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Ride to paradise made easier with paved Mara road

RIFT VALLEY
By Peter Muiruri | Dec 31st 2020 | 4 min read
By Peter Muiruri | December 31st 2020
RIFT VALLEY

The newly paved 86-kilometre Narok-Sekenani road has made the trip to Masai Mara easier and comfortable. [Peter Muiruri, Standard]

Recent completion of the 86-kilometre Narok-Sekenani road has ended the agony that tourists and drivers went through to get to the world-famous Masai Mara Game Reserve.

The 30-month road construction project undertaken by China Wu Yi Company at a cost of Sh2.2 billion began in 2016 and included widening the carriageway from a width of 5.5 metres to six. 
 

Blissful holiday

Apart from the road works, the contractor has also built several water pans for use by area residents, most of whom are pastoralists.

“We also improved drainage systems by constructing additional cross culverts, access culverts and side drain improvement on a 23-kilometer stretch,” said Evans Kinyua, the resident engineer in charge of the road.

The road will be critical in promoting Masai Mara as a tourist destination.

Masai Mara is arguably one of the most picturesque and most famous wildlife sanctuaries on earth, having been voted as the eighth wonder of the world in 2007.

The newly paved road to Masai Mara will boost local tourism by providing faster travel to the world-renowned park. [Peter Muiruri, Standard]

Every year, the dotted plains host the famed wildebeest migration where the last of the great herds cross over from Serengeti in Tanzania in search of fresh shoots for the calving mothers.

For eons, the Mara River has acted like a theatre of sorts as one herbivore after another falls into the gaping jaws of the dreaded Nile crocodiles, thrilling close to 700,00 tourists who contribute about Sh2 billion to Narok County annually.

Yet, for 60 years, the road leading to this paradise was a potholed dust bowl where only the bravest of drivers could dare attempt.

Many visitors had their dreams of a blissful holiday in the Mara killed on the Narok-Sekenani road.

Tour vehicles broke down regularly, forcing guests to spend days, and nights, in the middle of nowhere. Many missed their flights as exasperated drivers tried to navigate the treacherous bog that turned into a muddy quagmire during the rains.

The drivers protested by blocking the road with their vehicles. With no one to listen to their grievances, they would dust themselves off, get back into the vehicles and drive away in disgust.

“I never thought I would live to see the road fixed,” says Fredrick Wanjau, a tour driver. Wanjau has used the road for the last 20 years and ranked it as one of the worst in Kenya.

He recalls the hearty laughter that would punctuate the first part of the journey from the city to Narok town.

“After Narok town, the euphoric mood would give way to gloom as soon as we hit the rough stretch. The guests, visiting Kenya for the first time, would be introduced to the ‘African massage,’ the unending rattling enough to tear one’s spine to pieces,” he says.

To Wanjau, the road to paradise could as well have been a route to the abyss.

“As soon as we hit the dirt road to eternity, all you would hear was the occasional ‘are we almost there’ phrase from the dusty tourists. Then conversations would die off,” says Wanjau, a driver with Hemingways Expeditions.

“Once we arrived at the camp, the tourists would ask me, ‘are we still going to use the same road on our way back?’ And I would answer in the affirmative. The tourists would then ask the office in Nairobi to book them an air ticket, leaving me to drive back to the city by myself,” recalls Wanjau.

But thanks to the newly-paved road, the horror of a road trip to the Mara is now a closed chapter and those desiring to enjoy a game drive can now take their small, urban cars up to Sekenani where they can change into a tour vehicle, saving them time and money.

“During this year’s wildebeest migration, Kenyans used the road, driving their small cars up to the gate before hiring the tour vehicles  for a game drive. They would then drive to Narok for overnight stay, resuming the game drive the following morning,” says Christine Koshal, Masai Mara’s chief park administrator.

The park charges Sh1,000 for an adult Kenyan and Sh300 for children for a 24-hour stay within the reserve.

Jeremiah Chege, marketing manager at Gamewatchers Safaris and Porini Camps says the company had stopped taking tourists on some circuits that required connecting through the Narok-Sekenani road.

The excursions have since resumed. “We can now see the full impact of the road,” he says. “We even have some guests driving from Amboseli, past the Ngong Hills to Sekenani. Such trips would have been impossible in the past.”


Cottage industries

Chege says it is even possible for someone now to use public transport up to Sekenani gate and then hire a tour vehicle for a game drive, resulting in huge savings.

Melinda Rees, a manager with Ol Seki Hemingays Mara, says getting fresh produce to the camp is now easier and less expensive.

“Kenyans love to drive in search of adventure and the new road gives them that opportunity. Of course, they need to use the right vehicle as there are strict rules on the type of vehicles allowed inside the conservancies,” she says.

The road is also expected to open up a number of cottage industries specialising in tourism products.

But others feel that the new road may also have adverse effects on conservation.

For example, Chege says there will be an increase in the number of animals crashed by speeding drivers.

The road design should have incorporated underground tunnels for wildlife to use, he says.

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