In and out of Mara in Two Days
Maasai Mara national reserve is a rich park. This park does not disappoint throughout the year. It has a wide variety of wildlife, birds and vast physical features. This reserve receives the highest number of visitors compared to other parks or reserve in Kenya. I have been to Maasai Mara about 6 times and my experiences are different each time. For all those six times, I have used the normal itinerary of 3 days and 2 nights. This is whereby the group leaves Nairobi on the first day, gets to Mara early afternoon and goes for a game drive in the evening. A full day game drive on the second day and an early morning game drive on the third day. This is the most recommended program across the board. The 3 days are enough to give a satisfactory experience of this great reserve.
While looking for a weekend plan, I come across a 2 day overland truck camping package in Maasai Mara. This baffles me. I cannot understand how and why someone would want to go to Maasai Mara for 1 night. Is this even possible? Maasai Mara is an estimated 6 hours’ drive from Nairobi. "Where will you find the time to enjoy the road trip, game drives and still have time for relaxation?" I wondered. The package was put together by Expeditions Maasai Safaris. This is the company to go to when it comes to hikes, day trips and road trips. So, I talk to Lawrence (Business Developer at Expedition Maasai Safaris) and he convinces me to try it. Pancras (Lawrence's colleague) convinces me further. Given my adventurous nature, I decide to give it a shot.
5.40am is the pickup time on a very chilly Saturday Morning. Having been left by these guys before on a hiking plan because of arriving late, I can't take chances. I am at bomblast just next to Tuskys Pioneer at 5.50 am. I find two overland trucks here and a few people. I know the driver of one of the trucks and one of the chefs is a good friend of mine. The Safari excitement begins to creep in. We exchange blows of whereabouts and set a date for our next meet up over whitecap.
By 6.00 am, the adventurous have arrived. Ten more minutes are enough to have everyone inside the trucks ready to drive off. The first truck leaves at exactly 6.00 am. At 6:20 am only 6 people have not arrived. Lawrence, flags off the second truck. There is a Toyota Alphard on standby for late comers. Lawrence asks me to keep him company as we wait for the late comers. I agree. After all, it's more adventurous for me to ride in a small car on a safari and see how it copes with rough road. According to Lawrence, the Alphard would catch up with the overland trucks before they get too far.
We leave Nairobi town at 6.45 am having left two people who failed to keep time. We are surprised to find the trucks at the Great Rift Valley view point. The other guys took their time taking pictures at this point. We spend around 10 minutes here as well. No one felt like switching to the overland truck from the Alphard. It felt more luxury and comfortable not forgetting the speed.
On leaving the view point, we are in front. Our driver can manage to go 120km/hr, but the truck cannot go beyond 80km/hr. This can tell you we will be far ahead. The road is clear. Not so many vehicles. After one and half hours, we are a few kilometers from Narok. We stop here to relieve ourselves. This is also a great opportunity to have a Kodak moment. Everyone is trying unique pictorial poses including sitting on the tarmac, groundies, jumps, etc. Some even decide to climb up the vehicle.
This is fun and everyone is happy. The trucks have not yet caught up with us. We decide to proceed and wait for them at Narok town. According to the itinerary, we are supposed to have an early lunch here before we proceed. There is enough time for the trucks to catch up. I know my way around Narok town. I decide to take a stroll. I purchase a hat and find a place to order Nyama choma. After an hour, I rush back to where we had packed. The trucks are already here and people are having lunch. It's a great opportunity to socialize with the people who were in the truck. This is where I learn that they had stopped along the way to take pictures and have a team building session. I felt a little jealous.
After Narok, I know the road gets worse. I have little doubts that the small car will maneuver its way around. Eric, our driver assures me that the vehicle is a four wheel drive and very well capable of getting us to where we need to go. Well, let the adventure begin! The rough road starts off a bit gentle but gets really intense as we proceed.
After a two hours’ drive, the rough road is working hard to make sure our Alphard breaks down. Eric checks and confirms to us that we require a mechanic before we can proceed. In the middle of nowhere! Where do we even start?
He tries to reach a few contacts he has but in vain. A lorry ferrying some supplies towards Mara stops by. They help and send us a mechanic from the nearest centre. We have no option but to wait. An hour later, the trucks catch up with us. We can hear loud music from the trucks from a distance. “These guys must be having so much fun” we lamented. Pancras makes a quick decision and we are transferred to the trucks to continue with the journey. Eric and one of the helpers are left with the Alphard to wait for the mechanic. The truck is loud. People are dancing to musical tunes, chatting and walking to and fro. For sure this is a moving party.
