The Masai Mara. We left Lake Naivasha early in the morning, packing up the tents in the mist and fog off the lake. This was of course after hot showers and a breakfast of the previous nights’ mashed potatoes cooked right into a fresh fried egg, sunny-side up (which I have tried to replicate since I’ve been home. So good.).
The first portion of our drive consisted of (mostly) paved highways until we hit the town of Narok, where we stopped to refresh our food supplies and eat lunch. Our Intrepid Travel guide, Chriss, actually lives here! This made my day, because he knew the best place to stop for BBQ goat – from grazing, to the adjacent butcher, to the charcoal grill. Peter made a tomato and red onion salad to go with it, and we had slices of the ugali (maize flour and water cooked to a doughy porridge consistency).
This was basically an entire day of driving, and the second half was on a dirt road, worn down by the tire treads of previous vehicles and extremely bumpy.
Our first camp was in Loita Hills, which is the second highlight of this adventure for me. This is an approximately three hour drive off the grid and a cultural experience that will be very hard to beat. Bound by years of rituals, society practices, close knit community thinking and a nomadic lifestyle, the traditional way of life for the Masai people is extraordinary.
We were met by Chriss’ half brother, Steve dressed head to toe in the plaid red pattern distinctly Masai. He was our local guide for this village in Loita Hills – he walked us down to where the village keeps their cows at night to dance with the women and see the chief’s house. On the way, he showed us local plants and uses – like this enormous aloe plant, and mint smelling herbs that turn bright red when crushed!
An extraordinary group of women – artisans and mothers, dedicated to their culture (while still having Facebook).Exchanging Facebook details.The chief’s house – the Masai move around a lot for their livestock to graze, here Steve is telling us about burning the huts down each time they move to ensure lion’s don’t turn them into a den.Inside the homes there is a low burning file to keep it toasty warm, one room and one window. The houses are constructed of cow dung and clay over sticks.Clothesline and fence.Another brother of Chriss’These were bracelets given to us as a welcome gift from the chief, crafted by the women.This camp is entirely unfenced. At the base of a hill, a small river runs through the camp and lots of trees surround it. The Masai warriors had shifts, patrolling our camp all night to keep us safe from wandering elephants (we pitched our tents carefully avoiding their fresh dung), a crazy baboon looking for food scraps and the inevitable leopard that wandered in to see what the fuss was all about. The sun sets pretty fast in Kenya in October. After a lantern lit supper (no generator here) we built a fire and sat around drinking river-chilled beer and chatted about how life has changed for them in the last hundred years. How cultural practices such as female circumcision have been banned by the government (as Steve put it, deemed “unsanitary” – a positive change as to many girls were dying…). Other customs, such as living on a diet of meat, animal blood and milk, and having little possessions are here to stay. Plural marriage based on the size of your cattle/goat herd also continues on. Children are seen as the ultimate measure of wealth and with multiple wives some families have dozens of kids. We talked about life as a warrior (not allowed to marry until mid twenties) and killing lions before heading off to bed (for one of the most restless sleeps of my life).
Some long exposures of the night sky. More stars then I’ve ever seen, little to no light pollution does that for ya. I had no tripod so had to make do on the side of a fabric camp chair.
In the morning we went with the village warriors to watch them jump and then try our hand at spear & club throwing.We also milked some cows, while the calf was trying to get it’s own breakfast.They set up a market for us to buy jewelry and blankets.From Loita Hills we drive a few hours to the Mara Spring Safari Camp, where we spent our last two nights before heading back to Nairobi. This was my favorite camp – so many monkeys hanging around to (steal) food and knock your clothes off the line. The road into the camp was about twenty minutes of super rough terrain – barely possible in the huge truck, and made from the cows going back and forth to graze everyday. This camp was tucked into the side of a hill, with elephants and baboons all around as well.
