We flew from Dubai down south of the equator to Nairobi, Kenya landing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, just two months after the tremendous fire that destroyed the arrivals terminal in August last year. And yet, of all the arrivals we experienced in our around-the-world trip, the processes here of immigration, customs and picking up luggage was – by far – the most professional, the most efficient, the most streamlined and – wait for this – the quickest. Good on Kenya; good on Kenyans! After an overnight in Nairobi (at the famous, Fairmont The Norfolk), we were up the next morning making our way through the endless bumper-to-bumper traffic – and massive Marabou cranes that roost on every billboard – that is commuting in the capital to Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, which acts as the hub for flights into the Mara and Serengeti. We were pulled over by the police during our trip after our driver ran a traffic circle he shouldn’t have but after a scolding we were on our way again. Unlike Amman, the traffic in Nairobi while horrific is quite proper in a good olde English fashion. The city is currently finishing a ring road, which when completed, should alleviate much of the dreadful downtown traffic as all trucks will be routed via the ring.
We investigated several options for our safari and toyed with using Gap Adventures initially but knew packaged group trips were … well … not our thing. We wanted a small luxury tent safari experience that was off the beaten path, eco-friendly, gave back to the community it was situated in, and non-‘touristy’. While we ultimately narrowed it down to two choices – Fairmont Masai Mara Camp and Encounter Mara – it was Encounter Mara that won the day. The camp sits within the Mara Naboisho Conservancy and offers but 12 luxury tents. By no means cheap (but really, what safari is?!), it was awesome from start to finish, and I simply cannot say enough good things about the team that welcomed us into the Mara and the good work being done to sustain the wildlife and support the roughly 4,900 traditional Masai families living within the conservancy.
We had Encounter Mara arrange our transit to Wilson and our flights into the Mara and we were soon airborne with Air Kenya heading west and south – the roughly 45 minutes – to the airstrip at Ol Seki near the Tanzanian border.
I don’t think anything can ever prepare you for your first safari. It is a mind-blowing experience that is difficult to appropriately capture in words. We landed, were met by our Masai guide, Moses, in full Masai warrior clothing, hopped in our Land Rover and within a minute of leaving the airstrip were surrounded by wildlife of every sort. A zoo this was not!
We picked our way through the scrub and bush, over and down several escarpments and arrived on a plain to enjoy lunch under an acacia tree. By early afternoon we arrived at camp and were met by Chris and his team, briefed on several camp ‘rules’ – which included no walking to/from the dining tent without an armed guard from dusk to dawn; no wandering past the cut grass line in front of our tent; showering procedures – water is heated and then hauled by hand to fill a 40 litre canvas bag that fed the shower in our tent; wear sunscreen and repellant; spray your tent with repellant just before leaving for dinner – and how each day of our 4 day stay would evolve.
- guard escorts you to dining tent for 0600hrs
- coffee/tea and biscuits before morning safari
- morning safari followed by full-on english breakfast/brunch around 1130hrs (these were out on safari with an advance crew from the camp setting up tables/chairs and mobile kitchen)
- return to camp and rest during heat of the day (I would often go to the hide then)
- afternoon tea and snacks – and placement of sundowner drink orders [Tusker beer for me!]- at dining tent 1530hrs
- evening safari with sundowner on the plain
- return to camp 1900hrs
- shower and dress for dinner; guard escorts you to dining tent
- dinner and drinks and conversation and campfire
- guard escorts you back to tent and zips you in (whenever you want)
Time at camp was marvellous and I shall never forgot the nighttime skies with more stars than I’ve seen in many a year (not to mention the constellations all being out of whack due to the southern hemisphere). And at night, the sounds of the animals – who roamed freely through the camp. On our second night, it was actually frightening as the animals (hippos we were told the next morning) where chowing down right behind our tent. I mean I could hear them breathing right above my head. Freaky wild! Especially knowing all that is separating you from them is the canvas wall of the tent.