We arrive at AA Lodge at 4.40 pm. Pancras and Lawrence are busy securing a camping ground. They come back after 10 minutes and decide that we need to go for an evening game drive. This is because the park closes at 6pm and we are nearly out of time. We rush to the park. A one and a half hour game drive is enough to spot a few animals and catch the sunset. We leave the park at 6.30 pm with a promise to be back early the next day. We set out to get back to the lodge and it is already dark.
We then gather where the trucks are parked. Lawrence advises that we need to pair up because one tent is to accommodate two persons. We are quite diplomatic here and this does not take time.
Tents and beddings are shared and we are ready to camp. I am a teacher when it comes to pitching tents. My house is made in 20 minutes and I help out a few people. Eric is already here with his car already fixed. The bonfire is lit in all aspects. The chefs are on top of their game. At 10:00 pm we are having dinner around the bonfire. Some mbuzi choma is preparing on the fire. We are to have it later as we chit chat around the fire.
People here have energy. Everyone is drinking their favorite poison and you can tell when they start getting in that ‘happy’ phase. At 11:30 pm, I start feeling sleepy. I also remember that I am supposed to be at work on Monday morning. I can’t afford to drain myself. I sneak to my tent and fall asleep within minutes.
At 5:00 am I am up and ready for the day. The plan is to take a shower hurriedly and sit at the bonfire to warm up a little. It hits me that I missed yester night’s mbuzi choma. How sad! My camera battery is almost dead and I have no spare. I walk around the hotel taking pictures and behold, the sunrise in all its glory! Some guys are also swimming at this hour.
After a brief picture taking session, I fix my battery for charging. AA Lodge Mara is located 4 km from Sekenani Main Gate and a 10 minutes drive from Siana Springs Air Strip. It is 255 km from Nairobi, a 1-hour flight from Nairobi, and a 4 hours’ drive from Nairobi on the new tarmac road. The lodge is spread on 30 acres of land, uniquely laid out over the sprawling grounds that include rolling manicured greens, a virtual mini forest of indigenous shrubs and exotic trees, a large swimming pool overlooking the lodge bonfire, the main restaurant and bar. The lodge has 42 classic tents, 36 cottages, a main restaurant, bar and several dining options.
Breakfast is ready. Sausages, smokies, eggs, mandazis and arrow roots are some of the items on the menu. Chef Dan and Chef Nick know their stuff when it comes to a nice bush meal. After a scrumptious breakfast, it's time to bring down the tents. This is a little easier than pitching them. Closing the camp and packing ready to leave takes us an hour. As the drivers load the trucks, everyone is having a photography session at the reception.
We leave for the park at 10.00am. The idea is to drive straight to the river. We spot some animals such as waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra, topi, eland and gazelle among others. We are also lucky to spot the king himself, Mr. Lion. At midday, we are at Mara River - hippo point. Here, we meet a guide who is kind enough to take us for an educational nature walk. He assures us that the hippos cannot attack. On the river banks, some hippos are basking enjoying the sun rays. We also spot crocodiles camouflaged on rocks. After enjoying the river, we head to a bridge where Maasai Mara triangle starts. It is here that we spot from a distance a herd of wildebeest crossing the river. My camera failed to do me justice and zoom them closer for a thousand pounds snap (maybe a hint to get another lens).
We spend time here talking to guides and socializing. At 1:30 pm, we are ready to start our journey out of the park. We drive directly to the gate. Here, we meet Eric who welcomes me warm heartedly to the Alphard. We take some minutes taking pictures at the gate. At 2:30 pm, our journey for Nairobi begins. Eric drives in the middle of the two trucks at least on the rough road just to be safe. The sunset gets us a few minutes to Narok town. We stop at Maasai city and buy take-away for dinner. We get to Nairobi at 10:00 pm, not sure what time the guys in the trucks got to Nairobi.
It is possible to Travel to Maasai Mara for 2 days. However, it is very tiresome. One has to be physically fit, and prepared psychologically. Also, one should not have demanding tasks on the third day after they come back. The body needs enough rest to get back to its normal state. The 2 days do not allow a person enough time to enjoy the game drive. The driver cannot spend time searching for specific animals like it is with a 3 or 4 days Safari. On the bright side, it is a good opportunity to enjoy Maasai Mara for those who only have a weekend for outdoor activities. When doing it as a group, you cherish the moment. The bonding, socializing, games and fun moments are something you never forget. If well organized, like with expedition Maasai safaris, everything stipulated in the itinerary is achieved. From Travel with Eliud, Pack your bags now and leave for Maasai Mara!
Eliud Ndungu, a part-time adventure travel blogger who’s been exploring his motherland-Kenya for over 3 years