After a night being spent going to the airport, taking a very early flight from Khartoum to Nairobi (3.45am!!!) and enjoying a glass of wine or two actually (I missed wine while in Sudan) and having no sleep at all, straight after the landing in the airport I was picked up for going to the Masai Mara safari tour. Needless to say, I felt very very tired, but even the journey to the Masai Mara national park, which took us about 5 hours, managed to keep me awake as it was so interesting to see a different face of Kenya with little villages on our way, beautiful landscapes and local people.
We were a group of 6 people of which three were working for the World Bank. Huhh.. For those who know what I think about the ‘(un)holy trinity’ – WB, IMF and WTO, will easily guess what I could have felt, but well, to look at it from the positive side – luckily, those were not IMF guys. J But, already in the first 20 minutes of our conversation we managed to get into a quite passionate discussion about politics and international development which had to be cut off in order to avoid getting into an argument and spoil the beautiful day. Later on when having a dinner with some more wine in our camp we actually could reach an agreement on hypocrisy, double standards and unfairness which is widely practiced by these organizations. Moreover, we even ended up praising Chavez for his strong political beliefs and progress which is achieved in South America through socialist policies.
What is typical among the touristic places here in Kenya is to offer Western rather than local food as if trying to comfort us as much as possible. However, we felt that spaghetti with Bolognese sauce is not really what we would expect to have in safari camp in Kenya. Moreover, when a Canadian tourist asked in the breakfast if they had a peanut butter, I was really shocked to hear that yes, they did. Isn’t that bazaar?
The same Canadian girl, probably about 25 years old, was visiting Africa, the same like me, for the very first time and admitted how big culture shock she felt by being here. She seemed to be over-romantizing Africa thus creating this great distance between her expectations, illusions and reality. After this tour she will be going to climb up the Kilimanjaro (!). She has not been training for it and has not been climbing before but thinks she can do it and it will boost her confidence. We all wished her best of luck but deep inside I felt a bit worried about her. She might be a bit too naive for this challenge, especially as she is planning to do it completely alone… Many people at some point in their lives do such things..
While travelling you are asked hundreds of times from where you are from and who you are. Here in Africa I started to use a reference to London and UK more often than usually as I realized that Latvia is not known to many people. They would not be able to guess the continent. With one of the WB guys who was originally from Kazakhstan we were discussing this identity issue and to my surprise he was completely lost who he is. As he is ethnically actually Ukrainian, being raised in Ukraine but in a Russian culture and now living in Kazakhstan, he could not answer really who he is. Russian? Ukrainian? Kazak? This then automatically reminded me of our old and sensitive problem of non-citizens and massive Russian speaking population in Latvia, who are direct victims of Soviet poli-technologies and are not able to sort out their identity crisis.
During this three day safari trip we had an afternoon game ride (this is how they call rides in the park to see animals) on the first day, then a 10 hours long ride in the second day with a lunch under the acacia tree and with an astonishing landscape in front of us, a visit to Masai village in the evening and then one more early morning game ride (6:15 – 8:30) on the third day before breakfast and return to Nairobi. All these rides were simply fantastic. We saw many buffalos, giraffes, zebras, lions, elephants, topi, impalas, gazelles, Secretary birds, tiger, chita, monkeys, hippos, lizards, crocodiles, baboons, jackals, antelopes, etc. Safari was awakening our internal primitive hunter’s instincts and we really became very enthusiastic about trying to notice new animals or birds. The difference is that instead of guns we have photo cameras and shoot as many photos as possible. After these three days I have about 1000 photos with animals and this magnificent nature.
This park of complete wildlife made me feel like you can’t get closer to nature than this. Yes, we were not allowed (well, with very few exceptions) to get out of the car because it might be really dangerous. Though animals understand that there are people in the cars, they do not attack cars, but they would attack people if they would be just standing in front of them. But, despite that, it anyway felt that the wild nature was all around us. So called Paradise plains were breathtaking. Infinite beauty and freedom.
