After our overnight flight, which had been largely incident-free, we arrived at Nairobi International Airport and were transferred to Wilson Airport for our flight to the Masai Mara. The flight took just 40 minutes, although Alex at least was unable to appreciate the views as she promptly fell asleep following several sleepless nights of excitement/nerves in the run-up to the wedding!
We arrived at the Mara shortly before lunch and expected to be driven straight to Richard's Camp, where we would be staying for the next 4 nights. However, our guide Leng, who met us at the airstrip, had other ideas and drove us first to the Mara river, where we had a good look at some hippos wallowing in the shallows and a croc basking in the sunshine on the rocks. From here we took a meandering route to the camp which took us past warthogs, guinea fowl, crested cranes, bee eaters (bird), water bucks, Thompson's gazelles, impala, wildebeest, some zebra (who put on a mating show for us!) and giraffes.
Once at the camp we met our hosts for the next few days, Ed and Charlotte, and were introduced to the other staff. Following
a delicious three-course lunch al fresco, we had a nap in order to rest a little before our evening game drive. Unfortunately, a storm had been brewing and the heavens opened just as we left the camp, so we retreated under cover and amused ourselves before another three-course meal in front of the fire, preceded by Pimm's and vodka tonics. After dinner and considering that we had not seen enough game for our first day, Ed decided that we would go on a night drive. 5 minutes in, we were stuck in an enormous rut and Leng and some of the other guys from the camp had been radioed to come and rescue us. Just as they arrived, we spotted a lion pride on the prowl - 8 lions including 2 cubs, not far from the jeeps. Needless to say, we stayed safely in the back whilst Ed and the guys tried to free us from our rut! We then tried to get a closer look at the lions and some hippos grazing on the plains before a leopard was spotted under a tree. The leopard was absolutely beautiful and as we gazed at her for a good 5 minutes,
no-one could have anticipated the distressing yet spectacular sight which was to follow. Simon heard some noise to the left of the vehicle and suddenly we saw a lionness come out of the darkness and charge straight in front of the jeep towards the leopard. She tried to get away, but the rest of the pride was to the right of us, hemming her in, and in a matter of seconds she was caught by the lions and killed, following a scuffle right next to our jeep. Alex was pretty shaken by the events as it was awful to see such a beautiful creature reduced to a limp ragdoll in the jaws of the powerful and impressively-built lions. They truly are awesome killing machines.
We returned to the camp and our luxurious tent to rest for a 5.30am wake-up call the next day and to reflect on what we had seen already.
We entered into the spirit of safari with an early morning game drive (pre-breakfast!) and set out in darkness with Leng and our spotter called Sadera. Straight away he picked out a cervil cat, a labrador-sized cheetah type animal, some distance away on
the plain. We spent the next few hours driving around the Mara, which we seemed to have to ourselves except for a brief encounter with another two tourist jeeps while viewing elephants. We also spotted a bachelor group of lions, topi (type of antelope), eland antelope, dik-diks, white backed vultures, an eagle, white storks, jackels, buffalos and had a fleeting glimpse of a hyena. Needless to say we were amazed by the amount of game around, which we were informed was helped by the recent wet weather in the area.
We returned to camp for a late breakfast and a rest before heading out for a short drive to see the hippos again, bathing themselves in the river to keep cool. Lunch was taken back at the camp and it should be said that all the food that we were given was excellent, especially washed down by some fine Chilean wine. After lunch we were treated to a hot bath which is set up under the trees - very romantic! After a much needed sleep we set off again to find the game as it got dark. We managed to find a lone male lion who wasn't fussed by
our presence so close to him. We also took a short drive to a solitary male elephant before stopping for cocktails while parked up back next to the lion to watch the sun go down. Throughout the day we also managed our first sightings of a lilac breasted roller, vervet monkey, mongooses (we're undecided about the plural of mongoose) and a grey heron.
