The Indestructible Beetle
It was 1971, just before Big Five was officially launched, though the idea of adventure was already instilled in me. This story takes place when I was 23 years old which is ironic since I just turned 75 a few days ago. A group of friends in Kenya and I decided to take a trip to Lake Turkana, one of the most remote locations in Kenya. There were 14 of us split between three classic Land Rovers and one old-fashioned water-cooled VW Beetle. The Rovers were all heavy trucks with iron cladding fit with everything from a 4×4 transfer case to a snorkel and off road gear. The Beetle, on the other hand, was an original design, water cooled engine in the back and nothing special added to it, except for its driver, Sukhi Patel, a dear friend. Sukhi could drive anything on wheels in a manner nobody else could. Three of us drove to Kitale, 3.5 hours from Nairobi. Here we were joined by 11 others (two in our party were friends of friends and were newly married).
After several nights in Kitale, we carried on to Lake Turkana, the second leg, a 10-hour ride on dirt and muddy roads. Sukhi let me drive the Beetle on dirt roads, however, in the mud, he was back in charge. Along the way, one of the Rovers had a flat tire and got stuck; another had a fan belt snap also got stuck. Fortunately, we had a mechanic in the group, as in those days, no roadside assistance existed. The final Rover had a mechanical issue also requiring repair work. The Beetle, with its underpowered engine, 4-speed manual, no 4wd, and no ground clearance, carried on without a hiccup. The local Meru and Turkana tribes came out and helped us along the way, letting us enter their communities and offering the hospitality Kenyans are famous for.
Once at Lake Turkana we set up our beds on the platform sleeping under the stars. There was no hotel here, only one tent for the newlyweds and a platform with sleeping pads for the rest of us. We had to create a perimeter around our platform using Gamatox powder (dry sulfur), a great home remedy to keep the poisonous critters away. We slept soundly, knowing nothing venomous was crossing our powdered barrier until we heard a yell from the tent. The groom had been bitten by a scorpion!
Two hours from the closest civilization, with no doctor in sight, a witch doctor from the local community graciously helped us remove the poison from the bite. The groom was screaming so loudly in pain, you could likely hear him in Cairo. How do we take the edge off the pain, we wonder? A few minutes later we had our solution, which in hindsight may not have been a medically approved procedure, a bottle of whiskey. Once the poison and the edge were both removed, the patient relaxed, and we took a sigh of relief. By 9:00 AM the next morning, he was somewhat back to normal. The sun was scorching, so we jumped into the lake to cool off, even pushing our bite victim in with us. At this point, he was safer in the water than he was left unsupervised on land.
Back home we went after our adventure at Turkana, and once again the Beetle reached home without incident. I started Big Five two years later.