Saturday, May 9, 2015

Adventures in Kenya Series - Day 6 - Into the Masai Mara

Every day of this trip brings new and amazing experiences to me. Today was certainly no exception!

The day started early - I was up at 5:30 this morning after staying up until 11:30 last night. Before I went to bed I had a nice chat with Barnabas where he thanked me for the donations I have been able to arrange for the Havilla School, and explained to me his vision of the school and how it came to be. He is doing some amazing work, and I am inspired by his passion to make a difference in people's lives - not just the students in his school, but everyone he meets. I could not ask for a better host over the past few days.

Jackson woke up early with me and made me some Kenyan tea and fried eggs before we left. I can see why Jackson and Barnabas are such good friends. They both are so selfless and giving. Jackson has gone out of his way to make me comfortable on this trip - everything from cooking me breakfast to giving me his bed to sleep in at night. You'd think that sharing a room with a stranger in a place you've never been in a house belonging to someone you've never met would be incredibly awkward, but it hasn't been.  I am quite sad to be leaving already.

For the past few days I've tried to stick to the "live like a local" travel philosophy to get the most out of my experience in Kibera.  Not today. I'm totally going tourist for two days - wearing the safari vest, khaki pants, and my Tilley hat. I figure, if I'm going on Safari, I'm going to look the part.

Jackson drove me to the airport.  On the way we stopped at an ATM, where I learned that one of my debit cards has stopped working. That's the account with most of my travel money in it.  Needed to do some online banking to work that out.  It's a good thing that I brought two debit cards attached to two different accounts with me. Don't know what I would have done otherwise.

Wilson airport is a cool place. Very small and what I picture all airports used to be in the 1950's. When I arrived and went through security, I had to reorganize my bags - I didn't know whether I could check a bag or not due to the size of the plane. I left most of my things back at Barnabas's house. The security guard asked me if I was American.  When I said I was, he chuckled and said, "Of course.  The Americans are always needing to be 'organized.'"

There was a small cafe in the terminal, so I grabbed a Kenyan Mocha, which tasted like it came from Starbucks (not a bad thing), and had a muffin that was pre-packaged and processed just like if I ordered it at a coffee shop at home.  Definitely not in Kibera any more.  I also have to say that my first-world biases came into play as I felt real joy at seeing a toilet seat in the bathroom. I'm a bit embarrased by that after the past few days, as the facililies I had been using were 100x better than most people have access to in Kibera. You don't know how much you take forgranted until you aren't able to take it forgranted anymore.



Being here in the airport, it's also a bit of culture shock as I am surrounded by more British and European tourists than I am Kenyans for the first time this trip. I find myself wondering about their perceptions of Kenya and what they picture when they think of Africa vs. what I now have in my head.

The flight to the Mara was pretty cool.  My camp was the third stop.  At the first airstrip I could see giraffes next to the runway.  At the second, we had to wait for a herd of elephants to cross the runway before taking off. As we landed at the Olkiombo Airstrip, I could see warthogs roaming around next to the runway.




I was the only person to get off at my stop. A safari vehicle was waiting for me at the airstrip, and I had my own private escort to the camp, which was only about 200 yards away. I noticed immediately this place is incredibly peaceful and quiet. They told me at check-in that the camp can accommodate 60 people, but there are only about 20 staying here right now. Perfect - As an introvert I can use a little solitude to reflect and recharge.


Since I had about 2 hours to kill before lunch, I wandered around and explored the camp.  There is a neat suspension bridge over the creek that runs past my tent, a beautiful pool, and an observation platform that overlooks the Mara. At the top of the platform I found a couple of monkeys. After seeing all the tents, I think my location is the best in the whole place - directly overlooking the creek.





Lunch was tasty, but not very African. What I enjoyed most was the quiet.  I was the only person eating lunch until one other table of people sat down about halfway through my meal. The service here is beyond excellent. It feels almost Disney-esque in that everyone seems to be going out of their way to ensure that your expectations are exceeded.



After lunch I embarked on my first game drive into the Mara.  It was amazing.  About 5 minutes into the drive we came across a group of lions eating a hippo carcass next to a river.  Then, we came across about 20 more lions laying around a grassy area.  Then an elephant, and giraffes, and buffalo, and impala...  At the Mara river, famous for the pictures of the wildebeest migration that happens every year, we came across more than 30 hippos.  From there we saw a mother with 5 young cheetahs, a giraffe set against an amazing sunset, hyenas, and finally two jackals before returning to camp.  I took more than 380 pictures in the 3 hours we were out.








At camp I dropped my things off and headed up to the bar area where our safari driver, John, was giving a short lecture on the different types of predators in the Mara.  It was interesting, and I learned quite a bit.

As I walked down to the terrace near the suspension bridge where dinner was being served, two nice Canadians who were on the same game drive as me asked me to have dinner with them. They are a mother and son who are spending some time together.  He works in the Canadian Embassy in Nairobi. The dinner conversation was very nice, and I appreciated them extending the offer to me.
After dinner I went back to my tent excited to take a proper hot shower for the first time in a week. Unfortunately, the shower was ice cold.  They turn the hot water off at 8PM here.  I have a wake-up call at 5:30 to get ready for a sunrise game drive at 6:30. I'll be taking a hot shower then (and enjoying the coffee and biscuits that come with the wake up call).

And, now, it's bed time. I sit here typing with the sound of monkeys, birds, and other wild animals combine with the sound of the river outside my tent door. This place is magical. I'm sad that I only have this short time to experience it, but at the same time incredibly grateful for the opportunity. More than anything, I wish Lori were here to experience it with me.