14th August, 2016 went down in my memory lane as the luckiest day of my travelling life. After being In and out of Mara in two Days on 30th July, I felt that something was missing. The Great Wildebeest migration was not going to escape me this year. World class safari guide Richard Knocker put it best when he said "the Migration is not a continuously forward motion. They go forward, backwards, and to the sides, they mill around, they split up, they join forces again, they walk in a line, the spread out, or they hang around together. You can never predict with certainty where they will be; the best you can do is suggest likely timing based on past experience, but you can never guarantee the Migration one hundred percent."
I placed my bet on the August 13th travel package from Safiri Nasi Limited. I had a full day game drive on the second day and that is when the magic happened. I witnessed the 8th wonder of the world with my own eyes. I was excited, overwhelmed and overjoyed. The experience was the best since I started travelling. I had travelled with a few friends and to avoid biasness, I requested one of them to write about the experience. Spare your 3 minutes and let someone who travelled for her first time give you a reason to pack your bags.
I had always lived vicariously through people, friends who would literally put their lives on hold on a whim and get on the next bus/plane to the next place that’s considered a holiday destination. For the longest time, traveling seemed to me like ‘that thing’ made for a select few who could afford the time and money. Whoever said that ignorance is bliss should be made to join in the queue heading up to the guillotine. You don’t need to save up for years to travel. You just need to find the best travel package for your needs. Which is what I did. For a person who says they would like to tour the world before they kick the proverbial bucket, I really have to admit that I have been a disgrace to that lot of people. What’s worse is that I don’t have a passport to my name. (I know. I shall now go to the corner).
I recently came across a savings plan that allows you to put away a small amount of money every week starting with 50 shillings(believe it) then increase the amount each week, and in a few weeks when you go back to your account and count the money you’re amazed at how much you can save without realizing it. I implemented that strategy and after several weeks I came across a travel package to the Maasai Mara that I could totally afford. What joy. I paid up and waited for D-Day.
On the day of travel, I woke up at the crack of dawn because I just couldn’t wait for the trip, and also because my bad procrastination habit caught up with me and I hadn’t finished packing. But it was just a weekend trip so I didn’t need much. But being a typical girl I ended up packing more clothes than I actually needed. It didn’t take me long to get ready and head to our meeting spot.
The trip there was long and characterized by sessions of indulging in junk-eating, taking pictures, occasionally falling in and out of sleep, taking more selfies, reading a book from my tab (this didn’t last long. For some reason reading in a moving vehicles is akin to rocking a baby, I start drooling within minutes) and of course staring out of the window at everything and nothing in particular.
As is tradition for everyone travelling along the Mai Mahiu –Narok Road, we had to make a stop at the scenic Rift Valley View Point and take in the enthralling wonders of God’s works. The place has a way of getting you lost in its beauty while you marvel at the vast lands, not able to fully fathom the complexity in its simplicity. A few selfies after we were well on our way again.
My travelling crew was made up of two couples and a lone Indian traveller, making us six in total. I had always thought that it would be nice to take your passport and take the next flight out to…saaay… Zanzibar just to get away from life, but after noticing the awkwardness of him not knowing anyone in the tour van I started to question why anyone would want to travel alone. I wasn’t travelling with anyone special, but at least two of the people in the crew were my friends.
The stopover at Narok for lunch made the journey there slightly longer but you appreciate a break from a long journey when you can no longer feel your legs and behind from all the sitting. The last one and a half hours of the journey were on a rough road. Our van wasn’t exactly like the cars our MPs use that leave passengers in it oblivious of whether they’re driving on sharp rocks or sailing on smooth tarmac because of the extra shock absorbers put in them, so you can imagine exactly how bumpy our ride was. I was excited nonetheless. I told myself that it was a real safari experience. Because the jerky safari-like ride wouldn’t let you catch a minute’s snooze, I was alert the whole way. The scenery was amazing to say the least. We spotted a few Maasai Moran boys herding cattle but as we got closer we started to spot a giraffe here and a gazelle there. Maybe an occasional zebra. Maybe those were the explorative ones. The ones that couldn’t be confined to the National Reserve. The ones that want to see what else life to offer so when they feel that they’re old enough they bid their families goodbye and go to discover themselves. Or maybe the ride was a little too bumpy and such thoughts were the results.
As much as I enjoyed the journey, I was ecstatic when we finally got to our camp. It’s a tended camp, meaning the tents are pitched already. Thank goodness because I wasn’t wired for such hard labor. Anyone who’s seen my frail hands would understand. Plus I was sporting a fresh manicure. I wasn’t about to mess that up. The couples got to share tents but the Indian dude and I each had our own tents. I had heard stories of lions and other predatory wild animals roaming in the night in search of prey and roaring just outside people’s tents, and I was going to be alone.