Adventure would not be a real adventure without adventure. Though most of the time we would be driving on the roads, sometimes when we needed to get closer to some animals or simply follow them so that we can see them, we would just cross the meadow and go where we need. Generally soil is enough dry and hard, so it is safe to drive this way, however, this may not be helpful when you don’t notice a pothole like it happened with us and our van got stuck in. With a help of another van and our pushing we managed to get our van out of the pothole. Our driver was excellent. Not only his driving was great, but he was also a very knowledgeable guide. I think, I have a childhood trauma of having had constant problems with cars or roads when visiting my grandparents which meant often using muddy or snowed in roads or just simply having often technical problems with a car. So, I often got scared of very damaged, bumpy roads or deep potholes or speeding up especially when the driver would get a message from other drivers about animals we need to see. Sometimes it really felt like I am taking part in a rally. But driver would just look at me, smile and say – don’t worry. We asked him also what has been his most spectacular experience during his 12 years of working as a guide. His answer was – seeing a piton swallowing gazelle. Wow. I really wanted to see a snake, but we didn’t.
It was interesting that in the park we also saw some rangers who are controlling those who are coming and hunting the animals. Obviously, this is an old and also very profitable illegal business; therefore authorities try to eliminate that, though I am not sure how successful they are.
One evening we had a good chat with a waitress in the camp’s café and as a local she was explaining us their survival strategy. Apparently these wild animals may be met anywhere also outside the park, therefore they should know how to behave when meeting them. Funnily enough, but she said that she would prefer to meet a lion rather than an elephant as it might be extremely dangerous, aggressive and fast. I would never have thought that elephant can really do much harm to people. They are too massive, but apparently, it’s quite opposite.
At one place we saw a smoke and we were wondering from where it comes and if the grass is burning or what. Then we learnt from our Ecuadorian friend that Indians would believe that when it is very dry, they would make fire and get smoke, because they would believe that smoke creates clouds and clouds then produce rain. This is how they would get more rain. Our driver said that it is probably not a case here and the fire/ smoke most likely is just an accident. 🙂
But, just imagine – this huge Masai Mara park (it is actually merged with Serengeti park in Tanzania) is all for wild animals. Humans cant do anything here except come and see the animals. And I would wonder what has happened in Europe? Is it really so that we didn’t and we don’t have wild animals? Or have we been just so greedy that we have pushed all the animals in miniature reserves or parks or zoos? Here seems like people definitely appreciate the nature more than elsewhere. As for the Masai tribe, they don’t eat any vegetables and greens, because they believe that the Nature is God and you don’t eat your God.
At the end of the trip we had to fill in an evaluation form and we got into a discussion about the food. We had quite conflicting views on what can be expected on a safari tour in a different country and continent. Somebody complained about having just sandwiches for one of our lunches. But I said – listen, in London this is exactly what people most of the times eat for lunch – a sandwich!
During this trip several times we had a chance to visit souvenir shops which I started to dislike at the end because of the pressure you feel from the sellers to buy something. I bought few things but did not really got in to bargaining as I just took it partially as a charity. I also managed to buy the most expensive post card I have ever bought and though initially I thought I would send it to my mum, I think, I will keep it to myself for memory. 1.40GBP for a postcard: about 5 times more expensive than an average postcard in London.
I definitely would recommend you to use this company (Jocky Tours) as it might be a real challenge to decide with which tour operator to go on tour. When you would start googling, you would find tens and hundreds of different companies with different prices. I got confused very quickly, but then I just simply risked and booked with them and fortunately, I have no regrets. However, I should admit, it was quite bazaar when we found out that our group of 6 people have been paying different prices for this tour (from 280 to 480 USD). The reason is that you may book your tour through different companies, but at the end of the day they form the groups by adding people from different companies if one company does not get enough bookings.