Apologies for the lack of updates – it’s been a busy few weeks. I got back from the UK last night as I had to return for some training. It was nice to see some family and friends briefly but if I’m completely honest, it was pretty unsettling to have to go back so soon since I was just starting to settle here. I was quite happy to come back to Nairobi as well because the weather was just so awful! Give me the African sunshine anyday!
As promised, this blog will talk about my first Kenyan safari experience, in the infamous Maasai Mara. On a Saturday morning at 7am, I make my way into town to find the vehicle we will be travelling in – rather than a jeep, we are travelling in a little van, basically a matatu with a pop-up roof. As predicted, we wait around for a while before we leave – definitely could have had an extra hour in bed! Our first stop was the Rift Valley view point, where many other vans had stopped – clearly, we weren’t the only people going on safari that day. The view was breath-taking, the photo here really doesn’t do it justice. I’m not gonna lie, the drive was pretty long, but it was great to see “real” Kenya, since the parts of Nairobi I see on a day-to-day basis are quite developed. I saw cattle farmers, women and men selling huge bags of fruit and vegetables at the side of the road and donkeys towing loads. It was also amazing to see how the scenery and surroundings changed as time went by. One moment the landscape was green and there was an abundance of trees and plants, the next, it was beige and it almost felt like desert. There were even what looked like mini-tornadoes, which are more commonly known here as dust-devils. This type of weather phenomenon is generally harmless. Even out of Nairobi, the roads were still good…at least until we reached Narok (about 40km from the park area). At this point, it was time to hold on tight, put on your seatbelt (if you were lucky enough to have one) and try and embrace the dusty and bumpy ride. Essentially 2 hours of getting thrown about in a van but don’t let me put you off – it’s all part of the experience!
So we finally arrive at what we are told is the lodge but my friends twig this isn’t the one we were told we staying at. It looks pretty basic and we demand the driver to take us to the place we reserved with the travel agent. After establishing this hotel was 10x better than the one we were first taken to, with a dining area overlooking the game reserve, we find out that the travel agent has “forgotten” to book our rooms. Of course this wouldn’t be a problem but the lodge is completely full! We then proceeded to ring the agent and voice our discontent, he said he’d sort it but he did nothing. We looked around a few other options, which were all mostly booked up too and settled for rooms at the Rhino Camp. We could have kicked up a bigger fuss but ultimately, we could have ended up sleeping out under the stars which we decided probably wasn’t the best option given our proximity to baboons, lions and other wildlife. Let the safari begin! By the time we headed to the game reserve entrance, we were tired and pretty annoyed at the unwelcoming situation that greeted us but thankfully, the abundant wildlife we saw cheered us up. We saw zebras, antelopes, giraffes, buffalo, wildebeest (which in my opinion look like old men with beards), elephants…we even saw lionesses feeding on a zebra.
Disgustingly, one of the cubs even decided to get inside the zebra… It was like watching the discovery channel, except you were actually there. If you concentrated hard enough, you could almost hear David Attenborough’s voice over. Jokes. We also spotted a leopard (if you pardon the pun) and watched the sun go down. I’m such a sucker for sunsets and this one was stunning. After around 3 hours of driving about, it was time to head back and prepare ourselves for a full day of safari-ing the next day. We thought we had done pretty well to see four out the big five since rhinos are pretty difficult to see in this particular reserve.
With regards to the accommodation, it was ‘tented’ but I would probably call it glamping, ie. glamourous camping. The room had a concrete floor, real beds and a proper bathroom with a working shower. We even had hot water. As the hotel used solar power, we also had electricity at certain times of the day. As much as I love social media though, and Whatsapp, I must say it was absolute bliss to be disconnected for a few days. I need to make sure I do that more often. I felt mentally rested, not checking my phone every two seconds. There was also a roof over the tent roof so it really didn’t feel like you were staying in a tent, until a monkey was crawling on the tent roof in the morning that is! Oh it was also absolutely freezing in the night. At breakfast I also saw a monkey eating some toast which I found pretty funny, that isn’t something you see every day! On the second day, we left around 7.30am and went a lot deeper into the park than the previous evening. We saw eagles, vultures, ostriches, more of the animals we had seen on the previous day and a cheetah! We also went down to the river, which acts as the border between Kenya and Tanzania and saw hippos and crocodiles. Despite their being thousands AND THOUSANDS of wildebeest (you could see them for miles around) since it is migration season, unfortunately we did not see them cross the river.
We also saw lots of sleeping lions, and a leopard up a tree sleeping. It was really hard to believe that these animals are dangerous, they just looked like huge cuddly cats that could keep you warm on a cold winter night. The landscape was beautiful, although it was pretty difficult to stand up whilst the vehicle was moving, I enjoyed adopting a titanic-style pose and taking in my surroundings. It was also nice to breathe in some unpolluted air having been in Nairobi for 3 weeks. It was hilarious as every time an animal or group of animals was spotted, all the guides radio-ed each other and within minutes, there were about 10-15 vans of people snapping photos. What was good about this reserve, unlike others I hear, is that the guides could drive almost anywhere they pleased. This included driving up verges I was surprised we even managed to conquer and driving through numerous swampy areas and the river. There were certainly a few occasions when I thought we might get stuck…
Upon return to the camp, we had the opportunity to pay $20 to go to a traditional Maasai village. We decided to opt out of this, and dance azonto instead. If you’re lucky, I might post a short video in the near future. I suppose I didn’t feel comfortable about paying to see Maasai people dance and take photos like I had been doing of the animals. It just didn’t sit right with me. I know they gain income from it but to actually treat their homes and village as a kind of zoo…I’m not sold. I’ll leave that to the other tourists thanks! I must add that there were also Maasai men and women, in traditional dress around the lodge and the surroundings. It was quite amazing to see how much they still preserve their heritage as the majority of men were dressed in the typical checked blankets.
So I think that just about sums up my trip. Thanks to Salome for suggesting we do it and organising it with Julie – it was really nice to go as a group of us.
It really was a chance of a lifetime, I honestly didn’t think I would see so many animals and up so close. After a while, you even got a bit blasé about seeing elephants and zebras, it just became normal! Still looking forward to seeing a rhino though, so I will certainly be going on another safari (or three) before I leave Kenya. I am hoping to go to Mombasa in early December, so I imagine that will be my next adventure. For now, I have to focus on my dissertation (boo) but expect another post in a week or two.
Of course, I can’t sign off without leaving you a song. This one is from South Africa, I think it’s relatively old but I’ve heard it on the radio here a lot. It’s a great track so I hope you like it!
P.S. I have only posted some of my favourite photos, I look over a thousand!