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Nothing compares to watching lions in the Mara

By Gardy Chacha | July 7th 2016
A lion at Maasai Mara Game Reserve. (Photo: Gardy Chacha/Standard)

We had been on the road for six hours when we arrived at the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Dusk was fast approaching and the whirling clouds hang over us threateningly.

It was therefore prudent that we check in at the hotel and plan for the following day instead of an immediate game drive. But most of us had nursed the Mara dream for so long that we decided to go for the game drive despite the foul weather.

We were a team of eight journalists visiting Narok on a mission to find out the state of education in the county. We would be spending the nights at the Sarova Mara Game Camp and possibly venture into the wild, too.

Safari drivers know the Mara like the back of their hands. As we drove along, David, the man on the steering wheel, regaled us with stories about the wild.

He knows how a zebra on heat behaves and which buffalo is the king of a pack. “Those two are fighting over a female,” he would say, pointing at horned antelopes squaring it out.

David constantly waved at other safari drivers. At times, he would stop for a quick 30-second catch up – something like a ritual among game drivers. It is during one such encounters that we learned of a pride of lions that had been spotted somewhere in the thickets. The only thing that stood between us and the lions was the muddy and rocky terrain.

“We have to get there before it is dark,” I said, hoping that David would work the engine through the distance. We drove for nearly 20 minutes. Finally, we came within view of the king and his harem.

There he was, resting on his tummy with his paws stretched forward; his mane mighty and thick; his eyes showy and piercing.

The lion is the one animal that defines the Mara. It does not matter that moments ago you bumped into a herd of 15 elephants or came across buffaloes in their hundreds. A Mara excursion is not complete until you have seen the king of the jungle – resting on his lair with lionesses and the cubs around him.

Later, the hotel, Sarova Mara Game Camp, located within the precincts of Mara, felt just right a place to ponder over the beauty of Mara. That same day, the hotel was hosting a sundowner and dinner in the wild.

The thought of nibbling a nicely roasted goat rib as wild animals lurk in the background is not in the least encouraging. “It is part of the Mara experience,” said Jimmy Kioko, the chief executive of Sarova Mara.

The camp consisted of condos ready to be occupied: wood flooring, woolly carpets, and a heavy jungle tent that feels like thick khaki. The lighting is moderated and just enough to illuminate the room.

The tents showcase the best of traditional Maasai accommodation and modern comfort. In the cold season, a night in the Mara may feel a tad bit cold for comfort. There is, however, no need to worry: a rubber bag with warm water is there to increase temperatures within the bed to favourable levels.

The next day, on a second game drive, we got to see more species. There was a herd of migrating wildebeests which looked less flattering compared to topis that hid while grazing in nearby thickets. The giraffes looked tame from a distance but intimidating at close range. The dik diks, at best, looked like outcast gazelles.

But the Mara is more than just animals. There are trees, shrubs, grass, pools of water, the clouds and the sky above. All come together to create a splendid ambience.

At noon, when the sun was shining directly over the Mara, instead of putting up with the heat, we went back to Sarova. We played tennis and badminton; relaxed on the beautiful lawns and rowed a boat on a pool; enjoyed mouth-watering meals and sipped top quality tea and coffee.

We would be joined later by morans from a neighbouring Maasai village, singing and shooting their svelte bodies into the air in the classic Maasai fashion.

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