We entered Kenya's Amboseli National Park in a dawn raid, attempting to catch Kilimanjaro at first light, before the haze set in. Heavy rains had caused numerous pools to form along the trail, which Mungai skilfully manoeuvred the car around.
The bloodshot skies above Tanzania appeared full of characteristic seasonal violence, isolated sunbeams piercing rents in the obscuring cloud cover. Our efforts were rewarded with ten minutes of clarity before the unbridled glare of the sun broke through to illuminate everything with the full light of day. The magic of the dawn passed fleetingly and the twin snow-capped peaks disappeared once more within a shroud of clouds.
We approached the border and entered the Masaai Reservation to park in the shade of an acacia tree, a short distance from the boma. The headman met us at the entrance, regally swatting flies with a cured cow's tail. After Otieno had presented the elders with some shillings, we were led through the encircling barrier of intertwined thorn branches. The livestock was out grazing under the supervision of adolescents. We followed the elders across the cracked layer of hardened cow dung carpeting the ground. Around the perimeter stood the encircling huts, long, narrow structures of low height, set short distances apart - end to end. I wondered which one would be our home for the night.
The brightly-clothed shaven-headed women stood chattering in groups, clutching wide-eyed, runny-nosed infants to conical breasts. Warriors live outside the homestead and I assumed the murran must be off somewhere scaring lions. Two more male elders waited patiently for our acknowledgement, swiping their shoulders in unison with swatters.
Formalities over, we were ushered into one of the huts, a simple affair of sapling frame rendered with dung. A vast network of cracks in the render allowed a minimal amount of light to dimly illuminate the interior, where the smouldering embers of a fire kept the hut redolent with acacia fumes. We were given tin mugs of milk, straight from the cow's udder - I took comfort in the knowledge that the custom of drinking blood from the cow's vein was not extended to guests.
We soon vacated the hut to find a queue of women carrying toddlers and appealing to me. The only word I could understand was 'daktari.' It was explained that they thought I was a doctor, health workers being the only Europeans who visit the reservation, and there was no point trying to convince them otherwise.
I collected both toiletry bags from my rucksack and began dispensing ointments, while Mungai and Otieno translated instructions. The minor ailments consisted of sores, cuts, burns, ulcers and insect bites - each mother expected to keep the tube - needless to say, the consultation only came to an end once I'd run out of TCP, Savlon, Bonjela, Zovirax, Vaseline, antihistamine cream and moisturiser. I couldn't help wondering what they'd be saying about me a week later - that doctor was a right quack, no doubt.