After securing a package of six days with www.terminaltourskenya.com , I was joined by John (the safari driver) and Kaiyoko (the cook). We were soon on the road from Nairobi to Masai Mara. A six hour drive, with the last 40 odd kilometres being on bone rattling dirt track. Late afternoon thundershowers and and Kaiyoko's promise of Nayma Choma in the days to come ushered in the sunset . The Mara Sadai Camp on the outskirts of the Wildlife Reserve was to be my home for the next two nights. The place was managed by Joseph (+254-0722370822/ firstname.lastname@example.org), a local Masai who could often be found in the upper deck of the dining area absorbed in his laptop with the best wifi modem in town.
Rain @ Masai Mara
Armed with the NikonD810/D3100 camera bodies and the Sigma 120-300mm 'S'/Nikkor 24-120mm the game drives began early morning. Masai Mara game reserve timings are 0630-1830. Steep fines (10000Ksh/100$) at the gates pretty much ensure the timings. After a short drive of 40 minutes with abundant sightings of Giraffe, buffalos, Zebra and the likes we finally arrived at a den occupied by a lion, lioness and their two cubs. Most experienced game drivers are aware of this den and can take you there first thing in the morning. This particular den has a stream running behind it which attracts prey and makes it an interesting place to spot some action.
New day in Masai Mara.
Mid-day is generally feeding time. A word of caution here. By instinct and quiet obviously the lion drags its kill to a secluded spot which will usually be away from the track of the game drives. An over-inquisitive tourist may force his driver off the track and a bit closer to the feeding area with the hope of capturing the moment. Well, other than the lions the park-rangers too wait patiently for such over-inquisitive tourists. After paying 10000Ksh/100$ for this shot I decided to make the best out of a lost situation.
An expensive shot.
Making the best of it. A different location.
Having chased lions all of the previous day, the second day at Masai Mara went by looking out for the other big cats and animals. A lucky sighting of the Cheetah was a pleasant surprise. Unlike the Lion, the Cheetahs were shy and sensitive to the presence of humans. This pack vanished into the undergrowth as soon as the second safari vehicle pulled up. Just had enough time for some hasty long distance shots with the Sigma lens.
My few minutes with the Cheetahs
On this day John drove me further into the game reserve towards the Mara river with the hope of capturing the infamous crocs feeding on the migrating wilderbeast. On the way I turned my lens towards the skies and was fortunate enough to catch a Lappet faced Vulture. A magnificent bird and one of the largest in the species.
An Endangered species. The Lappet faced vulture.
Instead of coming across the ferocious crocs in the Mara river I stumbled upon a group of Hippos that were soaking in the sun and enjoying the frequent showers that accompanied the late afternoons. With the migration season almost over they had the river to themselves and seemed to be at peace with nature. On the long drive back from the river the Zebra was everywhere. It was almost as if something had let them loose and they were salt-n-peppered across the landscape. The natural stripes help in easy focus as the camera makes out the contrast almost immediately.
As the day drew to an end the skies opened up and the rain came pouring down. The last few minutes of the drive were nail-biting as we joined up with a couple of other tour vehicles making a crazy dash for the finish line so as not to be fined or arrested. The pouring rains brought an electric feel in the atmosphere and I guess thats how I left Masai Mara. Amidst excitement and nervousness. But we did make it in time and so did everybody else, although the checking at the gate prior to exit was a tense moment. Alls well that ends well.
Kaiyoko's promise of Nayma Choma appeared improbable as his cooking skills left me in serious doubt. His cuisine had exotic names but when it landed on the table it was basically rice/bread/pancakes and curry. I ended up purchasing tons of fruits as they were plenty and fresh. It didn't effect Kaiyoko much when I left food on the plate, so I stuck to my fruit regime and John and Kaiyoko had a great time cooking and eating what they felt was right.
The next destination was Lake Nakuru. Joseph, the Masai running the Mara Sadai camp, wanted a ride to Narok and we obliged. In the bargain we managed to get through the many local checkpoints without having to pay. After a comfortable 5 hour drive we reached the World Club Association Guest house in Lake Nakuru. The accommodation was great and unlike Masai Mara had 24hrs electricity. Since we reached late in the day there was just enough time to do a sunset shot from the viewpoint inside the park. The rule of 0630-1830 applied here too. However at the viewpoint I was introduced to the African Baboon as they frequented the place for an opportunity to grab a quick bite from a careless tourist. Apt at the skill of begging they proved to be interesting subjects.
