ROYAL TREATMENT IN THE MAASAI MARA!
My sister is a traveller and lives in England. I am a travel writer based in Vancouver. We are to cross paths in Nairobi, Kenya. She is attractive, charming and firmly parsimonious. Ideal attributes for organising our adventure!
I arrive in the bar of The Aero Club of East Africa, a fine colonial throwback from 1927. The place has a musty smell, perhaps a lingering reminder of port and cigars from another era? Model Tiger Moths hang from the ceiling. Moustachioed pilots and their motley flying machines decorate the walls.
She is already settled into a comfortable chair with a tall vodka and tonic. Nairobi's notoriously unpredictable traffic jams have prompted a decision to stay near Wilson airport, the hub for small planes serving the Maasai Mara. Smart thinking!
Somehow it all fits. A colonial start to a decidedly colonial experience. The little airport is packed with tripods and lenses the size of rocket-launchers-and their khaki-clad owners!
The Maasai Mara Reserve is 1500 sq.kilometers. It contains one of the biggest lion densities in the world. Between July and October two million wildebeest, topi, zebras and Thomson gazelles will up-sticks and migrate to the Serengeti in neighbouring Tanzania. Crocodiles and hyenas will pick off the laggards.
The atmosphere in our little plane is electric. We pass over Maasai herders keeping a tight rein on their cattle. Cameras click. Animals scatter, scared of our moving shadow. There are thought to be 800 elephants in The Reserve but despite increased patrols, poaching is still a major problem.
Tiny airstrips-each with a windsock-pepper the land below. We put down a couple of times to drop passengers off, before reaching our destination. The pricier the camp, the grander the welcome. At our second landing, a bar has been set up behind the waiting jeep. Champagne corks pop. Snacks are laid out on silver salvers.
My sister gives me a "don't expect anything like this where we are going…" look! At the next stop, we are the only people to disembark. Josephat, who will be our guide and driver for the next few days, is waiting in full Maasai regalia. Red checkered one piece shuka (body wrap). Beaded necklace. Beaded belt and beaded wrist-bands. He has a welcoming grin from ear to ear!
We climb into the Toyota Land Cruiser and head off. It is hard to get a handle on the number of camps in "The Mara." Trip Advisor comes up with 93. Piers Winkworth, the charming young owner of "Offbeat Mara" claims the real count is around 200 and growing like mushrooms on a soggy log. We will be the only guests during our four day stay, with a staff of twenty four to focus on our needs! Nice going sis. Few colonials had it this good!
We settle into one of six deluxe wooden-platformed tents (even at full capacity the place only holds twelve). An en-suite bathroom is just behind the zippered canvas wall. Flush toilets for goodness sake! Want a shower after a long game drive? No problem! Josephat will radio ahead. The system will go into overdrive. A chap will magically appear with buckets of hot water, haul them up the pole and wait until they have drained through the shower head inside. How brilliant is that?
There are a couple more details to be sorted out with the camp staff before we set off: What do we want for sundowners? I go with a gin and tonic and sis is predictably back on the vodka! Do we want coffee or tea delivered in the morning? Do we want a bush breakfast and lunch? And yes, we are assured that hot water bottles are standard fare and that Josephat is ours for the duration. "Just tell him when you want to leave and return." It's truly all about us!
Our first jaunt is a huge success. Leopard, cheetah, a large herd of elephants hacking at the few remaining trees around. We are stunned, (as a man, I am actually humbled but won't admit it) by the stamina of a male lion who returns every 10 minutes to service his exhausted mate! Whether we are admiring crocs, buffalo, giraffes or hippos we always seem to be ahead of the game! A credit to our wonderful guide.
The sun is beginning to set. Josephat pulls up under an acacia tree and hauls out a circular leather bag. The silver capped bottles contain our sundowners. A perfect day! Now then…what's for dinner?
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IF YOU GO:
Off Beat Mara: www.offbeatsafaris.com
PHOTOS by Andrew Renton
1. On the lookout
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