Wow – what an amazing trip!
We flew direct with Kenya Airways from Heathrow, landing into Nairobi and we were straight off with an air bridge and into immigration. We had all done the e-visa before travel, but you can still obtain a visa at the airport by filling in the forms. However, these queues are often very long so would strongly advise getting your visa before you go. Once through the airport, we were met with a very warm welcome by Irene from Abercrombie & Kent who led us to our awaiting transfers, very comfortable land rover style vehicles with plenty of room. We were taken across the city to Jackson the small internal flight airport for our 45min flight into the Masai Mara, this is flying on small planes so luggage allowance is only 15kg in soft sided bags and when you see how the pack them into these small planes you can see why! The dress code for safari is very casual and most of the camps have a laundry service making it easy to pack light.
The flight into the Mara was amazing, firstly flying over Nairobi we were able to see the different districts of the city. Very quickly we were over open countryside and it didn’t take long before we could see elephants and giraffes and very soon it was time to land in the middle of nowhere on a dirt runway - a very surreal experience – there was no duty free here! Drivers and jeeps waited to collect us with yet again big smiles and very warm welcomes. It was now time for our transfer to the camp and we saw zebras, monkeys and a giraffe on the way!
On arrival at Sanctuary Olonana (our home for the next 3 nights) we were met with yet more warm welcomes, in fact everywhere we went on this trip we had such happy smiles awaiting us. We were also greeted by a Masi chief who piped us to reception where we were given refreshing cold towels and then staff members escorted us to our rooms. Our rooms were stunning, with views over the river where the hippos wallowed and crocodiles basked in the warm sunshine and every thought had been given to provide a home from home in such a remote place. These included luxury bath products, hair dyer, tea & coffee, bottled water, a gym bag containing yoga mats and dumbbells, well stocked mini bar (which was complementary) and even homemade cookies.
The lodge had such a relaxed feel and Wi-Fi was only available while in your room. All public areas were Wi-Fi free which allowed you to just sit back, relax enjoy the sheer beauty at being at one with nature. The lodge is all inclusive and served breakfast and 3 course lunches and dinner. The food was excellent and the chef was always happy to cater for any dietary need.
Lunch over, we met our driver and guide Abdul who took us to our trusty steed for the next couple days - an open jeep with tiered seating allowing everyone a clear view. On board was a well-stocked cool box containing a reusable water bottle with our names on – one for each of us as well as soft drinks and beer. It was time for our first adventure. We saw warthogs, zebras & giraffes however Abdul was taking us in search of bigger things – elephants!
He did not disappoint – I never realised how close we would get to these magnificent animals who just happily munched away on the grasses taking no notice of us at all. It was so peaceful just to sit a watch them totally immersed in nature. It was now time to head back however we then lucky enough to come across a black rhino who we named Ronnie – in fact we named most of the animals we saw.
A lovely touch on our return was some of the hotel staff waiting to welcome us with the refreshing towels and a big welcome home every time we came back every time we left the camp. We went to dinner followed by a night cap around the fire pit and then off for an early night.
We were up bright and early dressing in layers as it can be chilly first thing is the morning, however you also need to apply sun cream before heading out as you could be out for several hours and the temperature can change a lot in that time, a brimmed hat and scarf as well as sun glasses are all musts on safari. Hearty breakfast consumed, we met Abdul and headed out for day 2 of our adventure. This morning a large herd of zebras greeted us at the entrance of the camp and the morning continued to be full of sightings. We continued in a different direction this morning and came across such a funny sight – several giraffes enjoying their morning breakfast and this tiny lone zebra which just followed the largest giraffe everywhere, we guessed he felt safe in their company, it was like something out of a Disney film.
Abdul said he was feeling lucky that morning and not long after we witnessed a very large with full mane male lion guarding the remains of a buffalo which had obviously been last night’s supper and resting in the shade of a nearby tree was a pride of females also looking fully fed, again we were able to get very close to them all. We sat and watched for a while just seeing the contentment on their faces at having a full belly. We left them to sleep off their meal and continued driving several miles past elephants, zebras, gazelles and we guessed that Abdul had hopefully another surprise for us, he did not disappoint – just sitting there a beautiful white cheetah.
We all settled in for the long drive with our tummies slightly rumbling it was getting close to lunchtime, however about an hour from home we left the main path and headed across to where we could see another couple of jeeps. On arrival we were greeted by our hotel staff with the refreshing towels and a table set for lunch complete with chilled wines & beer. The chef severed a full 3 course lunch right there in the middle of the bush. The views were stunning and it was so peaceful a truly memorable experience that I will never forget.
Fed & watered we jumped back into the jeep for our journey back to the camp with many more sightings of elephants playing in the muddy watering holes.
On arriving back, we all had a chat and decided not to take up the afternoon game drive but to enjoy the other facilities which were available or just sit quietly and enjoy our surroundings, watch the hippos play in the river in front of us. Most of us opted for the massage which was carried out in open fronted little huts with views over the river. The day finished with dinner and again a few drinks around the fire pit chatting about all we have seen that day and how memorable it was.
Day 3, we head out again first thing and this time we were in search of the last of the big 5 which we had not yet seen – the leopard. These are very hard to find as in the day they spend most of their time in fully foliaged trees draped over branches – however after much searching Abdul found one, however he was very difficult to photograph only those with excellent zoom cameras got the shots of this guy. We also drove to the border of the Masai Mara in Kenya with its border with Tanzania and the Serengeti, despite the signs we were in the middle of nowhere. All very happy that we had seen the big 5, we started to head home.
After lunch we visited a school – a project sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent. This was a humbling experience, many of the children spend 3 months at a time boarding at the school sleeping top to tail 4 to a bunk bed and they are happy to do this as they are so eager to learn. they were all immaculately dressed wearing their uniforms with pride. We were told that by the age of 3 most children speak 3 languages, their Masai tribes’, Swahili and English.
On leaving the school we then went to see a Masai village, we were welcomed by the men of the tribe who danced for us and then invited us to join in, the chief then showed us around and explained much about the tribe’s way of life before the ladies of the village came and sang for us. We then had the opportunity to buy some the beaded bracelets that they make.
Abdul had one last surprise up his sleeve for us, he drove us to the river where again our camp staff had set up a camp fire which we sat around while we enjoyed canapes and sundowners – what a perfect end to the day.
Day 4 and we are heading back to Nairobi but first one last game drive, this morning we didn’t see any of the cats etc making us all realise how lucky we had been on previous drives – this is the wild and nothing is guaranteed.
Irene was there to greet us on our return and we were transferred to the Karen district of Nairobi (named after Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame) where we were treated to dinner at the famous Hemingways hotel, a beautiful colonial property. When flying in from the Masai Mara it is always advisable to have a night in Nairobi to be sure of catching connecting flights.
All too soon, it was time to say goodbye to Kenya which has left me with memories I will treasure forever.