Just arrived home, a day later than planned - it's a long story but if you read on you will find out! Let me pick up where i left off. Day 12 started a little later than expected due to essential maintenance required on one of the Land Rovers which did not arrive back until midnight the previous evening. As such, Stephen was up from 4.30am working on it and his team of garage workers all weighed in at 6am to get it ready for our departure. When we finally left at 9.15am, many of our new friends from the town had come to bid us farewell which was very nice for us all. The planned 10 hour journey started well and we made very good time until the universal joint broke in one of the vehicles. By the grace of God we had a spare and so started the 2 hour process of fixing the vehicle at the side of the road under torchlight. Nothing ever seems to phase Stephen - he just gets on with it! We got on the road again and when we were only a few miles away from the safari lodge the clutch of the same vehicle gave up after giving trouble all day. We ended up having to tow it to the lodge and arrived at 12.30am - 15 hours of travelling! The staff were expecting our late arrival and couldn't have been more helpful with our bags. We didn't expect a meal at that time but they had woken up the chef to prepare a meal for us that was gratefully received. The rooms were fantastic and i don't think it took anyone too long to fall asleep with exhaustion.
Our morning safari on day 13 was postponed as we needed to get the vehicle fixed first. Stephen, Mundia (the other driver), Colin and Watsy set about stripping the clutch and gearbox down to its component parts in the car park of the lodge! The problem amounted to a broken washer and Mundia was sent off to source a replacement from a nearby town. Let's not forget this is Africa and so it was a 2 hour drive each way! In the meantime the rest of us chilled out around the swimming pool enjoying some well earned rest. The spare part did not arrive until 6pm which meant we did not get any safari on day 13. The plan was to get the vehicle fixed that evening and go on an early morning safari drive before departing for Nairobi. Stephen, Mundia and Colin worked tirelessly putting the gearbox back together and did not finish until 1am!
On day 14 everyone was up for safari at 6am! The early morning cool of the day is the best time to see animals and we were not disappointed! We seen many giraffes and elephants and at one point a lion walked directly towards us on the road. We were on the roof of the vehicle at the time and it was only about 40 feet away so we had a great (if a little unsafe) view! Another highlight was seeing five cheetahs walk right past our vehicle. They were only 15-20ft away and were amazing! We also saw 2 gazelles locking antlers and having a bit of a battle at the side of the road! Seeing animals in their natural habitat, roaming wild, is an experience that i will never forget. I think it was definitely a highlight for everyone! Following breakfast at the lodge, we hit the road for our final 8 hour journey to Nairobi. Both jeeps suffered no further problems and we made good time. We made a short stop at the equator for lunch and got the opportunity to pick up a few souvenirs and gifts for friends and families - the bartering was good craic! We arrived in Nairobi and had a quick change before heading to the Carnivore restaurant for our final meal together. This place is a major tourist attraction in the city as you get to sample all sorts of exotic meats cooked on a spit! You pay a set price and the waiters will keep bringing all types of meat to your table until you give up eating! As well as chicken, beef pork and lamb we sampled ostrich meatballs and crocodile! A funny highlight was when we set Colin up by informing one of the waiters it was his birthday (which it wasn't). About 8 of the staff appeared with a cake decorated with a sparkler and sang and danced around the table - it was hilarious!
Day 15 was an early start as the bus departed for the airport at 5.30am with everyone looking forward to getting home to see family and friends. A delay in our flight by 90mins meant that we would probably miss our connection in Amsterdam and so we were unsure what would be the outcome. 30mins before touchdown in Amsterdam we were informed that passengers with an onward connection to Dublin should make their way as quickly as possible to gate E2 where their flight would be waiting. This was great news for us all and we ran through the airport as quickly as we could. When we arrived at the gate, the plane was still there but the gate had closed and we were informed that we were too late to get onboard. Devastated and exhausted we made our way to the desk to find that the best we could be offered was a flight the following lunchtime. So, at the expense of the airline we faced the reality of a night in a hotel in Amsterdam with 7 teenage lads! I'm sure you can imagine the obvious concerns and stresses we were feeling at this prospect but the good news was that the hotel was not in the city centre but close to the airport. The reality was that there was very little dissapointment in the group when we informed them we wouldn't be leaving the hotel! Tiredness played a major factor and everyone was tucked up in their rooms by 10.30pm!
Today started slowly with a later breakfast than we have been used to. We made our way back to the airport around 11am and the flight home to Dublin was only delayed a little. With spirits high as we arrived in familiar territory we once again faced the reality of lost luggage - not one of our bags appeared! They never made it onto the flight in Amsterdam and so we can only assume they are still there somewhere! Hopefully they will turn up in Dublin tomorrow and get delivered. It isn't as big a concern as it was on the outward journey but many of us have gifts in our bags that we wouldn't want to lose so please pray for their safe return.
So there you have it. The Kenya team that has monopolised my working life now for the past 6 months is over. I'm sitting in the comfort of my own home as i write this and i know that in the days and weeks ahead i have much to reflect upon and ponder of this life changing experience. It has been amazing for every single person on the team as well as relationships within the team - socially, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It has been the biggest leadership challenge of my life with highs and lows, celebrations and mistakes. Would i do it again? Absolutely!