Sunday, August 7, 2011

East Africa Day 73 (Mon July 25): Maasi Mara Day 1

When I booked my three-day Maasi Mara safari yesterday with my tour booking agent, he said that he'd pick me up at 8am outside of my compound gates. For some reason drivers say that they know where my compound is, yet always get lost and wind up down the street outside of the Fairmont Hotel. So this AM I found the tour operator and driver, John outside of the Fairmont. We were travelling in a mini van with a pop up roof. I was the first person to be picked up. We then swung by a few other hotels in the Central Business District, to pick up the rest of the guests who'd be on safari with me: Elien and Jan from Belgium, who work in schools advocating on behalf of students, Rojeena and Sanjay, a young Nepalese couple who live in Dubai, Jaques who was born in Madagascar but has lived in the USA since the age of eighteen, and Marianna and Marco, a young couple from Milan. Marianna's English isn't as good as Marco's. They are traveling Kenya with a private Kenyan guide who speaks fluent Italian, amongst other languages. He used to work on the Kenyan coast, where there are many Italian-owned businesses and tourists. It was so much fun to get to travel with the Italians!

We settled into our van with the Italian-speaking guide and our driver/guide John, and started the long drive to the Mara in Southwest Kenya. The first 3/4 of our trip had us on a nicely paved, two lane highway that had been built by the Italians. We stopped at one point for a rest and to take a photo of the Rift Valley.

Sometime after that, we turned into a badly kept dirt road with many pot holes (perhaps MOSTLY pot holes) that passes through the Maasai Villages on the way to the Mara. It was a rough trip. We stopped along the way, at the last major town before reaching the Mara, for a buffet lunch at a roadside hotel. It was a bunch of other wazungu bound for the Mara, and us. Welcome to a genuine tourist outing!! :) I had rice, beans, vegetables and of course mango juice!

When we got to the Mara (about six hours later), it was mid-afternoon. We stopped off at our lodgings, to check in and drop off our things. I was sharing a platform tent with a full bathroom in it with a shower, western toilet, sink with Jacques, the other solo traveller on our trip. After dropping off our things in our tents we headed back to the van, and entered the park for the first time, for an Evening Game Drive.

We pulled up to the main entrance gate, John handed the rangers our day passes, and we entered the park!! John stopped for each and every animal that we saw - wildebeest, and some anetelope to start. Just about everyone in my group made an effort to take a photo of every animal that we saw - it was kind of contagious:) But the minute that we got into that park and started driving, with the roof popped up and me hanging my head out of the top, gazing around at the landscape - all of the effort and expense to get there was 110% worth it. I felt so fortunate to be able to be standing there, in that space. Wild animals in their natural environment - it was hard to realize that I was really there. Wow.

We drove around for about two hours, until the park closed at 6:30pm. There were other pop up vans just like ours, also driving around the packed dirt roads that criss cross through the park.

It was amazing. We saw wildebeest, antelope, many bird species, elephants, lions, buffalo, and many zebra!

When we returned to the campgrounds we had a big buffet dinner in a dining hall setting with many other tourist groups. It was really fun to hear all of the different accents - the USA was not well-represented that first evening, from what I could tell. Just like at Daraja, there were generators running at night, so that guests could charge their camera batteries. And there were camera batteries charging at every electrical outlet:)

I was so tired - had no problem falling asleep in my double bed in the tent, slightly after the lights went out at 10pm. Why did I leave my headlamp back in Nairobi? Ah well - that's why Kenyan cell phones have built-in flashlights:) I didn't hear any of the wild animals that night, but the next morning other guests said that they could hear them making noise not far from our camp. I'm pretty sure that the askari (guards) were watching over us:)

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