It all started in April last year when my better half’s project went into a lull period and so did my responsibilities for a short period. We planned our trip to Kenya in mid-May, though it was not the great migration period. With Yellow fever vaccines administered, we eagerly awaited our trip to the ultimate safari destination and world’s wildlife capital and joined the 6 nights/7 days’ tour package. Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya always invoked in me scenes of animals wading across the Mara River; and the red-clothed Masais walking through the Savannahs. And here we are to experience all this-Jumbo (Hello) Kenya!
Soon on landing at Jomo Kenyatta Intl Airport, Nairobi, we embark on a short city tour of Nairobi, a city of contrasts. Hawkers throng the market places; and we find groups in animated discussions at every corner. After dinner we are dead to the world inside mosquito nets for the next 6 hours.
Early morning we hit the road for a 3.5 hours’ drive to The Ark Tree lodge in Aberdare National park, enjoying great views of Mt. Kenya on the way. Picturesque, steep forested ravines and open moorland characterize the park and we view herds of buffaloes, black rhinos, elephants, hyenasand on some occasions theleopard! Set in the heart of the iconic Park, this Lodge overlooks a floodlit waterhole and salt lick. We find four viewing areas here for enjoying the continuous animal activity in this area. The open salt lick is a meeting joint for the predator and the prey alike. The edginess of the detectable battle between the two of them right in front of your eyes is an unparalleled sight indeed! We see a young hyena that seemed unconcerned as we watch him picking bones out of a leopard’s droppings. Elephants dominate the scene. We do not go in search of the animals but they come to us instead!
The resident ranger will buzz your room if an interesting animal comes to the water hole during night time-One for Elephant, two for Rhino, three for Leopard and four for other unusual sightings! At 6.30 amaxylophone is played along the corridors as a wakeup call-An unforgettable experience!
On we are to the fascinating Sweet Waters Game Sanctuary, in time for lunch at the Tented Camp. The most exciting part is that we cross the Equator line at Nanyuki where it is signposted. We shoot photos for posterity to share the memorable moment……… Soon we see a man demonstrating the Coriolis Effect- A match stick rotates in the clock wise in water poured into a vessel that is kept at a distance of 10 feet on the northern side of the equator and in the anti-clockwise direction on the southern side. But when placed on the equator the match stick just floats without rotating. An interesting experiment!
Sweet Waters Tented Camp is a charming blend of under-canvas ambience and safari luxury with magnificent views, from wildlife- studded plains to the snow-capped peaks of Mount Kenya. The waterhole here effectively brings the wildlife of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy into the heart of the camp. It attracts plenty of wildlife, including impala, white rhinos, rare Grevy’s zebra, and reticulated giraffe. We really go up close to the animals because the waterhole is protected by a discreet electric fence. Post lunch we visit the Chimpanzee Sanctuary, which provides a stress-free refuge for orphaned and abused chimps. Incidentally we visit the graveyard of Sudan, the world’s last remaining male white rhino that died in Kenya at the age of 45 a couple of months prior to our visit.
The sighting of the animals from the dining hall make you realize that you are still inside a forest. Exciting!! The Staff here come to turn your bed down at night and place a hot water bottle in your bed as it gets chilly in the evenings. This was yet another new experience! This sanctuary is home to the ‘Big Five’ (elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo and leopard).
The five hours’ drive to the beautiful fresh water Lake Naivasha on the bumpy road proves to be an “African massage” as our driver humourously remarked. Without wasting time we take a boat ride in the lake which has barren like landscape of ghostly trees, and go in search of its most dangerous vegetarian inhabitant: the hippos! We plough towards the less populated inlet where the waves dredge up bits of floating plant debris, and before long we spot tiny ears, tiny eyes, and grumpy snouts poking up among the flotsam. Yes, we had found the hippos! The hippos are calm and snuffling uneasily but thankfully not opening their gigantic mouths at us in a threat display!
We walk down the drive of our lodge along with the giraffes, water bucks and zebras! Our resort is a night stop for the hippos that come out of the lake every night to trim the expansive grass here. We are not permitted to walk the grounds alone after dark and a security guard always escorts us. When you see a hippo outside your window you will understand why!
