It was late 1972 and my old pal Kenny Liss was in Nairobi, Kenya celebrating the country’s “10th anniversary of independence. I’ll let him tell this story in his own words…
“I was at a big soccer stadium where the celebration was progressing. Many of the tribes from around Kenya were performing for Jomo Kenyatta, the president, and the rest of the throng of on lookers. I ran into a Swiss guy named Phillipe, who I first met in Israel a month or so ago, while playing for my kibbutz basketball team under the lights in the Negev desert. He told me he was heading down to east Africa and it had planted a seed in my mind.
“I really had never given a second thought to traveling to the ‘dark continent’ before my conversation with him. So what a small world. He was at that stadium enjoying the show
as well. As we were leaving he introduced me to an Englishman, David, who looked exactly like the guy on the zig zag package, Brick a mountaineer from Colorado, and a school- teacher named Bruce from Seattle. They were staying at the same hostel and had all been talking about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro together. I decided I’d like to join them.
“We decided to meet in Moshi, Tanzania in two weeks, at the YMCA and do the climb. Brick and I set off together the next day and our first stop was in a village called Narok. From there we hitched a ride to Keekorook Lodge right near the border of Kenya and Tanzania in the area called Masai Mara. We stayed there for a couple of days sleeping under the stars, not being able to afford the pricey rooms at the resort. Finally we got a ride into Serengeti Game Reserve which was quite an adventure in itself, since the VW van that picked us up
didn’t have enough room in it for both Brick and myself, so I sat on the top holding tightly to the luggage rack.
“About a half hour into the ride, we slowed so the Dutch guy could take some Super 8 shots of a bull elephant that came down from the hillside and was eyeball to eyeball with me, on the rooftop. It was pretty unnerving having heard stories of elephants turning over vehicles and stomping on them.
“Anyway we get out at Seronera Lodge in the heart of Serengeti and meet a group of people who were on a big truck like a military deuce and a half that started 15 weeks ago in London and had just crossed over from west Africa through Zaire and into east Africa. It was one of those trucks with the canvas sides that rolled up and it pulled a pretty large trailer with supplies, tents, food, etc.
“They invitedus to travel with them and so we drove out into the bush and they found a spot to set up the night’s camp, gave us a tent and said they’ll have a nice breakfast for us in the morning. They apologized that the tent didn’t have a fly, which is supposed to keep rain out of the porous material just in case. Well, sure enough it did rain and to make matters worse, while the waterproof bottom started filling up with several inches of water, the zipper on the tent didn’t work so it was flapping open and closed all night and hundreds of mosquitoes worked their way in.
“It was miserably hot inside the sleeping bags, but, we couldn’t sleep on top since the mosquitos were all over our faces. Next thing we knew there was some kind of footsteps outside and in a flash something big laid down against the outside of the tent and leaned against our heads, as we lay there suffering from the mosquitos. Brick found a couple of safety pins in his pack and tried to secure the opening in the tent. The animal outside
was big and we could feel the musculature of it against our heads. It was making some kind of noise with a crunching sound every now and then. After several minutes, what it was evident because it started roaring.
“A lion! Oh my God! We were just breathing so hard from fear I thought my heart was going to explode. Brick kept saying “Ken, be very still”. I couldn’t be still though because my body was heaving with fear. I actually was praying to die of a heart attack so I wouldn’t have to face the possibility of being torn apart by a lion.
“It seemed like many hours but finally we drifted off and when we awoke in the morning to the smell of brewing coffee we went outside the tent and there was a bone, clean as can
be right next to the tent. The other people said they thought they heard something but the rain was loud so they just didn’t pay much attention. That was the worst night I ever experienced on the road… and I’ve traveled all over the world.”