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'Rhino Charge'

The Rhino Charge is coming up. This huge charity event hangs over me like a spectre every year. It’s a four wheel drive competition (not unlike the Paris-Dakar but held in one day) that takes place every year ‘somewhere in the bush’ in order to raise funds for ‘The Rhino Ark Trust’, a conservation charity. The location is varied every year and can be anywhere in Kenya. The concept is that the cars blast through the landscape like a charging rhino, flattening everything in their path.

The reason it bothers me is that it means ‘camping’ and not just camping in normal circumstances, but camping in some remote part of the African bush, without running water, among hundreds (sometimes thousands) of other people, in a generally very hot, dusty, thorny place with a husband who is 100 percent preoccupied with getting his custom made 4x4 vehicle through the crazy competition with five equally mad friends. Believe me, it is not a ‘small children’ friendly scenario – not only coping with the rigours camp life (including things like long drop loos) but trying to prevent the children from being run over 24/7. I’ve done a few of these Kenyan motor sport camping events and none of them have been easy.

The competitors love it. They stand around the day before the event comparing customised vehicles and shooting the breeze over a Tusker beer or ten. The competition day comprises reaching thirteen check points or guard posts within ten hours, using the most direct routes (ie through dry river beds, up and over precipices and through thorny bush). This involves employing extreme driving methods and honed navigational skills; winching up and down slopes, negotiating over large boulders, getting dirty and drinking lots of water and re-hydration salts in the scalding sun. It’s exhausting but for some reason they all come back for more, year after year. On the third day there is prize giving and then a long drive home.

In the run up to the competition, the sixty odd teams (six people per car) are committed to raising thousands of pounds for the charity, for they pledge a certain amount in order to be eligible to compete. Each year teams pledge more and more and the bar is raised. Most of the team members live in Kenya, though some come from overseas. The huge sums of money are spent on the fencing of the Aberdare National park. This forested highland area represents the main source of Nairobi’s entire water supply. The electric fence allows wildlife to continue living safely in the forest, protects villagers from wildlife rampaging over their crops and prevents any illegal cutting down of trees, or ‘logging’ from taking place. Fence posts are made from recycled plastics.

The teams are always hard pushed to raise the funds, but generally find local businesses sponsor and donate generously. Otherwise, those employed in the ‘high end’ safari business will squeeze their wealthy clients for a few dollars. All will appeal to friends and family to chip in too.

One year I met a flushed looking lady from Edinburgh at the camp, struggling with a double buggy. At one of the check points, she had just finished conscientiously slathering the one and three year old respectively in sun cream when the event helicopter began it’s descent nearby, whipping up a cloud of fine dust which then stuck to the poor kids like glue. This was her first time in Africa and she said that she didn’t think her children had ever before been so hot or so dirty. Somehow, incredibly, she was still smiling.

p.s. A dvd following our car no. 39 through the rigours of the Rhino Charge competition is on sale online at: www.dvdr.co.uk/rhino with all proceeds going to the Rhino Ark Trust.

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