East Africa never ceases to amaze me ! Arriving in Nairobi is always interesting - a typical bustling African Town. For those who haven’t been, traffic is bad even on a Sunday and it can take a long time to get from the airport to a hotel, so always necessary to arrive a day before your tour. However Jomo Kenyatta is a relatively small airport by international standards and an organized taxi rank.
Expect to pay $US 25 for a taxi to most hotels in Nairobi... definitely cheaper than organizing transfer beforehand. Travel tip ,,, when you arrive at the airport you will need to swop some of your Dollars into local currency,, I found negotiating at the airport between the different banks cheaper than the hotels,, also you get a better rate if you swop $US 100 at a time. Otherwise enjoy the ride to your hotel even if it slow, it is a good introduction to Africa and African Town life as you go through a few different districts.
I met my group at Kivi Milimani Hotel in Nairobi and like all pre-deparutre meetings we went over the basics to make sure everyone was prepared and had Anti Malaria and sleeping bags ect... I had a nice mixed group with everyone excited about the days ahead.
This trip kicks off with a drive to Lake Nakuru National Park., on the way we passed various viewing points of the Great Rift Valley, making regular stops at viewing points. The Great rift valley has some of the most beautiful and classically African Landscape that I have seen on the continent, even though it was a somewhat cloudy day, each viewing point was full of eye candy and fantastic pictures and of course with all the stops we got plenty of time to mingle with the locals and try our negotiating tactics, trying out Swahili always breaks the ice.. I would advise anyone who does this tour to take the first day as a practice day in terms of mingling with the locals. Get a feeling of what is a good price in terms of buying the various bangles, carvings, Masai blankets ect. The locals expect negotiating however I always advise being fare about it. There is some beautiful stuff mostly hand carved available at the markets on the way.
With this trip we usually stop at a Children’s Orphanage on the way, however due to the mud, there was no way to get the vehicle in. We did stop at an orphanage later in the trip to make up for it. Just before Lunch we made stop at the Town of Nakuru to buy supplies.. So while the guides were out buying supplies we went for a walk around the town and markets. One of my fellow travelers had forgotten to bring Malaria prevention tablets, so we went to find a pharmacy to buy some.. While we were there we met a Masai Mara elder who was also buying some medicine for his children,, through a translator we established he was 98, and in excellent health. If you look at the Masai Mara Diet of meat, Milk and blood it puts modern medicine on its ear, it was a very interesting conversation and the girls on our group loved the traditional wear. Another travel tip, no photos of Masai people without their permission. Some will allow you for a sum of money but this old man was old School and he made that clear with the first sign of a camera. I think it made the experience for all of us more engaging as the cameras stayed in the bags.
Onto Lake Nakuru and we were fortunate to be able to set up camp in the Park.. Sometimes you have to camp outside the fence so we were quite lucky. We had the local troop of baboons view us with great interest in the trees above as we pitched out tents and ate lunch as herd of buffalo grazed close by. We did a fantastic afternoon game drive and had ample opportunities to get great photos of Giraffe and Rhino.. the cats eluded use but we managed to see quite a few tracks that got our interest going. I think the best experience in this park was a pack of Hyena living in an old Warthog’s hole near our camp. As the sun was setting we were amazed to see quite a number of adults and their pups come out of the same hole, who knows how deep that hole was .. On the outside it looks really insignificant.
After Nakuru on Day 3 we spent the morning at a nearby village, it is a mix of all sorts of the different Kenyan Tribes, we were taken around by the Village nurse who had dedicated her life to uplifting this village and in particular the children and women. Because this village is a mix of different tribes it was interesting learning about the different housing structures they use, the Masai Mara will always build their houses very differently to the other tribes. The girls in our group really enjoyed the different women’s projects that we visited and even got involved in the different crafts going on. I was relegated to group photographer at this point,, just as well as my embroidery and beading needs some work. As simple as these projects are you will always be taken by how far the few dollars goes in a sub Saharan village. The kids are always the highlight of any village and greet all visitors with smiles and songs. With the soccer world cup coming it was easy to communicate in the language of who is better - Messi or Rooney.
Onto Navisha and this is a welcomed bit of comfort, the camping facilities are definitely a lot more comfortable, a nice long hot shower to clean up and even a swim and a cold local beer “ Tusker” , Kenyans believe that the only way to drink beer is warm, I don’t drink beer but I enjoyed my travelling friends (one being an Irishman ) debating with a local the idea of a warm beer. They do serve cool ones when you ask. From base camp we visited Hells Gate National Park where you have the option to do a bicycle safari, this park is known for its cheetah population and we were lucky to see 2 as we entered the gate. No lions.. So you are safe on the bicycle. It is a very interesting park as it is held sacred to many a Masai Mara and the guides will fill you in no doubt about the various fables surrounding the different rocky out crops which are quite surreal. It has hot springs as well and a walk down the gorge gets the blood going.
