Maasai Mara, Kenya

STOP 18 | Day 52 to 54 |

Our first glimpses of Africa as we flew into Kenya were breathtaking. To the left we could see the magnificent stature of Mount Kilimanjaro towering above the clouds and to the right the sunburnt landscape continued perpetually into the horizon! It was now we felt like we were finally witnessing those aerial post card images of Africa.

With a few days in Kenya prior to our overland adventure departing we organized a safari trip to the Maasai Mara National Reserve with the aim of catching the largest migration of animals on the planet. This would be our first of many safari trips throughout Africa and we were both very excited. However, before we could think about the Maasai Mara we needed to get safely from the airport into the city for the night. In the airport baggage claim area J managed to negotiate tethering from a shopkeeper’s phone so we could get an Uber. Our hotel, ibis Styles, was located in the Westland area, which is a popular business area with expats and tourists and is quite safe. That evening we decided to grab a quick bite at the rooftop lounge of the hotel, which had both a lounge and sports bar with great views of the city.

The next morning at 5AM we were greeted by our tour guide for our 2 day excursion. Our excursion was a private tour giving us ample space for our luggage and to spread out in the 4×4 mini-van. We headed off and stopped for breakfast at Narok, a small township approximately 2 hours west from Nairobi. From there we headed into the Maasai Mara – the road was largely unpaved, very bumpy and hot! Although the temperatures are cool in the morning and evening (17 degrees Celsius) it can get up to about 29 degrees mid-afternoon. For at least 3 hours the road into the Maasai Mara from Narok was very poor with a 4×4 recommended. We did notice the start of construction of a paved road on our way out (for better or worse that will probably increase tourism and access to this region). Also none of the vehicles are equipped with a/c given the dirt roads! Thankfully, A can sleep in any situation and she was able to sleep away some of the discomfort!

The Maasai Mara National Reserve is a large game reserve connected to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The Reserve covers approximately 1,510 square kilometers and is named after the Maasai people (ancestral inhabitants of the area). “Mara” stands for “spotted” as this is how the area looked from afar given the circles of trees, scrub and savanna that marked the area. Not only is it home to tons of wildlife, the annual migration of wildebeest (~1.5 million), zebra (~350,000) and gazelle (~150,000) migrate through the reserve annually following the seasonal rains. The peak of the migration through the Maasai Mara generally occurs during July to September. Although we were in the first week of October, J was confident through his research we would get to witness at least part of the migration.

Arriving at the Maasai Mara we proceeded through the gates and were excited as we got our first glimpse of wildlife; a giraffe peaking over some trees right at our vehicle (little did we know what we’d have in store). During our full day game drive we saw: elephants, lions, giraffes, wildebeests, zebras, cheetahs, hyenas, ostriches, impalas, gazelles, hippos, crocodiles, jackals, elans, topi and numerous bird species. Some of our most impressive sightings was a pride of lions where the male lion was eating a fresh kill while the females and cubs sat nearby – female lions are responsible for hunting food for the pride while the male defends its territory. Seeing the wildebeests in the midst of the migration was spectacular, with about ~600,000 still in the area and ~100,000 zebras alongside (migration at its peak has about 2 million animals). In order to make the most of our game drive we had lunch packs with us and ate under the shade of a Acacia tree (iconic tree of the Maasai). We also spotted a cheetah relaxing under the shade of some shrubs, unfortunately after some waiting we didn’t see it hunt. There was also a documentary filming truck which sat there all day waiting for the kill that didn’t happen. The park also has sausage trees, named for the white sausage like plants which grow on the limbs – great location to spot a leopard.

That evening we stayed at the Maasai Simba Lodge, which was definitely luxury compared the accommodations and facilities we were going to have on our next leg of our trip! After enjoying a hot shower and cleaning all the dust off us we enjoyed a buffet dinner. The hotel was pretty quiet that evening with us being one of three parties there, from what we gathered there had been a few cancellations due to the elections and political instability in Kenya.

We arose early the following morning for day 2 of our Maasai safari. We headed off at 6AM and would return later for breakfast. J was keen to see a rhino, however sightings of these are hard to come by with only about 16 estimated in the Maasai. Although we were unsuccessful on our rhino spotting we were treated to a glimpse of wildebeest migrating with a pack of approximately 200 in a single file line. After breakfast we made our way back to Nairobi – back to the bumpy, dirt roads, no a/c and a 5 hour commute. We stopped to enjoy our packed lunch boxes along the way with great view of the Rift Valley. After arriving back in Westland, Nairobi we headed to the local “mall” to collect a few last minute items before our 41 day camping adventure. J found an elephant pillow and thought it was only fitting for the trip.

With only just 2 days in Africa we were both on a high and excited for the future days we have in store. The Maasai Mara was absolutely spectacular and an amazing first taste to Africa (our only fear was we’d experienced the very best of Africa first).

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