Baboons @ viewpoint, Nakuru
White Rhinos of Lake Nakuru
The next day saw us chasing Lions again. John was getting impatient at times now as we often stopped for long periods and many a times he wanted to move on. Aware of the change for the worse, I continued shooting, nevertheless. Early in the day was time for the Rhino and the Flamingo. It was feeding time for the Rhinos and cautious not to go off-roading again I sat tight and pressed the zoom to its limits. However a nice break was when stepping out was allowed to close in on the Flamingos in the lake. After crawling on my knees for a few 100 meters I finally managed to scare them all into flight. Thankfully there were no other bird-watcher around to scream at me. Managed to get some Pelicans in my frame too. They preferred to keep an eye on the intruder with the camera and moved sideways to enable flight at the slightest of opportunity.
Great White Pelican
After driving aimlessly for an hour or so, John used the onboard radio to help us locate a pride of lions basking in the mid-day sun up on a hill. Since I had managed to chase away most of the Flamingos and Pelicans with my clumsiness in commando tactics, it was a good idea to leave the lake front and head deeper into the forest. Up the hill and further into the game reserve we came across a Lioness and her cubs, probably resting after an early morning feast. The cubs were all grown up, probably into their teens as per lion years. The flies over their faces brought me to the conclusion of a fresh kill earlier in the day. After waiting patiently for a bunch of kids shouting out 'Simba-Simba' to leave the spot, John managed to get in close and remained focused as I went about setting my camera for the shot, responding correctly to my 'move-move-move-OK STOP' commands. God bless him.
We left Lake Nakuru and headed for Amboseli with a dream to shoot wildlife against Mt Kilimanjaro. The drive took us back through the maddening traffic of Nairobi, the fact that it was a weekday in the city made matters worse for John. After 7 hours, he finally pulled into Kimana Camp.
The nature reserve had the same timings as all the other previous ones, which killed the dream of getting wildlife at sunset or sunrise. Sucks. Maybe these tiny details need to be addressed in the planning phase. The lodging was organised in the Kimana Camp at the foothills of the Kilimanjaro. The little cozy cabin that was allotted to me made up for the stage that my relationship with John and Koyoko had reached. It wouldn't be unfair to say that they were not professional in their approach, often finding myself having to deliver motivational speeches on why I was there and how important a role they played in making my trip a success.
The last day at Amboseli was kind of a let down. Minimal sightings coupled with John's impatience to get back earlier was taking a toll. The game reserve has an elevated view point providing one with a birds eye view of the land around. It didn't take long to realise that all he did was drive around this view point and politely refused to make the trip deeper into the reserve. With little energy to break into a motivational speech, I decided to go with the flow. No Lions and Cheetahs for today and no more bitching about John.
Kilimanjaro remained draped with clouds for the days in Amboseli but the abundance of animals at the foothills brought a cheer. Wildebeest, Zebra, Buffalo, Deer and Antelope till as far as one could see and somehow, though the Sigma 120-300 was blowing out the skies, the freshness in the colors it reproduced was making me fall in love with it. It surpassed expectations as long as the sky was not in the frame. The solution obviously is to get a polariser but getting one with a 105mm thread is going to bleed my pocket which was still recovering form the purchase of this mammoth lens.
WCA Guest House @ Lake Nakuru
One of my favourites. Proud mother of three.
Managed a shit load of Marijuana on day one itself. After roaming the streets of Nairobi and stopping short of asking locals flat-out for Ganja, it remained a dream to score pot in this very congested and over the top city. Resigned to my fate of a trip through the cradle of wilderness without TCH coursing through my veins, I casually brought up the topic on my drive out towards Masai Mara with my tour guide. I struck gold. By the camp of Mara Sadai is this garage where all the tour vehicles check in to get their oil change. Thats about all one needs to know. I slept a happy child, stoned in the lap of mother Africa. :-) And thats pretty much how I slept for the rest of the Safari.