Day 5 was what made the trip for me, from Navisha we head to Loita Hills in the heart of the traditional Masai Mara areas. This was the whole reason of the trip for me. We went to stay a night in a very remote village that it far from the usual touristy circuit. Getting into this particular village was quite an adventure with regular stops to get out and push, we had a bit of rain and some of the rivers we crossed were flowing, out truck held us proud but a few travelers learned the hard way where not to stand when pushing a truck through mud,, make sure you are not the guy behind the wheel. The mud and sweat was worth it. We set up camp and met the local Masai headman who walked us down to one of his villages, along the way we learned about the various plants that Masai use for their day to day dietary and medical needs, they only believe in visiting a hospital or doctor at the very last resort... from a herbal perspective this was quite interesting as a lot of the plants did have proven medical properties. Masai Village life is quite a complicated affair in terms of how it works... I think to understand it you have to see that the traditions have developed to work with a very wild and often cruel environment... although the Kenyan government is trying to make changes a lot of the Masai still hold onto their beliefs very firmly. We were explained the basic workings of a village and the family dynamics and escorted around the village and surrounding bush by the young warriors.. These are Masai who have not yet passed into the adult or elder phase of their life. The young warriors spend some time living outside the village in the bush. I enjoyed this as being a man they were keen to see my spear throwing skills and knob carry skills for fending off lion ect ,, it was quite a laugh and broke the ice,, while we were walking these young guys most between 14 and 20 spoke a bit about their aspirations.. Some were in school and had dual dreams.. of course passing their warriorship to gain community respect, but there were other dreams of law and politics and of course and most people know Masai are remarkable athletically built,, no ways I could jump as high or even keep up with them on a jog.
In the evening after dinner the village elder who was very well spoken gave us a lecture on the finer points of the Masai and their workings and also where they saw themselves going into the future. Many of my fellow clients engaged with him in a lively debate, I think what made the debate was the Masai elders daughter was there, she also engaged with us, she was in University in Nairobi so was somewhat modernized but still very much Masai at heart, it was interesting to get a young Masai\' point of view and especially a woman as many African societies are very male dominated. At the end of the evening I think everyone agreed it was one of the best cultural experiences we had ever done, sitting around a huge roaring log fire with a Masai chief and his young warriors and daughter and talking about the ways of a tribal people under an Africa sky is definitely a memory to treasure.
Into the MARA....
After our cultural experience in the Masai we were all ready for the wildlife highlight,, and hopefully the big 5. The drive into the actual park took us through more Masai country and then suddenly out of nowhere comes a gate and marking that we are now entering the Wildlife conservancy,, although there are animals all over the Masai certain areas are marked for wildlife grazing.
Our first sighting was a baby elephant that had unfortunately lost its mother. We did report it in and hopefully the young fellow was rescued as we were told he would be and relocated or looked after because he looked desperately lost. The more we drove into the Mara the more wildlife revealed themselves on the endless grass plains. The plains makes wildlife viewing a treat as it is much easier to see the animals. We saw plenty of buck, Zebras and wildebeests but the lions were what eluded us until the last afternoon.... suddenly as we drove on the outskirts of a river bed 3 young male lions revealed themselves. They were huge and gave us ample opportunities to photograph. We carried on driving and then a came across a pride of female lions. Again plenty of opportunities. What I found quite astonishing was after seeing the lions we drove a short distance and came across some young Masai men tending to their herd of goats and cows armed only with a spear.. Shepherds in the true sense. It was not the time of the migration but between the Lake Nakuru, Lake Navisha, Hells Gate National Park and the Masai Mara we saw out heart’s content of animals. The only thing I did not see on this trip was a leopard, always the most elusive but that’s the thrill of the Safari and that is what will keep me going back.
Day 8 – And Back to Nairobi after another early morning Game Drive,, I decided to check into a good hotel as I needed to treat myself to a good night a good steak at the “ Carnivore” Restaurant in Nairobi.... a chance to say good bye to my fellow travelers some of which were carrying onto the Serengeti on our 8 Day Serengeti Trail.
I unfortunately needed to get to South Africa and head office. Will be back at the end of the year, and hopefully see my East African Leopard :)