Perhaps its the optimist in me, but I probably should have known better. The four days, three nights, food and transport included, deal I’d got from a travel agency in downtown Nairobi was just too good to be true. I’d been persuaded that, as a late addition to the group, the cost of a trip to the Maasai Mara was heavily reduced. As we turned into the safari camp after a long, dusty and very potholed journey from Kenya’s capital city, it suddenly dawned on me where the real ‘savings’ on this trip came from.
The army-surplus tents stood under some small trees in a clearing. The instruction to buy a can of bug killer suddenly made sense. The wood hut off to one side would serve as restaurant and bar for the next few days, the row of pit latrines buzzing with flies served as a salutary reminder that a lot of Kenyans don’t have access to flush toilets. Everyone working there was very jolly though, the Tusker beer was chilling in a bucket of water, and despite the bare bones accommodation, this promised to be an exciting few days.
It was definitely not going to be a Spafari (the high end safari operations that provide luxury tented enclosures, a swimming pool, aroma-therapy and massages to accompany the ubiquitous sundowner). The major upside of our camp was that it was only a short walk to the entrance to the Maasai Mara National Reserve. At least that seemed like a good thing until our orientation session.
It turned out that a couple of weeks earlier a pack of lionesses had hunted down a zebra and killed it in the middle of the camp. Taking a leisurely lunch, they spend the next 16 hours sat around eating and sleeping while, presumably terrified, travellers hid inside their flimsy army-surplus tents. Only when the lionesses decided they needed to hunt something else, could people leave their tents.
Our guide, Joseph, took it all in his stride, “Lions don’t see a tent as food. Stay inside the tent and you won’t have a problem. Its a good way to see the lions up close, their habits when eating as a pack,” he needlessly pointed out.
I was just musing on the wisdom of this fact when he added, “Much worse is the elephant. If the elephants come through the camp they just trample the tents and everything inside them.” Really? “There’s no need to worry. We have Maasai warriors guarding the tents at night. They will keep you safe.” Feeling less than positive, I dropped my things inside my tent and we headed out for a sunset drive through the park to see if we could spot anything of interest.
To describe the savannah-landscape of golden grasses spotted with Arcacia and Baobab trees, as anything less that magnificent would be to do a huge disservice to the Maasai Mara. The Mara seems to go on for ever, sweeping majestically south to the Serengeti in Tanzania.
If the landscape provides the backdrop, it is the animals that live in it that most people come to see. For someone who comes from a country where the urban fox is considered to be the most dangerous mammal roaming the land, the wildness of the Maasai Mara’s animals comes as a real jolt to the system. Especially when you witness large predators tucking into a gazelle or zebra.
Our first ‘drive’ through the Maasai Mara didn’t disappoint, we spotted a large number of animals, all seemingly unconcerned by our presence…and there was a beautiful Maasai Mara sunset to accompany our return to the camp. Over the next few days we’d see an amazing amount of wildlife.