When I was leaving for the Masai Mara for my first trip to East Africa’s wilds, friends told me I would be overwhelmed with tears of joy when I first set my eyes on the vast grasslands teeming with animals. My eyes did not go wet – while one was closed, the other stayed glued into my camera’s eyepiece all through. By the end of the trip, I knew I will be spending a good part of my travel time and budget in the continent for years to come. Here’s reliving just a part of the trip with postcards from Mara.
Conservancies are Your Private Reserves
Conservancies in Kenya are like public – private partnerships where large tracts are managed in a sustainable manner. Most have only one lodge or camp; in other words, you are usually by yourself. I stayed at the Porini Mara Camp in the 18,700 acre Ol Kinyei Conservancy – it seemed like one’s private reserve. In conservancies, there are fewer restrictions on going off-road – this allows you to get much closer to the animals. And you can be out for game drives at any time of the day and night. What else can you ask for?
The Thunderstorms Came – And the Animals Froze
We had been warned of wet outings in the park since we were travelling during the short rains season – considered off-season. The rains kept their appointment on the first afternoon itself. It poured cats and dogs (no pun intended), with strong winds sending sprays deep inside our vehicles.
The Masai are a Wonderful Lot
Most of the camp’s staff and guides were Masais – the wild seems to be a part of their lives, so knowledgeable and in sync are they with Nature. Their service is impeccable, and they are fun to be around – always ready with a joke or an anecdote.
Driving with a Punctured Tyre – Lest the Lions Get Us
An antler lying in the undergrowth punctured one of the tyres of our vehicle – but we had no choice but to drive for over 15 minutes before we could change the same. Why? A group of adult lions was resting close by – and it was not safe to get off the vehicle with them around.
Lions Sleep. And Sleep.
Are lions really dangerous? Doesn’t look like it from a distance. Because they seem to just want to lounge and sleep all day – getting animated only when hungry or to stretch their muscles once in a while. Other photographers had told me lions are a very boring lot to shoot – yes, it does test your patience waiting for them to give you the desired shots.
Play Time for Lion Siblings
Lions can sleep for hours, but can also be quite animated when awake. At least the cubs are. Not having stirred all afternoon, I witnessed a pair of siblings come alive in the evening. It was play time – they rolled over each other and got into mock fights with some teasing and love thrown in for good measure. Children will be children.
No matter the species, mothers love their children – and show it. Even if it is the ‘ferocious’ cheetah. For close to two hours, I witnessed a cheetah and her cub at their dinner time. Between bites, the two would lie down, roll over, laugh (yes, they did), stretch in yoga postures and cuddle. Isn’t Nature wonderful?
Is it an Aeroplane? Or a Taxi?
I feel unsettled at the thought of flying – especially in small planes. But one has to overcome such misgivings in Africa; flying is often the best option to get to places. What makes these flights interesting are their schedules – they would take off from, say, Nairobi and then hop at airstrips around Mara dropping and picking passengers. Runways are usually no more than flattened mud tracks. You may have to wait up to an hour beyond scheduled pick-ups. Why? Pilots change the order of ‘airports’ they visit. On my return, I was booked to take off from a strip two hours drive from my camp. The lodge manager called the airline, and told them to pick me from one closer by. Simple. No change of tickets, no charges. Just like calling a taxi.