Published: November 25th 2007November 23rd 2007
My last day in the Mara started with an early morning game drive, supposedly to catch the predators still out hunting. The Maasai guards and cooks at the camp helped push start the landrover, since no garage had been open when we got back last night, and we were off.
Still no leopards or cheetah, but we did see a group of Spotted Hyena! The Mara population contains animals much larger than anywhere else in the world and a research team is in the reserve to try and establish why. They certainly looked impressive.
There were not many other vehicles about, but one alas was a big overlander type. Huge they are and very high off the ground. I'd hate being stuck in one. Even more unfortunately, they chose to come to the hippo look out point at the same time as we did, so I found myself with a large group of loud tourists dressed in bright colours, the combination of which immediately sent the hippos as deeply underwater as they could get! I don't blame them, and soon left them behind.
After a breakfast back at camp we returned to the Mara for the last time. My guide was expecting a parcel from HQ to arrive by aeroplane containing sufficient funds to get us back to Nairobi and to repair the land rover, but we had the chance to have a game drive en-route to the air strip.
The Mara is unfenced, so access to it is easy, but this time we finally opted to enter by one of the official gates; the Talek Gate. The gate is small, but it still feels good to pass beneath it. I didn't expect to be seeing it again quite so soon however. We'd got barely a kilometer into the reserve when a KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) land rover pulled us over. On the side was a banner proclaiming that it had been sponsored by Friends of Conservation, but I didn't feel inclined to mention my connection at that point. They escorted us back to the gate where I discovered that our permit for the reserve had expired a week before!
My guide managed to convince the rangers to let us in again by promising to update it when we got back to Nairobi.
We didn't see much more game on that trip, but I got some nice photos of aircraft taking off from the little dirt strip. Soon enough we were once again encamped in the car park of the Mara Intrepid's Lodge.
I think were stayed about two hours, while various aircraft came and went. The staff at the lodge kept shooting us dirty looks for clogging up their car park, not buying anything, and leaving our engine on the entire time. I prowled around, looked at their museum, took photos and resisted the urge to further lower the tone by going barefoot.
Eventually I agreed to pay their petrol to get them home as it was obvious to everyone that the packet was not going to arrive. We headed back out of the Talek gate and made our way slowly eastwards towards the Sekenani gate where there was actually a garage. The road between the two gates consists of mud and rock gullys, steep drops and absolutely no other vehicles.
By this point the cooling system of the vehicle had failed completly and the engine overheated and stalled four times on the trip back. One time smoke was actually pouring out of the footwell. Each time we were fortunate to be on a slope and push started it, the last with help from a passing Maasai moran.
In Sekenani, a tiny village consisting of a few shops and bars, that is bypassed by virtually 100% of the passing tourists, we dropped the vehicle off at the garage and settled down to wit for them to fix it.
I was 'adopted' by an elderly (and very short) Maasai man, and he showed me around town, insisted I take his photo, and then presented me with his walking stick. In return he just wanted some sort of gift from my country, and I eventually turned up one of the all metal Canon pens that I'd got at Jonathan Scott's lecture the day before I left London. He loved it! I also payed him 300 KSH to get the sheath on his knife fixed, but I still think I got the better end of the deal. Unfortunatly I couldn't offer more, since the vehicle repairs were costing thousands!
I ended up spending around six hours in that tiny town! Mostly sat at a local bar sipping ginger beer and discussing politics, life, and varuous other topics with the locals and one of my guides. I even had a drink with the (now off-duty) KWS ranger who had stopped us in the park earlier.
Towards the end of the afternoon we had Nyama Choma (bbq'd goat) at a local cafe. I was very impressed when they brought a jug of hot water and some soap around to each of us beforehand. I just hoped the chef was as hygenic.
I really enjoyed my time in Sekenani. I had the chance to chat to people I would never have otherwise met, and got an insight into local life that few other tourists ever do.
As it began to get dark we set off in a supposedly repaired vehicle. Our guide had suggested returning to the campsite, but I and one of the others overuled him on the basis that we didn't want to go backwards, didn't think the vehicle would survive that road again, and didn't want to be staranded where there was no traffic to help. Instead we took the main road to Narok.
Reassuringly there was sporadic traffic on the road as we bounced along it. Unfortunately, when the vehicle finally gave up the ghost just 27kms from Sekenani, that traffic appeared to have ceased. We tried ourselves to start it, but the concensous was that this time it was dead for good. At this point I wasn't surprised to find that I was the only one with a decent torch.
As most of you reading this know, I'm over six foot. This is not a comfortable length to be when sleeping in a landrover, but I managed it all the same. Admittedly I moved around a bit, starting on the floor, then eventually finding a good position sprawled across two seats in adjacent rows.
In all I dozed, and shifted around, and dozed some more for 4 hours before another vehicle showed up and rescued us. It was a very modern land rover and towed us to a bar/hotel another 10-20 kms down the road. For 5000 KSH he offered to tow us all the way to Narok, but my guide couldn't afford that and being less than certain I'd see any of my extra monies again, I didn't want to either. In the end it was agreed that he'd take me and one other to Narok for 2000 KSH and drop us at a hotel.
He drove very fast, often over 110 km/h, slowing only for the numerous wildlife caught in his headlights. On each occasion he'd switch off all lights and proceed in the dark until past them. Effective but scary. We reached Narok after midnight and were dropped at the Terminal Hotel, where I'd had lunch on the way in a few days before.
The hotel was shut, but a night watchman promised to keep an eye on me while my guide sort a taxi. Eventually a taxi was found and he took us to a delightful (anything would have been at that point) little hotel that provided bed and breakfast with en-suite rooms for just 800ksh a night. I took the last one and my guide went and found somewhere else.
The following morning after a very good, english style breakfast we caught a matatu back to Nairobi and a taxi back to the hostel. I went back to bed almost immediately.