Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Maasai Mara

Our entry into Kenya was pretty straight forward, paying $50 for a visa and a quick “health check” (a couple of quick questions) by the authorities there due to the Ebola virus outbreak in Uganda. All in all a quick border crossing. Unfortunately the same probably couldn’t be said for the many, many trucks lined up to cross the border in the other direction. And we had thought the Kazangula Border (Botswana- Zambia) was a bad one for trucks. There’s no doubt in my mind that until Africa can fix its border crossings for trucks, HIV will continue to be a major issue in society as these crossings make a huge contribution to HIV prevalence.

The many, many trucks waiting at the Kenya- Uganda border
Our first stop in Kenya was the town of Eldoret, a fairly short drive from the border. Unluckily we arrived amidst a hail storm, something we had definitely not expected. So in freezing and very wet conditions we set out to find accommodation. We had a couple of places noted down but being unable to see through the car windows and the downpour which never seemed to end, we decided to settle on the first reasonable looking hotel. We landed on Cicada Hotel, a fairly new establishment with very reasonable rates (less than $40pn from memory) and without doubt the best dinner we had on our entire trip; excellent Kenyan beef with baby potatoes and vegetables all for the bargain price of $4 each, YAY!!

What we arrived to: Hail storm in Eldoret
What we arrived to in Eldoret: Flooding in the street

The following day we stocked up on a few items before setting out for the Maasai Mara. Poor Ruth however had other ideas, the steering control rod breaking just after a speed bump and forcing us to turn around. Fortunately it was a relatively quick and cheap thing to fix and a couple of hours later we were back on the road.

The road to the park started our quite nice; tarmac and very pretty scenery. Then as the afternoon progressed this began to change, with dusty and dry surrounds and quite a rough road (very rough in some parts). It also began to get dark making our drive a bit more stressful. Finally we did make it to our camp, Aruba Mara Camp, but after 8:30pm which was not ideal, especially when we saw a pack of hyenas only 20 minutes down the road. We were lucky enough to be able to have dinner in the restaurant though, so all we needed to do was eat, set up the tent and go to sleep.

Beautiful tea plantations on the way to the Maasai Mara
Traffic jam

Aruba Mara Camp was a nice camp ground charging 500 shillings pppn and had hot water showers.  It is also only a couple of minutes from Talek Gate so it’s easy to be at the gate when it opens while not having to pay fees to stay in the park if you don’t want to.

Talek Gate at Maasai Mara

Mike and I were at the gate at 6:30am for the park opening. We had booked our tickets online which I’m not sure the guys on the gate had seen before, however they were ok with if after a quick review (I think Mike actually woke them up) and we were first in at Talek Gate!  

Balloons in the Maasai Mara
Lucky people! 

Immediately I loved Maasai Mara; I’m not sure what it was and I know it’s technically an extension of the Serengeti (or vice versa), but it somehow felt different. As we drove in we saw all of the hot air balloons lifting off for their morning flight and we watched on jealously, although not for long! Only 20-30 minutes in we had our first sighting of a pack of hyenas hovering over a kill. Very cool!! I love hyenas; I know I’ve said it before but something about their sly and feral nature just makes me love them more.

Pack of hyena.....
...as they move to their kill
Such mangy animals but it makes me love them more :-)
After watching the hyenas feast for a while we drove on to see a million wildebeest marching along. Once again, not really the “migration” we had expected, but all a part of the larger event.

More wildebeest

Wildebeest on the move at sunrise

We didn’t watch the wildebeest for too long, after all there is only so long one can watch wildebeest for, this time moving on to cheetah, a male and a female! This was our first sighting of cheetah since our visit nearly a year earlier to Moremiin Botswana, and certainly the closest viewing we’d had. Such beautiful and fit animals J

Our next big "spot"
Such a nice animal....
....and with a friend
As more cars “spotted” our cheetah we moved on, seeing plenty more animals, particularly wildebeest, before we decided it was time for a coffee

Soooooo many wildebeest
Sadly one that didn't make it...
...and another one

We stopped at Keekorok Lodge which is set in large grounds and boasts a hippo pool and a walkway with monkeys. We had a pretty good coffee there before heading back into the park and coming across a couple of lion kills. Maasai Mara had paid itself off before lunchtime!

Cute monkey
Lovely coffee @Keekorok Lodge
Check out Mike's "bib", hehe
The savannah
Lion feasting....
...and looking quite happy 
A Pumba!
Giraffe snacking
We drove around slowly for hours after that seeing plenty of animals and stopping for one final “safari drink”, drinking the last of our Tanzanian beer. 
One for the road and our last self drive safari for a while
Good times!!
I think that part of our enjoyment of Maasai Mara was definitely our luck; we saw a lot, something you can never predict. There were also not too many cars there, apparently quite different from only a few weeks earlier. However I think it is Maasai Mara’s very open spaces, large savannah with little roads that you can drive off onto and be alone that makes this park special. We never felt crowded and were able to venture into areas with no other vehicles.

Male lion having a rest after lunch
Fast asleep :-)
Strange animals....
....and the token zebra photo :-)
We only spent one day in the park itself and in hindsight I would have liked to have spent 2 days in this park and only one in Serengeti, but as they say, “hindsight is 20/20”. And because Maasai Mara is smaller and easier to access from sites outside of the gate, the overall cost of a visit is actually cheaper, despite the higher admission fee per person (i.e. you don’t have to pay $30pppn for camping).

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