WD was defective. The rain slowed down a bit. Someone shoved a stone under the back tyre. The Land Cruiser remained stationary, with its differential in the back axel resting on the mud where the rear wheels had cleared their own space of dirt.

The Samburu are Masai: they rear animals, wear distinctive red tartan blankets, beads, big earrings and feathers in their hair. They carry spears and live in mud huts. A few of them appeared by the side of our stranded vehicle, followed by a few more; attracted by the spectacle and, possibly, the opportunity to earn a few bob by helping us out.

There was a mud hut near by in a compound with a stick fence. The owner: a pipe cleaner-thin mzee with extended ear-lobes went and pulled the thickest plank out of the fence. Someone brought a kind of digging axe (i forget what it was called) and work started digging the mud out from under the rear differential. Most of us went off to bring stones to put under the wheels. There wa no river nearby so the best place to get stones was from the gulley that the rainwater had carved down the road. The glistening wet edges of burried stones could be seen and, with a bit of effort, kicked out of the soft red mud. We brought as many of the biggest ones we could find and piled them up next tot he car where men were digging.

After about an hour and several abortive attempts at moving the Land Cruiser we had inserted the stones under the wheels and the plank on one side. Everyone pushed. We found that by rocking the vehicle from side to side we could get the near-side rear wheel to connect with the plank, each time it came down, for long enough for it to move the car forward by about an inch. And so, inch by inch, we shoved that defective SUV up out of its muddy pit and back onto the road.

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