On the vast plains of the Maa­sai Mara re­gion in Kenya, with un­in­ter­rupted views of the sky melt­ing into the grass on the hori­zon, SARAH KOOP­MAN found her­self slow­ing down and en­joy­ing a new pace

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

Find­ing still­ness in the Mara

GROUP OF GI­RAFFE on the move is called a jour­ney; and when stand­ing still, the group is called a tower. Not a herd. I learn this on a morn­ing game drive with Fred Ronko, our Maa­sai guide who has spent more than 20 years track­ing an­i­mals in the Maa­sai Mara re­gion of south-western Kenya.

We woke up be­fore sun­rise again and had taken to the ex­pan­sive plains.The early morn­ing air has an un­for­giv­ing bite to it and we’re wrapped in blan­kets with hot wa­ter bot­tles on our laps as the wind whips against our cheeks in the open-top Land Rover. Squint­ing my eyes into the ris­ing sun, I can just about make out a lone hyena trot­ting across the grass in the dis­tance. We’re hop­ing to make some more preda­tor sight­ings be­fore re­turn­ing to our break­fast ta­ble laid out for us at Asilia Africa’s Mara Bush Houses. Start­ing the day like this has quickly be­come my new stan­dard. With no traf­fic and no rush. You can’t rush in the Mara. Na­ture will quickly re­mind you that you’re run­ning on her time.

As Fred turns off the ig­ni­tion, the en­gine’s rum­ble in the morn­ing air comes to a jolt­ing stop and the si­lence de­scends again. My ears have never had to deal with so much of it – with noth­ing but the hum of un­seen in­sects and the oc­ca­sional bird call in the dis­tance – and I nally un­der­stand how deaf­en­ing the lack of any sound can be. Just days be­fore we had left Nairobi; its roads lled with cars, peo­ple, taxis and scoot­ers mov­ing in ev­ery di­rec­tion, all at once. As we lifted off in the 12-seater Sa­fari Link char­ter plane that would take us on the hour-long ight from the city to the Mara re­gion, the rolling land­scape of the Rift Val­ley Prov­ince changed as densely pop­u­lated sub­urbs gave way to farm­land. The fur­ther we went, the fewer houses we saw, un­til it be­came easy to be­lieve that no hu­man feet had ever touched the moun­tains we were ying over.

The bumpy land­ing was due in part to the heavy rains that had just fallen. At our air­port – a small wooden struc­ture with a muddy run­way – we met Fred for the rst time and our trans­fer to the Bush House was my rst game drive. I swiftly moved right out of my com­fort zone, my body quickly adapt­ing: my back to the jolt­ing move­ments of the Land Rover; my feet to the un­cer­tainty of slip­pery, muddy soil. My arms to the repet­i­tive move­ment of swat­ting away ies; my eyes to the over­whelm­ing ex­panses of space in front of me. And my ears to the si­lence.

Si­lence is one of the few con­stants in this un­pre­dictable en­vi­ron­ment and it is how I nally found some peace with­out ever re­al­is­ing how much I needed it. Re­moved from my daily hus­tle and bus­tle, I em­brace this slower pace of life in a way I hadn’t done in a very long time. Two days later, Fred drives us to the top of a hill to watch the sun set over this in­cred­i­bly vast plain. The golden tones of the rays dis­ap­pear­ing on the hori­zon are quickly dis­persed by the storm clouds rolling in be­hind us with their sound­track of rum­bling thun­der.

Ev­ery­thing seems to be work­ing ac­cord­ing to a clock that I can’t see or un­der­stand, but I am un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally happy to be a pas­sen­ger here. My per­cep­tion of time and dis­tance has changed, too. An hour’s drive is a quick com­mute; three to four hours, the stan­dard. As we move from Mara Bush Houses – a lux­ury catered and staffed pri­vate house in the bush – to the ve-star tented camp at Asilia’s Naboisho Camp, the land­scape changes from lush green to dry, open plains. Our drive through a small town hap­pens to co­in­cide with the weekly mar­ket day, where vil­lagers have walked since be­fore sun­rise to bring their live­stock and pro­duce to be sold. Even here, with its busy sound of sheep, cat­tle and goats, the call­ing out of greet­ings and the ne­go­ti­a­tions of trade, I’m slowly start­ing to un­der­stand the no-fuss life­style of the lo­cal peo­ple.

The next morn­ing, I re­alise I’ve re­laxed so much and slept so deeply that my rst inkling of the herd of buf­falo that roamed past dur­ing the night are their fresh tracks right out­side our door. Up be­fore dawn, we are bun­dled into a sa­fari ve­hi­cle with our new Maa­sai guide, Moses, who nav­i­gates the un­named and un­marked trails through the plains with ease.As we en­counter a li­on­ess and her four ado­les­cent cubs rest­ing as the sun rises, Moses says it is likely they had a suc­cess­ful hunt the night be­fore. In the middle of nowhere, it feels like the world could come to a stand­still and we would have no idea.

Later that day we visit a Maa­sai vil­lage. We are wel­comed into the homestead by the fam­ily – one man, his ve wives and their chil­dren. Each wife has a mud hut of her own, built in a cir­cle with the cat­tle kraal in the cen­tre. Mary, one of the wives, takes us into her home and with the help of Moses’s trans­la­tion tells us about the Maa­sai life­style. We are later wel­comed back to camp by He­len and Roelof Schutte, the South African cou­ple man­ag­ing Naboisho. Af­ter af­ter­noon tea, I have an out­door bucket shower and a nap. As I wake up to the dis­tant roar of a lion – the Mara is lion coun­try and Moses tells us that the sound can travel from as far as 10km away – it feels like the nine tents around me are lled with the only peo­ple in the world. Naboisho is the Maa word for ‘har­mony’ and the camp couldn’t be more aptly named. I stand on my tent porch and with a few ashes of my torch I call the askari (night guards) who es­cort me on the short walk through the bush to the din­ing hall in the main lodge. With no fences, the prop­erty is free for any an­i­mals to roam.

Our fi­nal morn­ing starts with a Naboisho spe­cial­ity – a walk­ing sa­fari guided by Roelof. Ri­fle in hand (though he tells us he’s only ever had to dis­charge it twice in his more than 20 years of guid­ing), we fol­low him into a ravine, where we nd traces of an ele­phant herd that had stopped there the night be­fore. Four hours later, we are back at camp hav­ing clam­bered and climbed through the bush and up rocky moun­tain­sides, watch­ing ele­phants from a safe dis­tance, learn­ing about the in­tri­cate ecosys­tems.

On our de­par­ture, as we ap­proach Nairobi and the land­scape be­comes densely pop­u­lated again, I have to take a few deep breaths and pre­pare to be over­whelmed by the sen­sory over­load that a city like Nairobi can be. It isn’t just quiet in the Mara. It is still. There’s a peace there that I have not been able to nd since land­ing back at home. The real joy of the Mara is the chance to be lost in your own thoughts and to be con­fronted by a scale of na­ture few peo­ple are ex­posed to. A new sched­ule; a dif­fer­ent pace.

Back home, as I try to not be over­whelmed by my to-do list, I’m re­minded of that peace­ful place and make a men­tal note to make time for still­ness.

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