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African Heat

by Kate Dernocoeur, guest blogger

 Early on, at daybreak tea, I think, oh, this is good. This is comfortable, maybe even on the verge of chilly. The Kenyans are bundled up against the chill that to them is frigid. A shuka is nice, wrapped around my shoulders as we head out for the morning game drive from our camp by the river where hippos have serenaded us in the night.

The sun elevates, the angle rising steadily like a spotlight on a grand scene. One minute, the shuka warming my shoulders is cozy; the next, it feels stifling, and I drop it from my perch atop the roof of the Landcruiser through the hatch to the seats below.

The light of day builds. The colors of this amazing place are almost palpable. The air is like silk, offering me the clemency of February in Africa. I relish the freedom of sleevelessness and short pants.

The clockface constitutes the method that guides us and our cameras every which way. We swivel right to admire the “giraffes at three o’clock!” and left for “zebras at ten-thirty.” In real time, even the breeze of driving begins to feel warm. It’s definitely no longer the cool of dawn.

Mid-morning, the light switches to harsh. The polarizing comfort of sunglasses masks the glare that causes professionals to stow their cameras. We don’t, surrounded as we are by birds and animals too exotic to our everyday world. I know my snapshots will be drained of depth and richness, but don’t care.

A film of damp—what I call the “African sheen”—envelopes me when the drivers stop and our manmade breeze falters. They kill the engines, and in silence we admire a rhino posing—an oxpecker on its shoulder—backdropped by Mt. Kenya.

I slather sun-block against the now-insistent sun.

Around eleven, the animals dive for shade and we head back to take cover, too. In the mess tent, cool drinks in hand, we sit, visit, eat a light lunch. It’s very pleasant, there in the shade and light breeze. This is not so bad, I think.

Then I step into the sun. Words like “sear,” and “bake” and “sizzle” cross my mind. I walk purposefully to my tent like a barefoot teen trying to look cool on hot asphalt. The ferocity of the sun is earnest. Siesta at the equator is a necessity, not a luxury. Trust me.

At the tent, the swelter is tolerable—as long as I stay very, very still and avoid letting opposing surfaces of skin touch. Some nap. Those who had Tusker beer or wine with lunch certainly do, and awaken feeling drugged. After a couple of hours, I begin to think it’s not so bad out there. I visit the latrine and return to my tent chair, chastised.

Toward tea time, a man comes by with cool water for the basin. The breeze has gone from sirocco to plain hot. The sun is lower. The colors, more lively. That’s when I know that when we get back at dusk from the afternoon game drive, the warm shower will be welcome, will wash away the slime of sheen and sunblock, will deliver me to the evening campfire ready to eat, and sleep, and wonder about the night noises.


This blog celebrates Kate’s recent 12 days in three diverse ecosystems in Kenya with a company called Tropical Ice. Stay tuned for more on her African adventures.


Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Mar 6, 2012 Reply

    Thanks, Kate, for sharing your memorable experience.  I particularly like the zebra.  I know they are quite skittish and hard to get close to.  I can see why you continued to shoot photos.  

  2. posted by
    Mar 6, 2012 Reply

    Kate, your photos and your description of the seemingly everyday scenes in Kenya are a delight to view and read! Thanks for your post!

  3. posted by
    Miller Marianne
    Mar 10, 2012 Reply

    Great pics and the description of the oppressive heat visual…nice being able to follow your adventures this way…M

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