Another early start - you may as well make the most of the experience - as we were out before breakfast trying to spot wildlife in the headlights of the jeep. After a good drive seeing loads of wildlife either starting or finishing for the day we stopped for a bush breakfast. Leng and Sadera produced a great spread, including a bottle of champagne for us to have buck fizz to start the day - no need to share with those two as they don't drink alcohol as they are warriors - shame!! We managed to spot some hyenas after breakfast with a couple of cubs which actually look quite cute compared to the adults. We also saw our first feeding frenzie as Sadera spotted vultures circling in the distance. On arrival we
saw a hyena leaving the scene with a zebra leg in its mouth leaving the hooded and lapet-faced vultures to fight over what was remaining. Hanging around were also an eagle, jackels and maribou storks all hoping to get a bite to eat - fat chance with the vultures scoffing everything. Slightly unexpected was seeing a large group of baboons (which Alex kept accidentally calling buffoons!) making their way over the plains and we also saw a handful of ostriches wandering about.
Before making our way back to camp for lunch we stopped in on a Masai village called a manyatta where the people live a very basic life based around rearing livestock. We were shown how they build houses out of wood and mud, make fire and were shown around a tiny hut which housed around six people as well as young calves and chickens. In addition, we were treated to singing and dancing and shown the crafts that they had made (as well as being treated to some exorbitant prices). Fortunately, they didn't offer us any food while we were there. During our bush breakfast, Alex had asked Leng what he would normally eat for breakfast when
he was back home; he replied that he would probably have some cow's blood, possibly mixed with milk. Needless to say, whilst in the hut when we were given a Masai gourd and told to give it a sniff (because stones had been placed in the bottom to keep milk fresh), we were a little hesitant in doing so!
At lunch we met Richard, the owner of the camp, with his partner Liz and 3 year old son Willoughby. Another afternoon nap was followed by another game drive to catch the last of the day's sunlight. We were still amazed at all the new species that we were discovering, including bush buck, spring hare, verreux eagle, cocqui francolin (bird), bustard as well as many of the previously seen animals and birds. Once the sun had gone down we were driven to the river where we were treated to a romantic dinner under the stars. Even better, we were right next to the area (but in a safe location!) where the hippos emerge from the river to commence their night time grazing. Seeing as it was pitch black we could only hear them for most of the time but lighting
them up with the spot light gave us a good view, especially when a particularly nervous hippo would bolt back into the river at high speed causing an immense crash of water.
Another pre-dawn start and bush breakfast were enjoyed. It also seemed to be a bird spotting day as we saw a malachite kingfisher, woodland kingfisher, snake eagle, tawny eagle, paradise flycatcher and a buzzard. We also saw heart bucks, a terrapin and owl-eared foxes for the first time. Sadera was on the ball again and spotted a male lion walking far off in the distance. This was rather strange behaviour during the day (as the lions normally rest until sundown) and we went to investigate. We shortly spotted another male lion following the first at a distance. Sadera and Leng believed that they had had a fight over females (typical!) and both were looking very sternly towards each other but no further fighting ensued. The following lion started to make his way back and we followed him to find another two male lions so they must have been having a fight to assume dominancy in their group. Leng took great pleasure in parking extremely
closely to the lions, much to Alex's discomfort but Simon was enjoying the great photo opportunities. After admiring the lions for a while we were taken up into the hills slightly to find white rhino. This was easier than you would think as there are no wild rhino in the Mara due to poaching. The is a programme going on where a few rhinos are allowed to roam part of the Mara during the day, under the constant guard of rangers, before being safely locked up for the night. Why they don't run away we couldn't fathom.
The evening drive was very memorable as Sadera managed to spot a cheetah - the only one we saw on the trip - finishing off a hare that it had caught and having a laze in the late afternoon sun. Again Leng parked the jeep rather too close for Alex's liking but giving us a great view of such a beautiful creature. Leng also mentioned that cheetah are not afraid to jump on top of jeeps for the purpose of getting a better view of the surrounding area!
It was our last day in the mara so we
made the effort to get up early and we were rewarded with new sightings of pale and dark chanting goshawks (more birds) as well as a red-legged spurfowl. After breakfast we were taken to the airstrip by Sadera and Leng, spotting many animals on the way including the hippos, warthogs and baboons and having a laugh. Our flight back to Nairobi gave us a great view of the Mara as we departed.
We were transferred to our hotel for the night in Nairobi, a very nice guesthouse with four poster bed and a bottle of champagne on the house with our dinner as we were newlyweds. The afternoon and evening were spent relaxing and trying to catch up on sleep that we had missed due to wanting to see the spectacular scenery and animals in the Masai Mara. If anyone is thinking of a safari then we would recommend Kenya and definitely Richard's camp - you could easily get used to being waited on hand and foot!!!
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