Very few places offer close-up contact with nature as the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. This piece provides a personal experience of how relaxing and enjoyable the reserve could be.
It may sound clichéd and boring, but I bet we all need it. As in, at least once in a while, we need to just get lost in the grips of nature: free ourselves to unspoilt air’s therapy, soaking up green scenery backlit by a golden sun tucked somewhere up in the blue sky. I just want more of it! Yes, I can’t have enough of the calmness gleaned from nature, the peace, the sense of aloofness from troubles and the pleasing pleasantness of it all…and I want more…and even more on a trip. To travel to a new place and still feel like local. To talk about the boys and girls down the streets in the first-person plural. To kick the balls like locals and drink from the same goblet like they do. Yeah, I want all of that, because they make the trip fun and the story worth telling.
Kenya did that for me the last time I was there. It has amazing safari experience in Masai Mara, postcard-perfect beaches at Watamu, a sky-kissing mountain with a glacier on top and massive lake in Nanyuki, colourful culture and food, and friendly people just in every corner. It’s just a country that’ll continue to be on my mind.
I never knew how much stress I had put myself until my dad said I should take a break and go on holiday. That’s very much unlike him. You know those dads that treat all their staff the same way, whether you’re their child or not? Yeah, that’s the kind of man he is. And he won’t stop giving me targets!
I was so glad to run away for some days. For a while I was confused. Where really do I go? The Caribbean, America? Europe or where? Then it occurred to me on one of those days that most of my clothes were now bigger. Hmm, I had lost weight under intense work schedule and I needed rest.
Well, I packed my bag ready for Kenya. The choice was, in fact, made after a miniminimanimo kind of gamble. I bought the 7-day tour from deals.afrotourism.com where too many options almost made me mad.
The Murtala Muhammed International airport in Lagos has a funny reputation—that’s a matter for another day, though I understand things have changed now. In any case, that was where the journey officially began with a flight on Kenya Airways straight to Nairobi.
Surprise surprise! The Afro Tourism guys were true to their words. I had barely stepped into the waiting area of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi, when I saw a young man and lady holding a placard with my name boldly written on it. “Welcome to Kenya”, they both chorused in voices quite laden with Swahili accent. Their smiles were genuine, and it was lost on me that I was just meeting them for the first time. They took my luggage and led me to a waiting car. Then zoom, we cruised, well, not really into Nairobi per se, but to another airport: Wilson airport, where we boarded another aircraft to Masai Mara National Reserve. The journey between JKIA and Wilson took us about an hour.
Wilson is a small airport, consisting of a large room where you check your bags and wait till you are led to your plane. My guides told me that most local flights from Nairobi take off here. The airport has a food service counter which serves coffee and sandwiches. We took some while waiting for our flight. The toilets are clean too. And the sofas are comfortable.
When I finally arrived at the lodge I would call home for the next few days, I heaved a sigh of relief. I had travelled so long to be here and the view alone was all I needed at the time. I stood for a moment to take it all in: the greens, the river, the beautiful pieces of artwork decorating the walls, oh, I hadn’t looked well enough, there were hippos in the water too, then the huge dining area, the frescos, the large swimming pool with turquoise water that looked like they were fetched from the Indian ocean, and the gorgeousness of it all. When I finally entered the spacious, luxury-spoilt apartment that is now my room—for now at least, I smiled: you know that wicked smile of spoilt happiness! “This is really amazing”, I thought.
Alone in the room, I moved closer to the window and peered into the horizon. Before me laid beautiful scenery with different species of birds flocking around. I showered and laid on the bed for over an hour, fantasying about how the coming days would unfold. Dinner was a buffet, with a variety of options. “No, I’ll do something local”, I told the chef when he asked what I would like to have after he noticed that I was just there staring. There was this tinge of happiness on his face as he offered to help, I was happy too to find someone eager to impress me with Kenyans’ local food.
“You are from Nigeria right?” I nodded in answer. “Try ugali na sukuma wiki, you’ll love it”. He said. I didn’t know what that was, but I was ready to give it a try. He led me to where the meal was and cut a generous size of Ugali, a cornmeal porridge, into the dish for me and then added a flavourful mix of hearty greens and meat. “They go well together”, he said, with a wink. Truly, it was a nice meal.
I woke up the next day to sweet melodies from the birds. I checked the time, it was just past 4 am. My Lagos life of waking up so early has followed me here. I refused to get out of the soft, wide, luxury bed until I got a wake-up call. Around 5:30 am, I was seated in a safari van with a breakfast pack. Holiday in the wild of Mara has just begun! We had only driven a few minutes into the wild when we sighted two rhinoceros feeding. He has a single horn and our guide said it was unfortunate that rhinos were being poached because of that horn.
We drove further a bit before our tour guide stopped, and pointed at an open area where the king of the jungle itself was biting off and eating the flesh of the animal that the lioness had just hunted down. I was a little jittery because our safari van was an open-roof vehicle. “What if the animals decide to come at us,” I asked”. My tour guide smiled. He would laugh at my ignorance later, but for now, he needed me to be calm, so he told me not to panic and to always remember the rules which he had explained to me before the ride began.
The next delightful scene was when I saw a leopard making a kill. It was like one of those scenes you see only on NatGeo WILD. “This is a rare scene”, my tour guide said. Leopards hunt mostly at night, this one must have toiled all night like Peter in the bible and caught nothing…well, until now. I watch him creep to within a few metres of its unsuspecting prey before lunging, using powerful jaw muscles, to exert a lethal hold until the pray passed out.
An hour into the safari, my guide finally announced: “we are hoping to witness a part of the great migration this morning”. I have heard of the migration, I heard that over a million animals move between Masai Mara and Serengeti annually in this great migration. I was still picturing what it’d look like for real when I saw a hair-raising scene; from afar I could see the rise of dust and it felt like there was a war, I almost jumped out of my skin until I was told it was the migration of the animals. I was so elated to experience it: hundreds of wildebeests pressing one another for passage. It was amazing!
I spent the next three days enjoying the calm ambience of the Masai Mara, going on safari for more dramatic scenes, having guided walks that helped me interact with and lived like a local—I even bought the colourful Masai people’s dress and learnt the local dance steps and how to make a local delicacy called Wali wa Nazi (Coconut Rice) and roasted meat. To say the least, I had an amazing time!