Growing up, I was a curious child with a great appetite for adventure and I really enjoyed travelling and being out and about. I remember my parents bundling me in to our old 504 Peugeot, which at the time was the village attraction, and taking me on adventures across our village. From visiting relatives to the occasional leisure trips, all I remember was that I was the happiest child on the planet as we traversed across the beautiful coffee estates of Nyeri. As an adult, going on safari and exploring the beauty of our country has become a primary passion of me. I have made it a personal initiative to travel and to appreciate the beauty of Kenya.
A dream coming true
When I started working, I saved for my first adventure which saw me identify Maasai Mara trip as my destination of choice. I had heard wonderful things about the Great Wildebeest Migration which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and I wanted to witness this. This led me to book a trip through a local tours and travel company and my excitement was in the air as I wanted to experience Maasai Mara with all senses. Hear lions roar, see the wildebeest migration, taste maasai food, touch the waters of the Mara river, and smell fresh air out of the City. The excitement was evident as I was first person to arrive at the pick-up point well over thirty minutes before our scheduled departure time.
The Drive to Mara
It is about 310 km to the Masaai Mara and it takes about 6 hours. It is a long and bumpy road drive from Nairobi to the Masai Mara. Along the way one crosses towns and villages, and scenic views of the Great Rift valley. Our first stop over was at the view point of the Great Rift Valley. One of the world’s natural wonders with a stunning beauty that also offers a great opportunity for a photo.
A view of the Great Rift Valley: Credits: Magical Kenya
Along the way we stopped in Narok town to have our lunch. The famous Kenyan Nyama Choma which is traditional roasted meat. For a first time traveler to Kenya you should try this mouth-watering delicacy. After the lunch break we entered the last leg of our drive to the park, which was like a run through the jungle with all the bumps hitting us hard! On the way one sees many traditional maasai villages surrounded by tree branches filled with thorns to protect them from wild animals. After less than three hours we arrived at our destination at the gates of Masai Mara. As we approached towards the gates I was amazed by a variety of wild animals one could see even before entering the park. They include wildebeest, giraffe, zebras, gazelles and African elephants.
Myself at the gate to the Maasai Mara National Reserve
My Mara Experience
Early morning sunrises and late evening sunsets are spent out on the African Savanna searching for all the wild game one could find in the heart of Kenya. We hopped into our safari van and spent hours keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife. “It’s all out there, you just have to pay attention” our driver guide kept saying. These animals are made to blend in with their surroundings and if you blink, you may miss an amazing opportunity. Although during the game drives all I could think about was taking the best pictures or the so called ‘Selfies’ by the Millennials. However, being on the game drive isn’t about that, it’s about being in the moment. And it’s those memories from being in the moment that stood out for me. Witnessing a lion have a wildebeest locked in its jaw. Seeing a leopard make a kill which is a rare sight as our driver guide said. Watching a herd of elephants as they glided silently through the long grass. Watching a spectacular sunset that took my breath away as the sky lit up like a burning flame and then exploded into even more vibrant hues of reds, orange and yellow. It was silent. It was magical. It does not matter what game drive vehicle you are in. The key to having the best experience in the wilderness is to start your day with no expectations and embrace what Mother Nature provides as you explore the park.
July to October every year is the season for Great Wildebeest Migration. A captivating and dramatic movement of about half a million wildebeests from the drier lands in Tanzania to the Masai Mara. This natural phenomenon attracts thousands of local and international visitors. Hence the reason it was on my travel bucket list for years. And now it was finally the time to witness the greatest show on Earth. One of the most sought-after experiences for wildlife and nature enthusiasts. With its front-heavy profile, dark colouration and cow-like horns, for a first-timer traveller it can be forgiven for confusing it with the much larger buffalo hahahaha… However, the wildebeest is an antelope; that belongs in the Alcelaphinae subfamily, with the likes of hartebeest, topi and blesbok.
Every year, around 1.5 million wildebeest; 350,000 Thomson’s gazelle; 200,000 zebra participate in the show. The wildebeests (also known as gnu) journey start from Serengeti-Tanzania in search of rich pastures and reach the Mara River crossing point in thousands. Along the way, high drama is always present, as thousands of animals are taken by predators, and thousands more are born, replenishing the numbers and sustaining the circle of life. The wildebeest migration is a flurry of activity. These ‘migrants’ tag along the big cat team; lion, leopard, cheetah, just to mention a few that get attracted to this “rhythm of a feast” as they prey on the migrants. The African wild dog, and the spotted hyena “true garbage-man of the savannah” can be spotted lurking in the shadows, waiting for their meaty fill, as the soaring vulture eagerly waits for the remains only to clean up after the party. Not only do the wildebeests have to deal with the swirling currents in the Mara river, but they also have to navigate through the crocodile infested waters. Only the strong make through to the other side!
A herd of Wildebeest crossing the Mara river during migration. Credits: Pixabay
On one of the afternoons, we visited a Maasai Village commonly known as Maasai Manyatta as we wanted to interact and experience the Maasai way of life. An authentic culture that still thrives amidst century-old tradition. One couldn’t fail to recognize their unique piece of clothing the shùkà, a sheet of fabric worn wrapped around their body. At the village, you arrive to a cultural Maasai welcome of dancing, jumping, singing, hmmmM’ing & waaaYaYaYa’ing closely followed by friendly Maasai men showing you the Manyatta and the women show you their bead work they make to earn a living. During the visit the men share their wonderful life-stories about their culture, traditions, their dancing, hunting skills, the medicinal uses for local plants, and their diet. I was immersed amongst this fascinating local experience in the Maasai Mara. One thing that caught my eyes at the Manyatta was that all the homes look alike as they are built with a combination of mud, grass, sticks, and cow dung.
Myself and a Maasai woman during a visit to the Maasai Manyatta
Having spent two nights and 3 days in the wilderness it was time to return to the City of Nairobi. One great things about Maasai Mara is that it is a year – round safari destination. However, if you want to experience all this drama of the most amazing wildlife phenomena on earth, within the gently rolling savannah landscape amid endless undisturbed African skies, then the best time to book your trip is between July – October.
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