Getting lost in the Masai Mara

What would you do if you were moving in the middle of a game park and you were attacked by a lion? Do you run and climb a tree? Do you pick stones and throw at it? Maybe you put up a fight so that your ancestors can pat you on the back when you finally meet them, for not having been a coward at the final hour.

What about trying to bribe the beast with something to eat? Would that work? Isn’t that what the guys at the zoo always do? These weird thoughts filled my head when it became clear that we had lost our way in the Masai Mara soon after we had landed at Olkiombo airstrip after a short flight from Wilson Airport in Nairobi. The drive from the airstrip seemed smooth for a while until it became clear that our driver was not sure of which direction we were supposed to take to get to Olare Mara Kempinski, the luxury tented camp we were booked into.

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A signature welcome Maasai dance. /Allan Brian Ssenyonga

Saved by the brave Maasai

He tried to make calls to the camp manager but the telephone network in such places is often close to useless. As we meandered around we met these two guys riding a motorcycle in the park. The passenger was carrying a goat and we stopped them to ask for directions. They were quite helpful but I could not stop thinking of how crazy I need to be, to ride a motorcycle in a game park and in the Mara itself!

However these were not your ordinary motorcyclists. These were Maasai. Yes, the guys you see on YouTube videos stealing meat from a pride of lions and walking away with a swag or chasing and catching a cheetah alive before handing it back to Kenya Wildlife Society. These guys are born brave. I think when baby lions are being naughty, they are told to behave or else daddy will call a Maasai. So for them riding or walking in the park is the same as this writer strolling on Kigali streets.

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A herd of buffaloes just minding their own business. /Allan Brian Ssenyonga

We eventually got to the famous Olare Mara Kempinski and we were welcomed by a Maasai dance to further cement the fact that we were in Maasai land. Olare Mara Kempinski is a sister property to the exquisite Villa Rosa Kempinski Nairobi that prides itself in hosting all the big shots who visit Nairobi be it Barrack Obama or India’s richest man – Mukesh Ambani. We were given a brief tour of the facility and our bags were taken to our tents as we settled for lunch.

 

After lunch, we went for an afternoon game drive which to this day ranks as the best game drive I have ever had. Imagine seeing most of the animals after just driving for five minutes. We saw a pride of about eight lions, then we saw a leopard hiding up in a tree as well buffaloes and gazelles all going about their business of being wild. We returned to the lodge satisfied that we had seen more than enough on day one.

Simba’s heavy breakfast

The next morning we had a quick early breakfast and headed out for the morning game drive. It was a bit chilly and we were lucky once again. Our driver and guide, Rafael was alerted by a colleague that someone was having a heavy breakfast near a tree. The guys who work in game parks have this coded language they use to alert each other of where to find the big five so as not to waste time driving around in circles.

So we drove close to this tree and found the king of the jungle finishing up on his heavy breakfast. The lion was eating a zebra and we could see lots of hyenas, jackals and vultures all waiting patiently from a distance for the king to have his fill first. The lion later got up and walked just about a metre from our truck. You could cut through the silence and tension in the truck as the king of the jungle strolled away.

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The boss takes a stroll after a heavy meal. /Allan Brian Ssenyonga

 

 

We followed him closely until he found a puddle of water and took some sips before continuing with his lazy stroll. We later took a different direction and found a huge herd of elephants. The guide told us that because elephants are so huge, they spend most of the day and night eating only sleeping for about four hours.

On our way back we found another leopard hiding in the grass watching zebras passing by. It seemed undecided on whether to grab one or simply watch them go by and hunt another day. Leopards can be so elusive and therefore being able to spot two of them in two days was quite a good score on our part.

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In the Mara the animals can really be this close. /Allan Brian Ssenyonga

Olare Motorogi Conservancy

Olare Mara Kempinski is located in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, which is part of the Masai Mara-Serengeti ecosystem. The conservancy is managed by a board that has representatives from the Maasai landowners, tourism partners and donors to ensure sustainability and protection of wildlife and the environment in general.

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The usually elusive leopard was in no mood to hide. /Allan Brian Ssenyonga

The conservancy system has proved to be a great way to achieve sustainable tourism in an ecosystem that some think is saturated with visitors especially during the great animal migrations from Serengeti to Masai Mara.

Even in the wild customer service is key

The service we got while at the Olare Mara was out of this world. The manager of the tented camp was very helpful and understanding. He always asked if we were having a good time or if we needed anything. The chef, who for some reason was called Bishop, ensured that we got the soul food we needed for us not to go wild.

The facility even has a swimming pool. Do you know how good it feels to swim in the middle of a game park? Monkeys stare at you from a distance and wonder why you have no tail like them yet you look like distant cousins.

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Breathtaking sundowner with different drinks to extinguish your thirst. /Allan Brian Ssenyonga

To top up our experience was the sundowner where we drove out to a romantic spot where we sipped different types of drinks as we chatted and watched the huge yellow sun sink into the horizon. We were told that many visitors to the park use the spot to propose to their loved ones. How can she say no when you have come all this far and are now in the middle of the jungle with wild animals watching you?

The next morning we had a bush breakfast where everything is served and eaten while in bush. In fact a school of hippos was nearby making what I think were jealous sounds as we devoured our omelettes and sipped on spiced African tea. In the Mara you get lost in the wild and enjoy it fully. Indeed destination East Africa is where one can find such beauty spots.

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This is Olare Mara Kempinski! /Allan Brian Ssenyonga

PS: This story first appeared here http://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/article/2016-09-25/203841/

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About Allan Ssenyonga

I am a Ugandan freelance writer/journalist based in Kigali, Rwanda. I have an insatiable desire for understanding and trying to explain media, political, cultural and social dynamics.
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