Most people come to safaris with the ideas of seeing cute animals in the wild. We came to see animal killings, river crossings, sexual encounters, and specific elusive animals such as leopards and cheetahs. With Eddie Murphy’s doppelgänger, Evans, as our driver we we’re sure we’d see some of those things. We started in a very comfortable expat compound in Nairobi and drove past huts made of cow dung and sticks, various animals we had previously only seen in zoos, and into our luxury tent at the Masai Siria. Throughout the drive we were already saw wildebeest, gazelle, zebras, baboons and many others without being in any official game park. Most of these were seen not to far from the main highway, grazing fertile lands.The last 2 hours was a seemingly unpredictable road given the lack of infrastructure and numerous rocks, potholes and ditches. Even with the huge tourism money that flow through the game parks of Kenya the greedy corrupt government has been unable to finish and/or start roads towards their one of the world’s finest game parks and towards luxury accommodations.
Our accommodation was Mara Siria a quick 10 minute drive outside the Oloololo Gate (one of 5 gates in the game park). The camp was full of giraffe, wildebeest, warthogs, and zebra. The tent was quite spacious and had it’s own bathroom. To our surprise there was a flush toilet, bedside tables with lamps, and a veranda with a beautiful view of the Masai Mara and the Mara River. Even after a game drive we still felt as if we were in the wild. At night we heard hyenas whooping, hippos fighting, and zebras munching on the grass outside the tent. Electricity was received through solar powered panels and water for showers were heated on request. We nearly had the entire grounds to ourselves as tourism was hurting.
Ebola, terrorism and tourism
Ebola and terrorism have all but shot tourism in Kenya and the industry and both nights we were at the camp there were only 2 other tents occupied. This was a huge disappointment especially since the Ebola affected regions are in West Africa, over a 7 hour flight from Kenya. That would be a further distance than from New York to Los Angeles. While terrorism is a huge concern in Kenya there are only specific regions affected. Terrorism headlines are mainly isolated to Northern Kenya especially the northern coast north of Mombasa near the Somalian borders. In addition Nairobi is a target for Al-Shabaab jihadist terrorist group that are opposed to the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia. Given Nairobi’s role to regional stability and security it is unlikely Kenya will withdraw from Somalia any time soon. While ebola and terrorism continue to affect tourism, it is also the greatest reason to come now. Ebola is NOT in Kenya and prices of accommodation are declining as the industry continues to take a hit. At the moment of writing there are more Ebola cases in America than Kenya.
After the long drive we had lunch, took a nap and had a dip in the plunge pool overlooking the river and the game reserve. This was easily one of our favorite pool experiences! Soon after we prepared for our first safari drive, paid the $160 24 hour entrance tickets, and made our way to the Mara Triangle. The specific gate we entered was the area with out highest concentration of animals in the Mara. Within 45 minutes we spotted 3 safari vehicles watching 2 male lions sleeping. We stayed for about 20-30 minutes and soon realized these boys weren’t getting up any time soon. We drove forward looking for a female lion and not too long after did we spot 4 more lions, 3 younger males and a female. Naturally we stopped in front of them took pictures and watched their movements. They crossed our paths only a few feet from our van, crossing the road to sit on a small hill. Of course we saw other animals but mainly the very common ones such as warthog, elephants, and zebra. Our time was spent sitting and watching the cats in their natural habitats. It was nearly 630pm and with heavy restrictions and huge fines we wanted to make our way out of the park before the 7pm curfew. In the distance it was beginning to rain, we could hear thunder, and we drove towards a rainbow forming in the direction of our camp our first day was done and we had seen more lions than we ever dreamed we could have, even if it was a common site in the Mara.
We slept soundly in our tent after an exhausting but memorable first day. Evans told us that our first day was just an appetizer and that our second day would be the full buffet. On our first day we were unable to take any good pictures of the two male lions because they were sleeping in a field covered by high grass. Once in awhile we would get a yawn and a change in sleeping position. Our second day we drove past the same location of the lions near the gate and saw one of the males sitting in a ditch near a puddle water, face full of flies and panting heavily from the day heat. Next to it was a kill, a dead zebra, half eaten, the bum and belly torn up and the head missing. We assumed the brother lion was somewhere next to the ditch or in a dug-up tunnel. The present lion was not at all affected by the two vehicles next to him, he crossed the road back and forth before settling in the ditch on the other side of the road. It was exciting to see a male lion with a huge mane so close to us. We were early in our drive so we decided 30-45 minutes was enough. We we’re out to see more exciting things.
We went off-road and did a loop into leopard territory, Evans told us to keep an eye out for spotted cats. Being a bit bushy and with lots of scrub and trees it was difficult to see anything other than wildebeest and zebra. Camille having one more eye than me thought she spotted something in a bush. “See-ma-ma (Swahili for some),” we said. Evans slowly backed up and confirmed what we saw a leopard only after it jumped out of the bush and hurried away towards a group of trees and scrub. We didn’t get our picture but we checked off another one of the big 5, only missing the rhino this trip. We saw there was a fresh kill, a topi, in the bush that the leopard was feasting on. We would come back several times throughout the day to see whether our cat came back. Sadly, it didn’t.
Aside from the cats the residents of the Mara include Thompson gazelle, impala, hyenas (only spotted ones), elephants, rhino (which we didn’t see), jackals, giraffe, and numerous others plains animals. In the rivers you can spot crocodiles lurking amongst families of hippos bobbing their heads in and out of the water. In the skies, on the trees, feeding on carcasses, and all the places in between are various species of birds- storks, heron, eagles, vultures, and rollers. You would need a pretty comprehensive field guide to recognize all these animals or in our case a very knowledgeable guide! Fortunately for us we had one. Thanks Evans. Although we saw no kills, no mating, and no river crossings we’re hopeful to see a different sort of landscape and animal scene further north in the Samburu National Reserve and Sweetwaters.