The view from the safari tents…and right outside my door – more monkeys and babies.Our first lion – a mamma making her way to find dinner. We all freaked out a little bit.A pregnant cheetah – weren’t able to get to close.Over the two days we were here, we did several game drives. The first was a late afternoon, on a grey overcast day. The second we went out early in the morning until dark, greeted at the entrance of the reserve by this happy face!First herds of elephants up close.Ostriches going crazy, chasing each other all over the place.Straggler wildebeests – they missed the Great Migration which happened a few weeks prior.One leads the pack – every road or river they cross, the leader goes up and tests for danger. If it changes it’s mind the whole group just stands around, or in this case turns around and walks the other way. They must have PTSD from the last Mara river crossing…They never did cross the road.It’s Jurassic Park – I swear it. More magical then Disneyland, hands down.What we thought was a dead hyena – until he got up and ran away.That face, those sounds, haunted my dreams every night. Shivers.Where Kenya and Tanzania meet in a monument.Sitting on the border of Kenya & Tanzania before going to the Mara river site of the Great Migration.Our group with our overland truck and our guide, Chriss.A place I have always dreamed of – the Mara river crossing point for the Great Migration every fall. We arrived two weeks after it occurred – the smell from the rotting carcases was extraordinary. This was our “lunch spot” but with the smell, we all ate in the truck.
Lion tracks everywhere – and one of the few times we were out walking around in the Mara reserve.Hippo trails – where they waddle up every night to sleep. You definitely don’t want to be in their way…A bone graveyard down river from where the great migration takes place.Vultures cleaning up the leftovers.We had a ranger with a rifle take us around the river – hippos & lions. Yikes.My feet beside a hippo, then beside a lion on the trail back to the truck.Leopards are hard to find and rare to see, even in the Mara. So everyone gets a little excited.The best zoomed and cropped photo I could get Karimee to capture from the front of the truck.All my classic stereotypes being brought to life before my eyes. Just perfect.Storks and baboons.The light and the weather are constantly changing across the Mara – pale fluffy cloud covered skies into dark blue rain clouds, and everything in between.We were stalked by a mamma teaching her baby how to hunt…There was a lion scare with one of the babies in the bushes and all of the elephants freaked out and ran to protect it!We were super close to seeing two lioness’ take down a wildebeest – but they caught the scent and ran away before she could get close enough.A pride of sleepy lions – we got a ticket here for getting to close…Mara sunsets – beats the Caribbean every day of the week.
On camping in Kenya.
The tents are constructed of a thick canvas that blocks light, wind, rain, noise and insects. They are not your typical Coleman pup tents made from light water repellent fabric.
I made the biggest mistake in not bringing ear plugs. The sun and your fellow travelers are your alarm clock, and I might have slept peacefully if it wasn’t for the very unique animal noises that came from
my imagination conjuring up leopards creeping around our tent, hyena’s chuckling to each other in their own little laughing language and baboons losing their minds from said leopard trying to pick them off as midnight snack. These were the most common, but add to this various birds, and the sounds from bushes moving and little feet walking around and you are sufficiently freaked out.
Grateful for all these things I did bring:
- High top sneakers (way to hot for full trek boots)
- Long Pants tight to the ankles
- High socks
- A hoodie (for middle of the night bathroom runs, to shield from dangling webs)
- Waterproof rain jacket
- A headlamp (same as above, generator’s only run for power/light during meals)
- Powdered laundry detergent
- A rope for a clothesline / a few pins
- Water bottle
- Hand sanitizer wipes (dust + germs)
- Make-up remover wipes for general refreshing
- Toilet paper for every toilet (including squatting behind the truck on long game drives)
- Bug spray
- A full sized towel
- A sleeping bag for low temperatures
- Dry shampoo (I despise cold showers followed by a few hours of cold wet hair)
- First aid kit (Tylenol, band aids, Polysporin, anti-diarrhea pills, tweezers for splinters/tiny thorns)
Overall, this was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. Every experience in this place beat my expectations for a country as wonderful as Kenya. The people are proud of where they live and incredible (the friendliest of any country I’ve ever been to). The scenery is stunning, and driving anywhere you are constantly seeing something new, interesting and different. Traveling with a small group, in an overland truck and camping in tents is an affordable way to go on safari for anyone who wants to experience some of the greatest countries in Africa. There are plenty of other ways to see it – on private safari’s, in land cruisers, luxury tented camps and lodges, but camping in such a place just feels right. You probably could guess I was fearful of golden orb spiders (among others even larger) and giant millipedes. You will be happy to know I seen none of the above or really any spiders (tons of webs) and can only remember one mosquito bite on my hand. Overall, about a 1/16 of the insects you see camping in Nova Scotia and none of the damp humidity, glorious.
All I can say, is I am incredibly thankful to Intrepid Travel and Flight Centre for sponsoring me on this great adventure.
I was on the Kenya Wildlife Safari with Intrepid Travel. Want to go?