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Walking With the Maasai and Other Adventures

Walking With the Maasai and Other Adventures

As they bumped along the road to the Maasai Mara, they heard a helicopter flying low.  This was the first day of Di and Leonie’s safari and a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) chopper was ushering an elephant back into the park.  What an exciting way to begin their week in Kenya!  This post tells of their June safari through Maasai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha and Amboseli.

On their arrival they spent the first night at Wildebeest Eco Camp nestled in the quiet, green suburb of Karen in Nairobi’s south-west.  Rested and refreshed, they headed to the Maasai Mara the next day.  It was on this drive to Kenya’s premier game reserve that they watched the KWS helicopter herding a stray elephant back to within the park boundaries.  Human-wildlife conflict is a constant challenge for conservationists in Kenya and elephants can be particularly destructive in a field of crops, which can result in retaliation from the community whose crops have been destroyed.  So it’s imperative to keep the elephants in the safety of the park to avoid such conflict.

They entered the park and enjoyed a game drive as they made their way to Aruba Camp where they would spend the next two nights.  During their time in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve they saw a leopard with its dinner – a Thomson’s gazelle – that it had dragged up into the tree.  They also saw a leopard tortoise, a Marshall Eagle, buffalo herds, Lilac-breasted Roller (Kenya’s national bird), giraffes, elephants, topis, hyena, lions, ostrich and a puff adder.  On their full day game drive, they enjoyed a picnic lunch in the middle of the savannah.  Before leaving the Maasai Mara, they visited a Maasai village, which was a longer walk than anticipated, demonstrating that the Maasai definition of “not far” might be a bit different to an Australian definition!

Lake Nakuru National Park

The next stop was Lake Nakuru National Park.  They stayed two nights a few kilometres outside the park at a camp called Punda Milias (“Zebra” in KiSwahili).  More buffalos here and also rhinos!  Makalia Falls at the south end of the park was gushing down as June brings an end to the rainy season.

A short drive took them to Lake Naivasha where they spent a night at Camp Carnelleys.  The excitement here was a break in!  Monkeys got in their room while they were out.

Finally, they went to Kibo Camp, for two nights at Amboseli National Park.  Flamingoes were plenty in Lake Amboseli – which doesn’t look much like a lake in the dry season so seeing flamingoes here is quite special.

Being the admin gal, I don’t often get to meet our guests, despite usually spending many months emailing each other planning their safari.  So if there’s an excuse to do an airport pick up or drop off or something similar then I don’t mind.  This time it was a camera case and battery left behind in the vehicle.  Di and Leonie had gone on to Tanzania and were flying back to Nairobi and then on home.  So during their transit, I went to the airport to try to deliver the items.  It was a bit of a mission and it was good that they had several hours to kill.  I was passed from pillar to post until one immigration official told me that Di and Leonie would have to talk nicely to the immigration officers inside to allow them to come out to meet me.  I almost gave up hope, but then Leonie found me wandering outside the terminal!  Amazingly it had worked.  Battery delivered, we made our ways home….one journey significantly different to the other, no doubt reflecting the significant differences in adventure each had just had.

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Confessions of a Safari Operator

Confessions of a Safari Operator

It’s true, not every safari runs perfectly – gasp!  We rely on machines (i.e. vehicles) and they are just as fallible as humans – another gasp!  In August we had a trip that could have gone a bit smoother.  And, as I take a deep breath to calm my nerves about sharing a less than perfect safari with the big wide world, I hope that it will help you with your own expectations of travelling in Africa.

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Africa is unpredictable.  We tell our guests this about 37 times in our pre-trip documentation as they prepare for their tour.  The roads are bad, the police are disruptive, weather patterns are changing, and of course it’s called a “game drive” for good reason – either you win the game or the animals do, depending on who spots who first!  But as the safari operator, we don’t actually want to believe that we can’t predict (and prevent) what will happen.  Of course contingencies are in place to minimise the impact of any unpredictability on the guest.  But it still pains us to have to use those contingencies.

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We hosted a large family group of nine in August: two parents, four sons and three wives.  They wanted to travel all together in one vehicle so we decided the best vehicle for them was a small overland truck.  The itinerary was five days – three in Maasai Mara and two in Amboseli.  It had been planned for several months and everyone was excited.

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Arriving in Kenya

The first hitch came on arrival.  The people arrived but the luggage didn’t.  Not a single piece of luggage from the whole group was in Nairobi when they landed.  I’m still not sure how that could happen, but it did.  The luggage was to arrive on the same flight the next day and so they requested a later departure to Maasai Mara.  We were to leave at 8am but by the time they returned to the airport and retrieved the luggage, it was 4pm!  And in a truck it’s a long, slow drive anywhere, let alone the bumpy road down to the Mara.

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The late departure meant that we were driving at night, which is something we never want to do, especially through the bush.  We finally arrived at midnight and the camp staff were so wonderful!  We had kept in communication with them throughout the evening and they kept dinner for us and served it very graciously at that hour.  Lesson learnt though: next time we won’t depart for Maasai Mara so late and instead leave very early the next day.

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Safari Begins

The next day our morning game drive didn’t start very early as everyone was tired from the previous night.  But Francis took them off around 8am and they spotted lions almost immediately.  A truck gives you more height and they got a great sighting of the pride in the grass.  Shortly after that though, the truck stopped.  And nothing Francis did would move it.  Again the camp staff were amazing and supplied a vehicle so our guests could continue with their game drive.  Then they supplied another emergency vehicle to tow the truck out of the park.