It was going to be a long night. If you know me well, you know that I’m also not wired for the outdoors. I wasn’t going to ‘help myself’ in the bushes, despite it being called the-call-of-nature. The irony. Good thing is that the tents came self-contained. Pure genius right? The person who thought this up deserves a cookie. They must have found out that people want an outdoor experience but don’t want to risk getting bitten by snakes while going wee-wee in the bushes. People like yours truly.
The best part of the trip I have to admit is the fact that we got to go for the game drive not once, not twice, but three times. When we got there the first day, we quickly put our stuff in our tents and made way to the game drive. You’ll be surprised to know that the first kind of animals we saw immediately we got into the game park was a herd of cattle. Now, you have to give the Maasai their props. These people are born with an extra set of cojones. How else would you explain sharing territory with marauding lions and leopards? Granted, they were grazing close to the gate, but there was nothing stopping a group of hungry lions from coming and making dinner out of those cows.
It was a short game drive but we managed to find a cheater enjoying its kill.
I’m made to understand that the highlight of any game drive is to witness predators hunting. A rare occurrence if you will. I was hoping the next day we would catch that part. Our driver was quite knowledgeable about the animals. I admired his level of passion for what he does. I got to learn how to distinguish a male ostrich from a female one. Apparently, the male ones are the prettier ones with black and white feathers, while the female ones are plain grey and ashy looking. Kind of like how the male peacock is the pretty one with all the colored feathers. The proud peacock. Metrosexual birds these are.
In two hours we had spotted over 10 types of animals, like the buffaloes, giraffes, wildebeests, about 5 types of antelopes and jackals.
We didn’t get to see much the first day but the sunset stole the show. The way its orange rays peeped through the clouds adorning the horizon was nothing less than magnificent. I’m not a sunset fiend like my friend Eliud, but you have to give God credit where it’s due.
We set off for the second game drive at dusk the following morning. We needed to make sure that we had enough time to see most of the animals and still make it to the Mara River in time for lunch and probably catch the wildebeests crossing the river. I was made to understand that it’s not a guarantee that you would see the wildebeests crossing the Mara River, so all we could do was cross our fingers.
I had never seen an elephant in real life. My excitement was uncontainable when I saw the ginormous jumbos. Our driver was hella cool because he got us exactly to where they were at. I had to take one of those selfies with the elephants in the background. The few times where you’re allowed to be vain.
By the time we got to the Mara River we had already seen most animals, my favourite being the lions that we caught devouring their kill (we missed the hunting part again), and the jumbos of course. Our driver knew the different types of birds there. His job is truly a calling. You wouldn’t hack it if you weren’t passionate about animals.
At the Mara River we found a fleet of tour vans already waiting at the river bank for the wildebeests to migrate. The wildebeests were all lined up at the river bank but were contemplating whether to do it or not, wondering whether they would make it to the other side alive or they would make crocodile lunch as soon as they jumped in. All it would take was for one of them to slip in and the rest would follow.
We all waited patiently with our cameras and phones ready until it finally happened. The great wildebeest migration. The 7th wonder of the world. It was interesting how they followed each other and swam across in unison. My first trip to the Mara and I got to witness the migration. My friend Eliud had come down there 7 times before but this was the first time he was actually witnessing the migration. I felt like a lucky charm.
After that engaging spectacle it was time to have lunch by the river. The part they had left out was that we were actually supposed to get out of our vehicles and lay blankets on the ground and have a picnic. A picnic in the wild. Errr… I would like to think that I love my life so while everyone else was displaying themselves for lion lunch I was tucked away safely in our van. Well of course it was safe and there were rangers close by but I didn’t want to risk anything. I’ve watched movies. My friends called me a coward but I retorted that I would be the one that survives and tells the story. Maybe the next time I will lay my blanket close to the van so that I can jump right in when those mangy hyenas foaming at the mouth come to exercise their scavenger ways.
My experience at the Mara was more phenomenal than I had imagined. And to think that my ignorance was going to rob me of this chance. Maybe I should make this a yearly trip.
Each time the experience would be different. The good thing is that Kenya is full of unexplored territories. Places I cannot wait to discover. I am loving the fact that I haven’t traveled much - that I have only discovered travelling - because what lies ahead is endless possibilities and opportunities. I am like a fresh canvas, waiting to be painted with experience and memories. I cannot wait for my next trip. I will need to consult Eliud and Safiri Nasi on this one. But first, I need to get serious and apply for a passport.
Until next time, keep traveling.
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Eliud Ndungu, a part-time adventure travel blogger who’s been exploring his motherland-Kenya for over 5 years