The Majestic Masai Mara (Kenya)

“There’s a fine line between panic and excitement,” Matt said to me when I asked him whether he was excited about our trip. I should mention that at that exact moment we were navigating a “shortcut” through the interior mountains of Kenya after realizing we had taken the longer route to Kichwa Tembo, our safari lodge in the Masai Mara. Thankfully, that morning in Nairobi we had sourced a local SIM card with SafariCom and had 4G capabilities on my new Samsung Galaxy III. We took out Google Maps and were told we were on the best route to get us back on track. I’d like to point out though that just because there is semblance of a road that not all are vehicle friendly and some lead you into fields, separating you and the “road” with an electric fence.

To me, the roads could almost be described as trekking trails or if they were vertical we would be mountain climbing. In Matt’s words they were, “what you would find at the base of an inactive volcano after being hit by an earthquake.” So we slowly climbed our way through back roads and small, small villages but all the while were entertained by young Kenyan children yelling ‘’jambo,” “hello” in Swahili as we passed by in our Land Cruiser. The scenery was breathtaking, we saw a part of Kenya many never see and this was our first day in Kenya; indeed we were excited.

The excitement however, began to wear thin as a six-hour journey became an eleven-hour one; when day turned into night and when we had a flat tire just as the sun was setting. And then once again, the silver lining emerged as we ran into James, a pastor and his friend on the back of their motorcycle looking for their cow, who changed our tire without asking and were beaming as they accepted our thanks in payment of $6.50 CAD each or 500 Kenyan shillings. Or, as we approached the lodge after dark and saw a ton of wildlife crossing the road in front of us and to the sides of the road, just within reach of our headlights – wildebeest, hyenas, gazelles and even elephants. My heart still pounds when we came across an elephant who didn’t like the light accidentally shone in his eyes; he stomped his feet, shook his trunk and huffed and puffed. We took off at the moment, not stopping anymore.

Impala

Impala

The conclusion? Do not drive to the Masai Mara. Not because it is a six-hour ride (as it was on the way back) but because most of it, four hours or so, are spent on roads much like the ones we drove through the mountains. They are terrible and labourious and when a flight on Safari Link or Air Kenya takes 45-minutes it’s important to budget in the $300 USD per person return cost. A friend in Nairobi lent us his Land Cruiser but if you’re considering driving keep the following costs in mind; car rental at about $150/day (and the vehicle is parked while at the lodge) and without the detour it took us a full tank of diesel (return trip) at $1.20USD per litre, about $100USD.

NOTE: Often safaris are associated with luxury prices and indeed many are. However, there are options for the budget traveller and even more, you can actually do the entire thing on your own. However, a guide is strongly recommended to see the best animals and get the experience you’re looking for. For more booking information refer to the Dirty Details of this post.

Kichwa, “head” and Tembo, “elephant” is a beautifully set and well-appointed tented camp located near Oloololo Gate at the north tip of the Mara Triangle. Owned by &Beyond it offers everything; warm and comfortable accommodations, a beautiful washroom with hot showers and excellent, inclusive food. The grounds are well kept and the multi-tiered pool overlooks the savannah so watching giraffes or other animals stroll by while sun tanning is a common occurrence. We were entertained at night by a Maasai tribe and another night by the Sing For Life choir.

Dancing with the Masaai

Dancing with the Masaai

The small details that matter? Tea/coffee/hot chocolate and cookies served on your porch with your personalized wake-up call. Your safari guide who takes you out when you want and introduces you to the animals of the Masai Mara – ours, Akatch, made our experience unforgettable. The flexibility in eating times as we arrived at 11pm and dinner was brought to our tent. Go on an evening safari? Eat before you go or when you’re back. And my favourite? Hot water bottles strategically placed under the covers during turn down service but just be careful not to mistake them for a furry monkey sleeping under the covers. My scream may still be echoing throughout the camp.

Red-tailed monkey

Red-tailed monkey

Our typical day had us rising for an early morning safari, eating breakfast afterwards or eating and departing at 8am. We’d leave our tent, zipping it close and tying the strings to deter any monkeys from enjoying our luxury. We’d walk past a mother warthog and her four adorable babies grazing the grass on the property and admired their 70s hairstyles, complete with mullets.

 

Warthog and Nursing Babies

Warthog and Nursing Babies

We’d join the other travellers we grew to know and climb into our safari jeep, taking off into to the plains of the Masai Mara. Now, a great guide makes the stay enjoyable but luck and the season has a lot to do with it as well. We had at first chosen to go to the Serengeti in Tanzania to witness the great migration as tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebra follow their food, the lush vegetation of the plains. However, upon closer examination it seemed the Masai Mara was where we should be. But, as life has it, many of the wildebeest had come to the Mara for a few weeks and then abruptly headed back. Typically the zebra would follow but they all stayed in the Mara and we did run into groups of a few thousand wildebeest at a time.

Luck was indeed on our side and we saw four of the Big 5 in our first day, water buffalo, rhinoceros, elephants, lions only leopards escaped our grasp. There were too many zebra and giraffes to count, six different types of antelopes, hippos abound and families, no, generations of elephants everywhere. My favourite memories are watching two families of elephants, with small babies the river current and crossing successfully taking extra care and hippos watching them with curiosity (video to come). Our last day we drove to the Tanzanian border (approx 1.5 hours) and just shy of it saw the elusive cheetah, a pair in fact, my first time seeing them in the wild.

 

 

I can try to put into words what it is like to stay at Kichwa Tembo and to experience all they have to offer but you really have to live it to understand. It is truly unforgettable to watch animals you’ve grown up seeing in zoos and to feel the need to constantly remind yourself that their wild. We thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie with the other guests in our group and we’d all end up in the bar before dinner swapping stories, building excitement for the next day and planning out what each worked best for all of us. Adding Kichwa Tembo to your bucket list is a must.

Next up? Safari photos and more in-depth details of the wonders of Kichwa Tembo and their luxury camp, Bateleur.

LIFE IS SHORT SO LIVE IT! 

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