Kenya part 2

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Africa » Kenya
March 3rd 2014
Published: March 3rd 2014
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Feb 13

The next destination was Encounter Mara Eco camp - about a 6 hour drive away so it was an early start at 730am. It was a back track to Lake Navaisha and then a right towards the Masai Mara. Along the way we had two toilet stops, conveniently attached to curio shops. At the second one, we were entertained by yellow village weaver birds building nests in an Acacia tree. The roadside viewing was interesting although there was an increasing amount of garbage on the roads. Lots of tiny stalls selling vegetables - and the locals certainly didn't appreciate having their photos taken. It was pretty easy to figure out what their hands gestures meant. Lots of wildlife viewing with the most spectacular being giraffes in the distance - looking like orange cranes moving among the trees.

Daniel had warned us that the last 80 kms of the road would be rough - and he wasn't kidding. We actually drove on tracks beside the road for much of the trip as they were smoother than the road. It was surprising that the roads were in such a bad condition as this was the main highway to the Masai Mara, a huge tourist destination for safaris and game viewing

Finally we pulled up beside two jeeps from Encounter Mara and met our Masai driver/guides - Daniel and Dickson. Encounter Mara Eco camp is one of 7 camps located on the privately owned Mara Naboisho Conservancy (mara Naboisho means " coming together" in Swahili and the conservancy was initiated by the Maasai themselves and established to create a wide life conservation and tourism area that supports the livelihoods of the over 500 landowners and surrounding communities. With over 200 square Kms, the conservancy has one of the highest densities of wildlife in the world and it is part of the wildlife migration corridor of the Serengeti Masai Mara Ecosystem.

Our new jeeps were open sided with three rows of seats (only 6 people per jeep so we each had a window seat) and tiered towards the back . It was a short drive until we were actually on the conservancy and treated to a picnic lunch under an Acacia tree. Daniel and Dickson took a picnic table from the back of one of the jeeps, a cooler from the front seat and it was chicken wraps and mango juice on the savannah.

Continuing the drive, we arrived at the drop off area of the camp and were met by the lodge manager, Chris. A general briefing on the camp was followed by a safety briefing -always stay on the camp pathways, and NEVER venture out at night without a Masai guard. Each tent had a flashlight which we were to use if we needed to be escorted to the main area - dining hall or lounge. And then we were shown to our tents!!!!! Truly amazing! Each tent (approx 512 sqft sleeping area with a bathroom - double sink, shower and toilet) was custom made in Nairobi and placed over a foundation of elephant dung and straw. (the pathways were also elephant dung). A large lockable chest to place valuables, a whistle in case of emergencies and a large covered porch with a lounger and a couple of chairs. Each tent( 12 in total) faced outwards onto savannah and were totally private.

The first afternoon game drive was spectacular - I don't think I will ever tire of looking at zebras. Various members of antelope family also showed their faces but the best memory is the lions. At first we saw just one lioness resting in the grass but a bit of four wheel driving through a ravine and suddenly we were in full view of 10 members of the local Enesikiria pride. This is the only pride that stays on the conservancy all year - 6 adult females ( functional pride) 4 sub- adult females , 3 adult males who control the pride and 6 young males. There was a lion reference book in the lounge at camp and i THINK I was able to identify Mickey ( notch in left ear) and Sero ( round face and low ears). These lionesses, cubs and young lions didn't seem bothered by us at all - we were as close as 15 feet away from them as they lay in the sun

One of our wishes when we planned this whole trip was that we would be able to get close to the animals if possible ie leave the road -and we certainly got to do that with the four wheel driving through creeks and areas that it didn't seem possible that a vehicle could go. And that was how the mangy lion (? Satoiti) was discovered. He got up and started walking toward our open jeep as soon as we got near him and suddenly there were a couple of female elephants and their calfs running out of the bushes on the other side of the jeep - where to look!!!!

What a day. As the sun went down it got cool and the Masai blankets that were on each of our jeep seats were much appreciated. Our traditional sundowner was served under an acacia tree on the savannah - wine, beer and munches ( chips, peanuts). We turned around and there was the good old lion sitting watching us about 100 meters away. Back in the jeep we watched him leave -along with his lion buddy!!

