Ex­pe­ri­ence the Wild Side of Africa

Ex­pe­ri­ence the wild side of Africa and let the Mara mys­tify with her un­tamed beauty. KATE WEB­STER takes you into the wild, from dawn to dusk in one of Africa’s most iconic play­grounds.

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Inside Issue11 -

as dawn breaks, there was a stir­ring hap­pen­ing. The air was cool, but charged with an elec­tric­ity that cuts through the static and leaves you feel­ing on edge. The smell of the bush danced on the air, a sweet mix of flo­rals, rus­tic earthy scents and pet­ri­chor from the morn­ing dew.

The sun’s golden glow blan­keted the plains, its warmth still de­vel­op­ing with each minute that passed. The sound of morn­ing birds filled the air in a sym­phony of calls. There was move­ment on the hori­zon.

It was my first visit to the Maa­sai Mara in Kenya. Af­fec­tion­ally known as the Mara, it is a large game re­serve in Narok County, which con­tin­ues to the Serengeti Na­tional Park in Mara Re­gion, Tan­za­nia.

The Maa­sai Mara was named in hon­our of the an­ces­tral in­hab­i­tants of the area, the Maa­sai peo­ple. They de­scribed the area when looked at from afar, "Mara", which is Maa (Maa­sai lan­guage) for "spot­ted," an apt de­scrip­tion for the cir­cles of trees, scrub, sa­vanna, and cloud shad­ows that mark the area.

Cov­er­ing some 1,510 km2, the Maa­sai Mara stretches for as far as the eye can see. Even then, it is only a frac­tion of the Greater Mara ecosys­tem, which cov­ers some 25,000 km2 and in­cludes the fol­low­ing Group Ranches: Koiyaki, Le­mek, Ol Chorro Oirowua, Olkinyei, Siana, Maji Moto, Naikara, Ol Derkesi, Kerinkani, Oloirien, and Kim­intet.

If I were a vulture cir­cling and look­ing across the land, I would see the Serengeti Park to the south, the Siria es­carp­ment to the west, and Maa­sai pas­toral ranches to the north, east and west. I would see the Sand, Talek River and Mara River all sus­tain­ing the re­serve with fring­ing shrubs and trees.

Ac­cess

The day ear­lier, I boarded a small Air Kenya DeHav­il­land Twin Ot­ter 300 plane at Wil­son Air­port in Kenya’s cap­i­tal of Nairobi and flew east for about two hours to land at Olkiombo Airstrip. Due to the size of the plane, lug­gage al­lowance was lim­ited to a soft bag weigh­ing no more than 15kg.

The flight was where the ex­cite­ment started, cruis­ing over the coun­try­side speck­led with town­ships and farms and ex­panses of ter­rain that was just empty. Not for the un­easy flyer, the flight took a few pit­stops along the way, each time land­ing on a dirt run­way, which seemed in the mid­dle of nowhere.

Camp

With the dy­ing light, it was straight from Olkiombo Airstrip to my ac­com­mo­da­tion, Mara Ex­pe­di­tion Camp. Mara Ex­pe­di­tion Camp sits on a small bend in the Nti­aki­tiak

River, where a thick river­ine for­est meets the un­end­ing sa­van­nah in the north-cen­tral sec­tion of the Maa­sai Mara.

A small camp with just five tents ac­com­mo­dat­ing up to ten guests, the in­ti­macy of this camp is a main draw­card. There was a real feel of au­then­tic­ity here with an air of yes­ter­year in the de­sign, which draws stylis­tic ref­er­ence from the old, au­then­tic ex­pe­di­tion camps of the colo­nial era.

Con­structed in the spirit of mo­bil­ity and non-per­ma­nence out of def­er­ence to the wilderness, which sur­rounds it, the camp is tented sa­fari style. How­ever, these tents are far from those you buy at your lo­cal camp­ing store. The taste­fully ap­pointed tents take glamp­ing off the scale, and you hardly feel like it is a tented camp. Set at ground level and shaded by the for­est canopy, the tents forego fancy ameni­ties, but still leave you want­ing for noth­ing.

The over­sized bed sat cen­tre of the main room and gave a view out to the bush. A sep­a­rate bath­room in­cluded an an­tique camp shower that pulls from a brass bucket, adding to the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence. The tent was dec­o­rated with an eclec­tic yet co-or­di­nated assem­bly of what early ex­plor­ers may have car­ried with them – brass chan­de­liers, old In­dian cam­paign ch­ests, rich leather and hard­wood fur­ni­ture – com­bined with rich tex­tiles and soft cot­tons.

