There are a few places on Earth that one can never regret visiting more than once. Masai Mara is one of them.
It will never run out of fashion. Why, you ask? Because the curiosity never fades despite the fact that no radical changes occur. The giraffes are the same. So are the elephants, the topis, the gazelles, the birds, the buffaloes... and well, the lions.
So, one thawed Friday, in June, last month, a squad of journalists left Nairobi for the Mara. For most of us, it would be for the umpteenth time.
That is not to say that the mood was any damper — damp than the thick fog outside, as we descended downhill towards Mai Mahiu.
Four hours into the journey, we were firmly in the wild territory. We had covered the last mile of tarmac and now we were on a wide dirt road.
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Perhaps the surest sign that Mara was not far away was a herd of wildebeests — running wild as only wildebeests do.
They drenched the air with that nasty moo. In real life — rather than on TV — it is an assuring sound; the kind that urges you to relax, “because you are at the right place.”
The road is waterlogged, bumpy and rocky. But for a Land Cruiser such terrain seems to inspire mechanical prowess. In two hours, we find ourselves in a long queue of cars, each packed with tourists.
The process of ID verifications, payments and permit issuance takes anything between 10 and 20 minutes. And voila, the majestic Mara.
As always, spectacular in its simplicity. Something about Mara will make you stretch your sight to the horizon once you go past the famous Sekenani Gate. And what did we see? A beautiful merger of the sky and the clouds.
On the horizon, sun’s rays permeated the falling rain forming a monochromatic curtain. As if to celebrate the ambience, the calmness that carries with it the chirping of birds and noises of browsing mammals, light rain fell like confetti. Dik diks raced into the thickets at the sound of roaring engines.
The buffaloes, in unison, stopped grazing and stared at us: a long unending stare loaded with a warning. The alpha male took a few steps forward. It will protect its territory at all costs, we were told, and keep its dominance over the herd.
Not far away hundreds — if not thousands — of gazelles dotted a wide stretch. One cannot help but think that nature conspires to make such beauty over the landscape.
Close to zebras
All the while faint drops of rain kept falling. But nary a thing looked out of place. Not the sharp grass blades. Not the green leaves on deciduous vegetation. And certainly not animals which did nothing more than going about their day as they did the day before.
We snaked through a few more kilometres interior and stopped close to zebras, which as usual, wore the white and black stripes with grace. We felt much safer around them than we felt with the buffaloes. And they did not seem threatened by our presence, not even by our rumbling car.
We spent more time studying the zebras: their manners, eating behaviour and their mating rituals. But this can only go on for so long. From the opposite side, the trumpet of an elephant drew our gazes.
“We are on an elephant path. We have to move to a safer point,” our driver, a seasoned safari driver, warns. We did. The change of location revealed a family of nearly a dozen elephants.
In the Mara, you do not need to strain your eyes. You do not even need to look hard. The Mara will reveal itself to you.
The elephant is no doubt an imposing animal. Its posture announces that it fears nothing. However, nothing still compares to encountering a lion.
And so, we got excited when tourists heading in the opposite direction, perhaps to the lodge where they would be spending the night, informed us that they spotted lions 20 kilometres away.
We set off, eager to see the king of the jungle. Before we could reach the exact spot, we struggled through a muddy patch.
The effort was worthwhile. The king, with his sleepy harem, looked majestic. His mane intact and satisfied with the hierarchy in the wild that puts him at the top.
Dusk quickly approaches. We got a call from our host, Sarova Mara Game Lodge, inviting us to a sundowner of wine and snacks, right in the middle of the Mara. Of course under the watchful eyes of KWS rangers.
The next day we would be up again for another round of excursion in the Mara. No matter many times you traverse the Mara, it is ever fresh.