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Francis pulled the engine apart at the camp and discovered the piston had, as he described it, “turned into githeri” (a traditional Kenyan dish of stewed beans and maize, i.e. small round pieces in a bowl).  The trouble with engines is that, even if you regularly service them, there are things inside that you can’t see and that will fall apart with enough bumping along on these fabulous Kenyan roads.  (I recently discovered in Australia that bushes are something that are replaced every twenty years or so.  In Kenya we replace them after almost every trip down to the Maasai Mara!)

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So that was the end of the truck for this trip.  We organised a replacement vehicle to get the group back to Nairobi the following day.  The itinerary continued for the guests as planned, fortunately.  The only issue was that there was now no space for Francis and I in this back-up vehicle.  We tried to hitch a ride on the road nearest the camp, but it’s a quiet road so we didn’t have much luck.  So we got a motorbike taxi (boda boda) across the savannah (outside the park!) to the main gate of Maasai Mara where we would find more traffic.  I have to admit that the motorbike ride has been a highlight of my time in Kenya!  We have driven that route before, but on a motorbike it was something else!  Beautiful scenery, through Maasai villages, across rivers, wow it was stunning!

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Somehow we arrived in Nairobi before the guests, despite our waiting for a lift, and then getting public transport in Nairobi to their accommodation.  But they had a much more leisurely trip, stopping at the Rift Valley lookout, visiting a Maasai village and having lunch en route.  Nevertheless, they were as surprised to see us waiting for them as we were.  We made the arrangements for Amboseli the next day and called it a night.

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Amboseli

Thank goodness the second half of the trip went smoothly!  We had to split them into two smaller vehicles and they switched up their seating arrangements for the two days to spend time with everyone.  They saw hyenas, elephants, a large herd of buffalo in the swamp, saddle-billed stork, zebras, a big flock of ostriches, and of course Mt Kilimanjaro.  They also climbed up lookout hill for sweeping views over the park.

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All’s well that ends well and there really was minimal disruption to the safari for the guests.  It was just my own mortification that got in the way of me enjoying myself.  But Francis always tells me soberly that “Anything can happen” and he is right.  Perhaps we will add that to “Africa is unpredictable” in the trip preparation documents.

Please share your experiences of travel that hasn’t gone exactly to plan – help me realise that not only can anything happen, but anything can happen to anyone!

And if you would like your own well-planned but unpredictable African adventure please get in touch: tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.

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Four Brilliant Ideas for a Kenyan Long Weekend

Four Brilliant Ideas for a Kenyan Long Weekend

Easter holidays, Eid, May Day, Kenyatta Day – there are plenty of long weekends throughout the year and if you live in Nairobi you might be wondering how to spend a four-day weekend.  This article will give you four ideas of how to spend a long weekend and explore Kenya beyond Nairobi’s city limits.

1. Lumo and Amboseli

Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary lies adjacent to Tsavo West National Park and offers stunning sunset views of Mt Kilimanjaro.  It’s about a seven-hour drive from Nairobi so you can arrive in time for a late afternoon game drive on your way to your accommodation.  The next day, spend the full day searching for leopards around the rocky outcrops and wonder at the red elephants that inhabit the sanctuary.  The shy Lesser Kudu is prevalent and many birds can be seen.  Depart early the following morning for Amboseli National Park where you can again enjoy a late afternoon game drive to your accommodation in the middle of the park.  Wake up to sunrise views of Mt Kilimanjaro as you head out for a morning game drive before making your way back to Nairobi.  Alternatively you could swap Lumo for Tsavo West.

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2. Maasai Mara and Lake Nakuru

Depart Nairobi early for the famous Maasai Mara, where you can go for an afternoon game drive after lunch.  Spend the whole next day game driving including a visit to the hippo pool and seeking out the lions that became famous through the BBC’s Big Cat Diary.  There are opportunities to go for a hot air balloon flight at dawn, visit a Maasai village or walk with the Maasai up to the escarpment for stunning views over the reserve.  On the third day drive to Lake Nakuru National Park, where you can find accommodation inside the park.  Evening and morning game drives provide opportunities to see rhinos and Rothschild giraffes before returning to Nairobi.  This itinerary could be just as enjoyable going to Nakuru first and then to Maasai Mara.

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3. Lake Naivasha and Maasai Mara
It’s a short two-hour drive to Lake Naivasha leaving you most of the day to enjoy the activities available there. You might want to cycle through Hell’s Gate National Park, hike up Mt Longonot or take a boat ride on the lake. Early the next morning you might opt to go for a walking safari at Green Crater Lake or Wileli Conservancy before heading to the Maasai Mara.  An afternoon game drive can be enjoyed, followed by a full day in the park the next day.  Before heading back to Nairobi on the last day, there is time for a final morning game drive and perhaps a visit to the neighbouring Maasai village.  Again, this itinerary could be done in reverse – heading to Maasai Mara for two nights first and then enjoying the final night at Lake Naivasha and doing the activities on the day you return to Nairobi.

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4. Lake Magadi

If you are interested in heading off the beaten track a bit and not spending so many hours driving from place to place, Lake Magadi and the surrounding area offer a different experience.  This is also a fantastic trip to see the migratory birds that visit Kenya at this time of year.  On the way you can hike Ngong Hills, stop at Olepolos for lunch and then stay at the Olorgesailie Pre-Historic Site for the first night.  The next day continue to Magadi town and into the Lake Magadi Conservation Area where you set up camp for the second night.  The hot springs are very hot if you are brave enough for a swim, otherwise you can take a walk, do some bird watching or just chill out.  From Lake Magadi head to the cooler Nguruman Escarpment where you can camp not far from the town at a campsite in the wildlife corridor between Maasai Mara and Amboseli.  In the morning go for a walk with the camp staff to see the wildlife and birds of the area before driving back to Nairobi.

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On the first three trips, there are options to stay in lodges or to camp, while the Lake Magadi trip is camping only.  You are welcome to contact OTA to discuss your weekend plans further.

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