Welcome to the Mara!
The word safari in Swahili men’s “long journey”; today the word is used more commonly to mean “bumpy journey through the African bush chasing wild animals with a camera”. Whichever definition you use, we are totally on safari!
We met our driver and safari guide, Henry, at 7:00am this morning and left Nairobi before most people had finished their Cornflakes. The drive from Nairobi to Maasai Mara took a little over 5 hours, with most of the roads being surprisingly good (seems the new government Kenyans voted in earlier this year is investing in upgrading some of the country’s abysmal road network, which is great news!). The last 50km, however, was horrendous. Unfinished, corrogated, lumpy, bumpy, muddy and perfect for realigning our spines. It was nuts! But oh the welcome when we arrived….
We’re staying in a tented camp* on the Northern edge of the Mara and it is AWESOME! The camp faces on to the Talek River (one of the tributaries that feeds into the famous Mara River where wildebeest get eaten by giant crocodiles every year during the great migrations), and animals often come down to the river to drink in the evenings. The camp itself is small (just 18 tents) and very nice – each tent is well seperated from the others so we have heaps of privacy, and with the river right there we have a great view of the animals when they come down fro a drink.
*For those that may not be familiar with how safari accommodation works, you generally have 3 choices: camping, lodges and tented camps. Camping involves pitching your own tent at a campsite and is basically what you would expect from camping anywhere, just a bit more, ahem, rustic. Totally not our style. Lodges are like fancy hotels, usually decorated in an African/safari motif and very cosy and comfortable. Tented camps are unlike any other hotel: each room is a big fancy, permanent tent on a cement slab with its own proper (i.e. plumbed) ensuite bathroom, and in the middle there is always a large central permananet tent where meals and high tea are served. Tented camps are usually right in the middle of the game parks, so you feel like you’re in the thick of it; they tend to be very plush and brimming with creature comforts (pardon the pun).
Our camp is staffed entirely by local Maasai tribesmen, after whom the Mara is named. This part of the Rift Valley was (and still is) the traditional homeland of the Maasai people; we passed by a number of Maasai settlements on our way here today. With their circular corrals of spikey bushes, built to house their cows and protect them against predators at night, Maasai villages are instantly recognisable. As are the people themselves, due to their distinctive dress and proud stance. Unlike Kenya’s other tribes, the Maasai still live their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle and seeing Maasai warriors take their cattle out to pasture every morning is common here. We were a little surprised though when we learnt that we would be escorted to our tent and back every time by a Maasai warrior (spear and all) – we jokingly asked if this was just a touristy gimmik. But no, turns out it’s because they’ve had hippos and buffalo wander into the camp and they even had a buffalo charge at some guests last month! Yikes! we have since requested TWO Maasai warrior escorts – one in front and one behind. Thank you very much. You can never be too careful when you’re soft and juicy like we are – especially in a national park famous for its “Big Cats”!
Situated in South-Western Kenya, Maasai Mara is part of the same ecosystem as the Serengeti in Tanzania and is famous for its abundance of lions, leopards, cheetah and herbivorous animals like wildebeest, zebras, Thomson gazelles, topi, giraffe, etc, etc. The terrain here is primarily open grassland, adorned by the distinctive silhouettes of flat-topped acacia trees. After settling into our tent and lunch at camp, we set off for our first game drive to see how many of “The Big Five” we could see. It was fantastic! Henry, our driver, is an ace 4WDer and has eagle eyes – he spotted animals from miles away and had us slewing around all over the place as we hunted out animals to “shoot” (with our cameras). The pick of our photos are below.
A great start to our safari for sure! We’re now just relaxing back at camp and the clouds that have threatened all day have finally broken and it’s raining. It’s so nice being out in the bush watching the lightening light up the sky and hearing the thunder roll across the plains. Africa is awesome!