We travel to Masai Mara, the world famous wildlife reserve on the final leg our tour. It is the land of the Masais, one of world’s oldest living tribes. The wider road that we were riding on turns into a bumpy stretch, with our vehicle bouncing and swerving as and when it hit the uneven pits! Flying is a better option if one can afford. We are informed that the Chinese are working on laying good roads around the country, which we ourselves saw.
A drive through the beautiful Great Rift Valley escarpment is marvelous, as the grassy slopes turn greener; the settlements become few; and animal sightings get more frequent. We seethe Masaiswalking on the roads in their traditional red coloured clothes. It starts pouring heavily, as we wait in our vehicle in front of the Reserve Entry Gates. Soon we are in the quiet and welcoming Tipilikwani Mara Camp. It is not infrequent to spot animals roaming inside the camp at night. Guests are prohibited from venturing out of the camp alone after sun set and are escorted by guards for their dinner or wherever or whenever required.
All excited we join the Mara Safari-Epic tour with Kantaai our English speaking driver cum guide. Enjoying an enthralling game-viewing drive, spotting lions, cheetahs and other spectacular predators prove to be the highlight of the day. Added to this is the amazing vista of large expanses of rolling Savannah landscape; and rainbows.Safariconjures images of a truck bouncing over the dusty roads of a wildlife sanctuary, with eager photographers leaning out of it. We did experience all this and much more! Though the rains had stopped, it had already left treacherous puddles of water in the muddy road .Our safari vehiclestarts to revolt and slip at every turn. The evening slowly gives way to darkness. Suddenly Kantaai veers the vehicle and drives towards some trees where a couple of other SUVs are also speeding to. Wow, what a sight! Hypnotized, we see three lions-a male and two females- lazily nuzzling against each other and looking disdainfully at the sight of the vehicles standing around them! Five minutes and our vehicle moves forward and we see a herd of elephants gliding silently across our path. It is magical, it is Africa! We had to get back to camp soon or else the resort staff would send out the park rangers in search for us.
We are early birds and set out for an exciting game-drive and are the first ones to spot a leopard near a tree where the previous evening we had watched it eating an Impala. Fully grown lions look at us directly, the closest being 5 feet from the vehicle. Fear grips our throats. Kantaai assures us that the lions had enjoyed a kill a few of hours ago and were in no mood to hunt immediately. We sincerely hoped so!!!
We spot cheetahs chasing antelope; huge, mind-blowing elephants; ostriches walking across and much more! Suddenly our jeep gets stuck in the soggy mud and that is when it felt like a real safari. We wait for half an hour for help to arrive. Here we were standing nervously; suddenly feeling vulnerable as it is a dangerous world out there! . Thank God, the nearby safari jeeps come to our rescue and soon we are out of the slush! The jungle track is bone rattling but nevertheless we enjoyed the safari to the fullest.
Post lunch we leave for Masai Mara village, where we are received warmly by a few Masais, with a couple of them speaking good English. With their traditional attire, lean upright bodies and ceremonial staffs we are treated to a series of traditional Masai dances by the animated males. They perform their jumping rituals with bubbling enthusiasm and aboriginal bush cry which they emit intermittently.
Men folk wear colourful clothes with traditional red shawls and women are draped in red dresses along with necklaces and earrings. They say that the African lion is scared of the red clothed Masai warrior! Soon we enter a Masai home. It is dark and utterly smoky with a single window providing ventilation; and an entrance door on the other side providing access. The Masais live around their livestock and live mainly off their blood and milk. Guests are treated to fresh cattle blood collected in a hardened gourd flask!
Next the Masais demonstrate their skills to us. Men produce fire out of sticks; and the women display handmade goods for sale which include beads, small decorative items and much more. We notice that Masai culture is gradually leaning towards a more civilized existence, but at the same time it maintains an ultra-basic existential tribal lifestyle-The young Masai we met paired his traditional red-checkered robe with Nike running shoes and a Smartphone!
Back in the camp, we hear sounds of the adjoining stream, and the occasional tweet, growl and roars of the inhabitants of the Reserve. The sky is moon lit and the footsteps of our Masai guards could be heard amidst the rustling of leaves and the movement of the nocturnal inhabitants!!
Kenya will definitely enchant you; surely surprise you and may lead to addiction too but if you want to experience the best safari it rarely disappoints! Herds of gazelles and zebras looked at us with sad eyes, as we bade adieu to Masai Mara.