Back to camp to discover that the beds had been turned down and a hot water bottle placed in each. There was time for quick shower - a 60 litre canvas bucket hanging outside the tent runs to a shower rose above the shower cubicle. This bucket is filled and hand carried to the tent just before we returned from the game drive.

When we were ready to go to main area, we stood on the tent porch and turned on the flashlight to alert guard who accompanied us to the bonfire area . Another traditional part of camp life was pre dinner drinks around the campfire ( the wood was brought in from a sustainable forest elsewhere in Kenya). A choice of beer or wine, some appies and then a sit down dinner. On this night, our group of 12 sat at one table and the other camp guests were at another. Dinner was always three courses- soups, protein , dessert. A little heavy on the protein and a bit lacking in vegetables but very delicious. Dinner was never served before 8pm and so it was straight to bed after. Lights were flashing along the pathways in the compound which indicated a buffalo was in the camp. Our tent faced a large clear area of savannah and it was somewhat disappointing that we heard no night noises - unlike the grunting and snorting that was heard near the other tents where there were more trees.

Feb 14 And so the camp routine began. A wake up knock on the tent at 5.45am and we would gather cameras and water flasks (mineral water was supplied) and be taken to lounge area for a light breakfast - coffee, tea, fruit salad, granola. Then Daniel and Dickson would show up and we left at 6.30am for the morning game drive. It was still quite cool in the morning so we tended to have long sleeves and boots on. Plus we had the Maasai blankets to wrap ourselves in. This was a little confusing as our clothing list had emphasized neutral coloured clothing and here we were, wrapped in pinks, purples and reds- looking good though!

Somehow the morning game drives never had the same excitement or colour as the evening ones although we continued to cross over species in our guide book. The amount of knowledge imparted to us by our guides was phenomenal.

Back to camp about 1030am for brunch - the best meal of the day. This meal was overseen by Sam, Chris's wife and usually comprised a couple of salads, two hot vegetables, meat of some sort, omelettes made to order and sausages or bacon.

The afternoon could be spent relaxing near the tent, reading in the lounge area, or watching wildlife at the salt lick near the camp ( a 2 person blind was built specially for this purpose). It sure seemed that the animals knew you were there though as the zebra or impala stared right at you before running away.

Tea was served at 330pm - coffee, tea, fruit, cakes which sustained us for the afternoon game drive. Today we got to see some of the hippos that live in the Enesikiria River and then it was cross country for a cheetah sighting. Our first view was a gazelle streaking away in front of us, with the cheetah in hot pursuit - the gazelle won. So the cheetah returned and calmly stalked in front of us and then laid down in the shade acting like any other kitty cat.

For dinner tonight, the tables had been moved outside with lighting provided by lanterns hanging from the trees - all very beautiful. This place is one surprise after another. Shortly after everyone was seated, many of the Maasai staff emerged from the firelight in their red blankets and silver jewellery and entertained us with chanting, dance and impressive display of their jumping skills. A great way to see some of their traditions without the regular tourist hoopla. None of us had a camera and that was probably for the best as the memory could not be captured on film.

Feb 15- another of our wishes was to be able to go on a walking safari- we had gone on the first one on Crescent Island and now we had a chance to go on another one at Encounter Mara. Because of safety concerns (predators) only 6 people could go out a time, accompanied by Chris and an armed guard. Our jeep load went on the walk this morning while the other group went on a short game drive followed by a visit to a Masai village. Tomorrow, the groups will reverse.

Before heading out, we were given a safety briefing. Clothing definitely had to be neutral today. Walking had to be quiet and single file and in case of an emergency situation, follow Chris's directions. Under no circumstances were we to leave the group - a predator would target the individual.

While we kind of hoped to see something exciting, the emphasis was on plants, insects and animal tracks. The first insects we can across were safari ants, a type of fire ant. Although we got out of their way in a hurry, the ants managed to crawl up a few legs and do a bit of biting! Chris told us a lot about the various plants and trees and their uses for the local people - leaves used as sandpaper, a deodorant ( leleswha tree), insect repellent branches , a toothbrush tree and even the acacia torch tree (the iconic flat topped tree seen on the savannah) whose buds can be used as a torch when lit - hence the name. Most of the ground we walked over was in the open but one area of bush caused Chris and Dennis some concern- that was the area they had encountered potentially dangerous wildlife before. But today proved to be harmless. We also got introduced to various animal poops, an impala and haartbeest skull and a zebra jawbone. Fresh elephant tracks and a snake track (most likely a black mamba) had nothing living associated with them. Total walking distance was 6.9 km as recorded on Kelly's GPS. What few animals we saw - zebra, impala, gazelles - we'd very shy and wouldn't come any where near us - which is quite the opposite to what happens when driving.

