Picking up the Douglas-Hamiltons

The Douglas-Hamilton's plane at the Samburu airstrip. Photo by David Lansing.

So we drop Hardy and Fletch off at the airstrip and then head back to camp, thinking we might do a little game-viewing along the way, but it’s midday and, sensibly enough, all the animals are taking a nap in the bundu so there’s really not much to see. After a 15-minute drive we’re just about back to Elephant Watch Camp when our Samburu driver notices a plane coming in low over the camp. It’s Iain and Oria arriving.

Now the sensible thing to do, since we’re only a few minutes away from camp and have already made two trips back and forth to the airstrip, would be to drop us off and go back and pick up the Douglas-Hamiltons, but obviously Iain or perhaps Oria has put the fear of god in their Samburu staff and although our driver apologizes prolifically, he announces that he must turn the vehicle around and head back to the airstrip because the Douglas-Hamiltons do not like to be kept waiting when they fly in from Lake Naivasha where Oria has a farm (and a private game sanctuary called Olerai House).

He jerks the car around and we fly out to the airport, going twice as fast as we’d gone originally to take Hardy and Fletch out there, bouncing over the potted dirt road, dust flying everywhere, a panicked look on the Samburu’s face. When we arrive at the airstrip, Iain and Oria are standing there, bags at their side, waiting.

I should mention at this point that Pete is old friends with the Douglas-Hamiltons. His parents have helped sponsor Save the Elephants and Pete is practically a godson to Iain and Oria (which, really, is why we’re here). In addition to that, Iain and Oria have two beautiful daughters, Saba and Dudu, one (at least) of whom Pete was enamored enough of that he proposed to her (we won’t say which one). Saba, by the way, is Swahili for “seven” and was so named because she was born on June 7, 1970 at 7 o’clock under the sign of Scorpio (you can see that, in a slightly different locale, Iain and Oria would have ended up either running an incense shop in San Francisco or traveling in a VW bus around the country following the Grateful Dead—or both).

Dudu was born Mara Moon but was nicknamed Dudu because, her mom says, “she was such a little buzzing bee when she was small.” Dudu, by the way, is Swahili for insect.

So hugs and kisses are exchanged between Pete and his faux-godparents and eventually we get back in the car and, for the third time today, leave the airstrip for Elephant Watch Camp, this time with Iain driving. Which is not necessarily a good thing. Even though he’s almost 70 these days, he’s still a bit of a Mad Max and Oria, from the back seat, tells him several times to slow down or watch out for the potholes or, on one occasion, to try not to impale all of us by driving right through the overhanging branches of a thorny acacia tree.

“Good lord, Iain,” Oria wales, “do you want to kill our guests before we even get back to camp? Can you not see that you just drove needlessly into that tree?”

Iain stops the car but doesn’t turn around to look at Oria. Instead, he takes a deep breath, smiles at me, sitting beside him in the front, and, in a very low voice, says, “Yes, dear.”

I guess living in the bush for as long as the Douglas-Hamiltons have, they’ve both developed their own survival techniques. It will be interesting to see if I develop some as well.