Tabasamu had really wanted to go to Maasai Mara. I think it was top on her bucket list. We had planned for long, canceled, consulted and re-planned. Maasai Mara is not like Nairobi National Park where you just need to show up at the gate on a Sunday afternoon, jump into the tour bus and voila, you are on your way to seeing all kinds of wildlife. For the Mara, you need to figure out about transport, meals and accommodation besides the entrance fees. It is quite hectic organizing all that individually. Luckily, a friend of Tabasamu in the industry offered to organize everything and linked us to a tour operator so we just had to show up after all, and pay.
At 9am, the tour van left the city for Narok County. Everybody on board was excited. There was an old Australian lady from Sydney who was very friendly and talkative, the Spanish Couple and us. She had just landed the previous night from Abu Dhabi and slept in a city hotel. It was her first time in Kenya and she really wanted to see a Maasai village. She said that she had planned to travel to Samburu later and then to Ethiopia, all alone. We briefly stopped by the roadside to view the Great Rift Valley before descending into its belly. After an early lunch break in Narok town, and another 2 hours driving on a dusty, unpaved road cutting through the grasslands of Loita plains, we arrived at a sleepy village just outside Oloolaimutia Gate of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.
There are several camping sites, lodges and accommodation facilities near this village. We camped at Lenchada ”semi-luxurious”Tourist Camp, which would to be our home for two nights. We slept in self-contained canvas tents, with modern toilets and hot showers. Meals were served in a common room for all guests. There was no electricity so we had to charge our gadgets in the common room before 10pm, when the generator was switched off, or very early in the morning. Everybody was therefore expected to be in bed by 10pm.
After resting for an hour, the driver picked us for our first game drive. It was a sunny afternoon and many animals were leisurely grazing in the fields. The first thing we saw were wildebeest aka gnu. Our driver and guide said that they are one of the Ugly Five, others being hyena, warthog, Marabou stork and vulture. Next we saw kudus, giraffes and buffalos. As we were driving off road trying to get a glimpse of a rhino which was apparently hiding in a bush, we found a small animal called pangolin. It is the world’s most trafficked animal and very rare to see. The guard said that it is believed that those who see it are very lucky and will live long. That is how I got my 100 years bonus guys!
Elephants are Tabasamu’s favourite animals. She was really looking forward to seeing jumbos more than anything else. We spotted some elephants on a hill and shouted for the driver to stop but he did not. “Elephants are everywhere, I want you to see some cheetahs first”, he said as he drove down a slope into a vast valley. He was constantly in communication with other tour guides over a radio. They update each other when they see something and direct one another to the location. “If we don’t see elephants again I will do you something”, Tabasamu told him and everybody laughed. We found the two cheetahs on an open field and watched them run onto a nearby tree. It was getting dark now and we had to go back to the camp. On the way back, we saw two lions going to bed in a riverside bush.
The following day, we started the safari after the breakfast buffet. The breakfast was a choice between chapatis, pancakes, eggs, sausages and bread with milk, tea or coffee. We carried drinks for the long day ahead out in the wilderness. We drove through the gate around 8am and shortly after saw several giraffes munching their juicy breakfast and a herd of zebra grazing in a puddle of water and good grass. Some Maasai warriors were grazing their cattle on a hillside in the reserve. We spent the rest of the morning scavenging for game and hunting the Big Five. We saw an ostrich walking alone near the track and then finally found two lionesses resting behind a thicket. We later saw the other Big Five; buffaloes, elephants and a leopard on a tree. However, we were not lucky to see a rhino.
After going round the large reserve for hours, we arrived at River Mara around 1pm and had lunch by the riverside. We saw hippos and crocodiles in the river. This is one of the actual points where wildebeests cross the river from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania into the Mara Triangle during the famous annual migration. We were unlucky again because the migration had already happened a few weeks before. We stopped and took photos at the no-man’s land between Kenya and Tanzania. On the way back, we saw gazelles, antelopes, wild cat, jackals and dik-diks.
On the final day, we woke up very early for the morning game drive. By 6am, we had already eaten breakfast and were ready to go. As we drove into the Mara for the last time, the sun was rising majestically behind us and as it turned out, nature had saved the best for last for us. We found five lions enjoying the morning the sun by the roadside. They were very close to the tour vans and we enjoyed the spectacular view until they slowly started walking away into the bush. We followed them hoping to see them hunt down one of the many buffaloes that were grazing nearby. We didn’t get to see that though as we had to start the long journey back to the city.