Last year Di McCann, mother of Sophie, N4A Executive Director, travelled with N4A founder Becky Tinsley to Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. This blog is about her safari in Kenya, which kicked off the trip. Click here to read more about her time in Rwanda and here to learn about her visit to our projects in Rwanda.
We flew into Nairobi International Airport to be thrown straight into the vibrant African zest for life, joining the frenetic early-morning, many-lane rush-hour traffic across town to catch a small plane out to the Masai Mara. It’s around an hour away to the south-west, over sunburnt rocky escarpments and yellow-brown grasslands as far as the eye can see. We were headed for three days of safari excitement, hopefully to see all the animals so familiar from books and David Attenborough programs, up close and personal. I was very excited!
The Mara Intrepids camp is at the centre of four huge game viewing regions through which runs the Mara River, the famous river crossed by vast herds of game returning from the Serengeti in Tanazania after the rains have washed the landscape green every year. Although we visited during the dry season we were thrilled to see all the famous animals – except rhino which are sadly in serious decline due to poaching. Our two days/three nights visit revolved around early morning and afternoon game drives in large 4WD vehicles with roll up sides and open tops for 360° visibility. The local driver-guides were a constant source of deep knowledge of the flora, fauna and geography of their land – no question could stump them! It takes years of study to become a guide. The early morning starts meant a dark 6am wakeup, dragging ourselves from lovely wooden, mosquito-netted four poster beds in tent-style cabins – very Out of Africa! But sleep was instantly forgotten on bumping across a rocky creek beside a hippo family noisily spurting and splashing and then seeing the sun rise over thorny bushes under which we could just spy a sleeping leopard! We enjoyed picnic breakfasts sitting around on grassy tussocks, a suitable distance from any hungry wildlife, especially keeping our beady eyes on numerous huge crocodiles sunbathing on rocks below. Back just in time for group lunch, a rest, and then back on board for the afternoon drive which ended as the enormous African red sun sank in the purple sky behind the windswept acacia tree on the far horizon.
Jolly evening meals were spent getting to know a fascinating group of like-minded people. By the last afternoon we felt we knew every square mile of the Masai Mara and had seen so much game: prides of lion, one tucking into a kill and another relaxing in a large family group, very playful and loving – the huge male walked leisurely between our two vehicles parked only a few yards apart. He lay down, accompanied by a swarm of small flies persistently irritating his face, scarred by fighting with a would be lion-king; elephant families lumbering gently across the plain; a giraffe awkwardly trying to reach succulent, low-growing shrubbery; both leopard and cheetah, so well camouflaged; thousands of wildebeest, topi with their blue jeans on, tiny Thomson’s gazelle with its black stripe & tail; majestic kudu, king of the anthill; menacing cat-dog hyena; vultures silently biding their time and warthog families trotting jauntily across the landscape looking for all the world like Pumba! My most vivid memory was being transfixed at a great vantage point on the bank of the Mara River, watching a vast herd of zebra stampede down the gentle, rocky slope just a few yards away, splashing noisily through the shallows and struggling up the steep bank opposite – the black & white stripes flowed in a pop art stream, shrouded in a white dust haze with the wet clopping sound of hooves on rocks, splashing in wild, uncontrolled, never-ending herd instinct.