Our group met with Chris and Sam at 3pm for a short tour of the background workings of the camp. Power is provided 24 hours a day from a solar system which charges batteries. There is also a back up generator. The solar powered batteries are good for about 5 days. The water is also solar heated, hence the limited amount we are given for showers. The cool room was built of charcoal walls surrounding water pipes - wind blowing through cools everything.Wood for fires is brought in from a sustainable forest.

There was also a herb and vegetable garden - not a standard for Maasai as they are pastoral, not agricultural. Basically the whole place is self sufficient and generates very little waste. We could all take lessons.

This excerpt is from the Encounter Mara website

100% Solar Power – All tents have plenty of light provided through low-wattage bulbs, run solely off of Solar power. Only the dining tent is equipped with electrical outlets for charging electronics/batteries which is also provided solely through solar power

100% Solar Water Heating – All shower water is heated by efficient solar heaters eliminating the use of wood or charcoal fuel and reducing carbon emissions.

Eco-friendly waste water system – All waste water is treated and filtered before disposal

Eco-friendly cooking and heating methods – All cooking is done on pressurized gas from Nairobi or eco-friendly recycled charcoal briquettes. Camp fires use wood from sustainable timber plantations in Limuru.

Minimal plastic waste – All drinking water is decanted from large 20 litre containers of mineral water from Limuru into glass bottles in the rooms and aluminium bottles for activities to avoid excessive wastage of small plastic bottles. We support the “Throttle The Bottle”campaign – a new initiative to help sensitize East Africans to the menace that plastic waste presents to our lives.

Completely removable infrastructure – All structures in camp are either constructed completely out of canvas, or temporary woodwork. No cement has been used in construction, and no structure is permanent.

Replanting of trees – In order to offset the impact of the use of wood furniture and carbon emissions, one indigenous tree is planted, and nurtured to maturity, in Limuru for every guest that stays at the camp.

Locally Grown Vegetables – All vegetables come from our own vegetable garden in Limuru or from local Limuru farmers, using sustainable agricultural practices, and are supplemented by a small vegetable/herb garden in camp, with no chemical pesticide use.

Biodegradable soaps – In order to avoid contaminating the local ground-water, all guest soap and shampoo is organic, and biodegradable.

Traditional canvas bucket showers This aids in water conservation whilst still providing as much water as requested for hot showers

Laundry Schedule – Planned washing of linen and towels once every three nights or with new guests (unless specifically requested otherwise) helps to conserve water

Rainwater harvesting – Large collection tanks harvest rainwater from roof gutters for multiple uses within camp.

Waste separation – All solid, inorganic waste from camp is separated and categorized to be sent back to Nairobi for recycling or disposal. All organic waste is composted in camp.

Local employment – More than 90% of the staff at Encounter Mara Camp are from the Maasai communities immediately surrounding Mara Naboisho Conservancy.

Support of Koiyaki Guiding School – For every guest that stays at Encounter Mara, one day of school fees is paid for a student at Koiyaki Guiding School.

Support of local conservation – Encounter Mara Camp is affiliated with African Impact and it’s Masai Mara conservation volunteer program . This program involves work with Koiyaki Guiding School, cheetah monitoring with the Kenya Wildlife Trust, lion conservation and research through the Mara Naboisho Lion Project, and community development.

Back to the blog....Giraffes were the subject of the afternoon game drive. It's like the guides plan what we are going to see each day and then go and find it. We did a bit of " herding" of the giraffes to get a lot of them together, but they pretty much went where they wanted and at the speed they wanted. Such graceful creatures.

Time was also spent watching some lionesses - in an attempt to get the jeep closer, Daniel drive over a large bush which made a lot of noise and that scared them back a bit. Oops. The sundowner location was decorated beautifully today - the tree was hung with oil lanterns and 14 camp chairs placed in a row to watch the sunset. As on other days though, the clouds hid the sun before it set properly. Despite the cloud cover though the weather was perfect - nice and warm and no bugs!

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