Into the wild

Wak­ing be­fore the sun, I was ready to em­bark on my first game drive of my stay. It was late Oc­to­ber and still rel­a­tively cold in the morn­ings. Armed with an ar­tillery of cam­eras and lenses, freshly

The Maa­sai Mara was named in hon­our of the an­ces­tral in­hab­i­tants of the area, the Maa­sai peo­ple. They de­scribed the area when looked at from afar, "Mara", which is Maa (Maa­sai lan­guage) for "spot­ted," an apt de­scrip­tion for the cir­cles of trees, scrub, sa­vanna, and cloud shad­ows that mark the area.

brewed cof­fee and a tra­di­tional Maa­sai shuka cloth that is af­fec­tion­ately known as the “African blan­ket” to keep me warm. There was just my­self and JP, the game ranger, in the open-air ve­hi­cle as we bounced off into the break­ing dawn. It didn’t take me long to grasp that this is a place of learn­ing, where Africa teaches lessons that will change the way you view the world in one of the most in­cred­i­ble class­rooms on the planet – the in­com­pa­ra­ble Maa­sai Mara. A place where lions and other big cats own the night; a place where hip­pos stake claim to vast ter­ri­to­ries; a place where we sub­mit to the supreme power of wild Africa and take our lead from Mother Na­ture.

The golden glow of the sky faded as the sun rose higher in the sky and the slight stir­ring of wildlife dur­ing the break­ing dawn be­came more ac­tive. There seemed to be a sense of ur­gency to start the day. Just a few kilo­me­tres out from the camp and that supreme power of the wild was upon me.

Gi­raffes walked grace­fully across the plains, cu­ri­ously stop­ping ev­ery so of­ten to glance around and sur­vey the area. Grand ma­jes­tic ele­phants pa­raded slowly past, the younger ele­phants trail­ing play­fully be­hind. Wild dogs called in the dis­tance, an ex­cited chat­ter like that of chil­dren run­ning off to play.

Herds of wilde­beest con­gre­gated as if at­tend­ing a morn­ing board meet­ing. Mixed with them were daz­zles of ze­bra and I am told these are the strag­glers that did not ven­ture on the great mi­gra­tion. De­scribed as the great­est show on Earth, the Great Mi­gra­tion is an over­whelm­ing, hum­bling and quite sim­ply amaz­ing wildlife ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ev­ery year, mil­lions of wilde­beest, ze­bras and gazelles com­bined gather on the vast plains of the Serengeti in Tan­za­nia to be­gin their race to­wards greener graz­ing lands. Fol­low­ing the rains, they head north to­wards the Maa­sai Mara be­fore about­turn­ing and dash­ing south again. It's a sprint for sur­vival, cov­er­ing a to­tal of over 1,800 miles, and the jour­ney is in­cred­i­bly tough, where only the strong sur­vive. Sur­vival is a bat­tle that is played out daily in the Mara, and from the serene start to my morn­ing, I was about to be quickly awo­ken by such a bat­tle.

A li­on­ess crouched in the long grass, her body twitched in an­tic­i­pa­tion. Although her stare was fixed on the tar­get, she was aware of ev­ery­thing that was going on around her. The gazelle un­for­tu­nately was not, other­wise it would have re­alised what im­me­di­ate dan­ger it was in and the fate that lay ahead. It had been only min­utes that I had been watch­ing the li­on­ess’s stealth, but it felt like hours, and the an­tic­i­pa­tion numbed my body. I had to re­mind my­self to breathe.

A lighting burst from the li­on­ess be­gan the hunt as she erupted from the si­lence of her cam­ou­flage, the at­tack was on. The gazelle re­alised all too late. In the dis­tance I saw a flurry of move­ment in the scrub and grass, the im­pala’s hind leg jut­ted into the air and the tum­ble of these two an­i­mals in this wres­tle for life stirred up dust and de­bris that floated gen­tly in the air above the chaos that un­rav­elled be­low. As we drove closer to the kill, an over­whelm­ing sense of emo­tions en­gulfed me. The ini­tial scene of tragedy turned to one of hope as the li­on­ess was soon joined by her small fam­ily, with more of the pride ar­riv­ing to feast on the meal. It then be­comes clear to me the mean­ing be­hind ‘the cir­cle of life’, the loss of one an­i­mal’s life in or­der for an­other an­i­mal to live.

This cir­cle is the essence of Africa. It’s what keeps the con­ti­nent’s heart beat­ing; it’s what keeps it alive. A beat that is rooted deep in the soil that sup­plies life to the age-old Baobab trees; a beat that echoes be­yond the vast plains that feed such amaz­ing and unique an­i­mals; a beat that lives on in the souls of those who live there and a beat that will al­ways re­main in my heart af­ter my first visit to the Maa­sai Mara.

As my day came to an end, I rev­elled in the most mem­o­rable African sun­set. The yel­low-or­ange-red and vi­o­let hues of sun­set was in­tense, yet of­fered a calm­ing warmth. Like a great big ro­man­tic fire in the sky, the sun dipped be­hind the hori­zon as if an orches­tral sym­phony was qui­et­ing down. The sun’s rays waved good­bye like an old friend, but you know you will see them again.

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