The world is gradually opening up, learning a new way to live after the scare of the pandemic. With most of international travel on hold this year, I am so happy that I managed to experience the Kenyan Safari in good time. This had been on my bucket list and my want for a vacay to the Masai Mara had been postponed indefinitely ever since the kids grew up. So, when this trip was suddenly planned by my friends, I jumped at the opportunity. Having grown up watching National Geographic rather than cartoons, the love for animals and wildlife was ingrained into my psyche. It was a dream come true. I could hardly contain my enthusiasm and exuberance when we landed in Nairobi.
Home to many wildlife and a conglomeration of many private game reserves like Oserengoni Wildlife sanctuary which has the Kiangazi Resort (Naivasha), Lake Nakura game reserve, Sarova Lion Hill Game reserve, etc. Kenya also has the largest of them all, the Masai Mara National Reserve. On our way from Nairobi we did visit the other game reserves where saw the flamingoes, waterbucks, warthogs, impalas, buffalo, Rothschild giraffes, ostrich, endangered black rhinos, white rhinos and even leopards. But nothing was close to the experience at the Masai Mara.
It is here in the Savanah that one can see the animals in their natural habitat, in complete freedom, without disturbing their routine. It is strange but true that one values freedom so much more now, having gone through a complete shutdown over the last couple of months. This memory of the Masai Mara will stay with me for a lifetime.
The best time to see the animals is either early in the morning around 5 am or before sundown at 5 pm. That is when they are the most active. During the course of the day, one might be lucky to see the big cats in their afternoon siesta or the zebras and wildebeest grazing or the hippos lazily submerged in the water. We even saw a family of meerkats scamper around. But I was sure I wanted to see more than an open zoo, so I decided to wake up early and catch the real life of the Savanah. Jackson, our guide from the Angama Mara resort was a man of a flambouyant narrative. He skillfully wove the description of what we were about to see including the anticipation of being able to witness an actual kill.
Our first game drive at the Masai Mara Reserve was something that got me as excited as a child in a Disneyland. I wanted to see everything, ask a thousand questions and my heart was pounding against my chest. To sit in an open jeep and drive amongst the wild was as real as it could get. Today when I sat in front of my television watching the Netflix show, “Zoo”, wherein the animals threaten the human species to extinction. I do wonder what would happen if the thought would ever cross their mind.
Seated in an open jeep, it felt we were like bait for the big cats. But I realized that the animals do not even pay heed to you, as you are not their natural prey. A pride of lionesses that we saw, merely turned and yawned. The King of the jungle was ready for a leisure walk to his pride. Content probably after a satisfying meal the previous day, he growled his contempt.
The complete Savanah was scattered with herds of wildebeest and zebras. The hippos and rhinos were found closer to the water bodies. The gazelle and the blackbucks in smaller groups often watched us intently. The slightest noise would set them prancing into the far grasslands. There was a horde of mongoose at play, whilst the warthog hid in the tall stalks of grass. The giraffes, the gentlest of them all, were amongst the scattered trees. The elephants were seen in smaller groups protecting their young. I found it amazing that all these animals co-exist so peacefully.
Our driver and guide had been at his job for almost 12 years. Not only did he love his job but was also immensely knowledgeable about the animals as well as the vegetation of the Savanah.
He showed us how the various plants were used by the Masai tribe in their daily living. The Comfort shrub is a plant that is used like tissue to wipe their hands as it has antiseptic properties and also a fragrance like eucalyptus. The Devil’s claw is a traditional medicine for pain as an analgesic to treat arthritis and skin conditions. There also a variety of basil that are used widely for various medical purposes. The Euphorbia candelabrum dots the Savanah region. It has a very specific shape of growth. It usually starts branching only after 3 meters off the ground. The latex from its stems is often used for poison arrows by the Masai. The substance is so strong that it can cause blindness if it touches the eyes.
As our final stop, our guide took us to the Mara river, where the annual migration happens. It is here that a large number of wildebeest and zebras often become food for the crocs lying in wait. Here we did witness the kill. The benign zebra being dragged into the water and their feeding frenzy. The crocodiles can easily survive a year without any food, so the annual migration is their time of feasting. I was shocked with the statistics he gave me. He said that amongst 1.5 million animals that migrate, about 2.5 lakh wildebeest and 30,000 zebras die each year. Amongst the 40,000 new born calves that cross the Mara River, only 40 manage to survive. Such is ecological balance of nature.
It is indeed another world out there and nothing that I could say here would be enough to describe what I experienced. With its balances, sometimes harsh but necessary, Mother Nature provides the animals with everything they need. Be it the scorching summers of the Savanah or the rain dripped green grasslands in the Monsoon, the Kenyan safari gives you the visual experience of a world that is so diverse from the city. May to October are the best months for animal sightings. November to February gets cold and the animals don’t venture out as much. So, you do have time to plan ahead for an unforgettable trip, something I would highly recommend not to miss.