Tackling my fears on my first safari
When you’ve always been a beach holiday type of traveller, and you are faced with something completely outside of your comfort zone, you know it is going to be a love it or hate it experience. And that was me…
I grew up camping, so that didn’t worry me in the least, it’s something I am very comfortable with. But in Scotland, and not Africa. I was heading to Nairobi in Kenya for a travel trade show, and this was the ideal time for me to experience a safari. Although right up until I arrived in the country, I still wasn’t too convinced.
My itinerary included one night at Loldia House on Lake Naivasha and three nights at Governors Main Camp in the Masai Mara, home of the BBC series, Big Cat Diaries and the Discovery series Big Cat Tales. We were travelling by road to Loldia House, a journey of about 2 hours from Nairobi, then by light aircraft to Governors Camp and back to Nairobi. I learnt that Safari literally means a journey in Swahili. And this was a journey I will not forget.
Driving to Lake Navaisha wasn’t as bad as I expected, the road was good until we turned off for Loldia House, but the traffic wasn’t great. Fridays in Nairobi are like no other city I can remember in so far as the roads are gridlocked. But once out of the city, we stopped, and it was our first opportunity to look out at some of the vast vistas you will see in Kenya. Even a wet and misty morning couldn’t detract from the sheer size and variety of terrain the Rift Valley had to show us from our high vantage point.
From here we descended into the valley, stopping at Ubuntu Life, a non-profit business set up to help local women and children with life-changing therapies and medical care for those who needed it, suffering from neurological issues and stigmatised in the local community. Once the special needs of the children had been met, the mothers were looking for a productive outlet for their time and energies, and Ubuntu gave them this.
These maker mums now have their products sold throughout Kenya as well as the world empowering them through the employment opportunities they now have. And did I mention…great handmade espadrilles, bags, bracelets and other fabric and leather goods!
Image: Loldia House
It was half an hour from here to Loldia House. A single storey property which houses the lounge, bar, dining room and a couple of rooms, overlooking a lush green lawn that sweeps down to the waters edge, although this is fenced off to protect the guests from the hippos.
Lunch was taken on the lawns, and particularly good! And then we were taken to our rooms. The guest houses are in three pairs of two in the gardens, with a further house located up the hill, a pool and a spa room. They are large and airy and offer great facilities. Although not a tremendous amount of game, the lodge is close to the Eburru forest and there is an opportunity to go out on a night drive.
This is a great place to stay for a night or two, to relax after your long journey. The food is good, and you certainly do not want for anything.
The following morning after a hearty breakfast, we were taken to the airstrip, just a short 10 minutes’ drive away. The flight was a little late, but as it was operated by Governors Air, it didn’t really affect us. After just a quick 45 minutes in the air we landed at the airstrip, 10 minutes from Governors Camp and right in the Masai Mara! Until this point, I was still not convinced…. And then we drove into camp! Past herds of zebra and Blue Jean antelope, baboons, buffalo and wart hogs. And I started to get it.
We dropped our bags into our tents and headed for lunch overlooking the Mara river, but none of our minds were on lunch, as below us we had 15 hippos just basking in the sun while mainly submerged in the water. For three days this was our home.
I had thought that I wouldn’t want to be up at 5.45am to go out on a game drive, but when asked at dinner if we wanted a wake-up call, and if we wanted tea or coffee, I immediately said yes.
I never go to bed early at home, but by 9pm I was tucked up so that I knew I would get up.
The sun rising over the Masai Mara is simply stunning as are the sunsets, and no matter what time of day the array of animals is incredible.
I really do not have the words to describe how seeing a herd of elephants crossing in front of your 4×4 makes you feel and, with the sky on fire at sunset, your breath is simply taken away.
My highlight was the sheer number of cats we saw. The Marsh and Rhino Ridge prides of lion, the cheetah and the leopard, just hanging in a tree, occasionally opening her eyes to see if we were still there, before dropping her head as if there wasn’t anything to be worried about!
The male lions are a little harder to find often, but we saw two, just half a mile from each other. One quite alert, and the other, lying on his back, legs in the air without a care, before rolling over, looking at his audience and flopping back to sleep.
Yes, your first thought is “take a picture”. But after a while, you put the camera down and just allow yourself to experience the moment. Giraffe with their babies, and wart hogs… not the prettiest but when seeing a mum with her piglets, they are strangely endearing.
My biggest fear was seeing a kill. I hate watching TV shows where the animals are injured or killed, and I thought that this would be upsetting for me.
We sat in the back of our 4X4 one afternoon and watched two lionesses try and take down an injured buffalo. They didn’t manage it as the buffalo herd closed ranks and the cats decided that perhaps it was safer to abandon the chase.
But the next morning, in the clear red glow of dawn, the Marsh pride caught their breakfast, a sizeable zebra. We watched the pride eat their fill to be followed by the jackals and the hyenas who finished off the remnants. And it was now I truly took onboard that this is all part of the rich patterns of life that are part and parcel of life in the Mara!
After Loldia House, I stayed at Governors Main Camp which was an amazing experience with 37 en-suite tents for double, or twin occupancy and family tents. For a little more luxury there is Little Governors with 17 tents and upgraded soft furnishings, while Il Moran has yet further luxuries on offer in its 10 tents. All have superb wildlife on their doorsteps, and all accessed by Governors Air, making it so easy to visit them.
Image: Little Governors Camp
Would I go back? Absolutely! I have now a completely different view of a safari, my expectations were met and exceeded. The sheer volume of wildlife on view in its natural habitat is phenomenal. I admit it, I am converted. I only wish that I have let go of my preconceived ideas many years ago.
If Jo’s experiences have inspired you to want to enjoy a Kenya safari, you’ll find plenty to inspire you in our Kenya pages:
And, of course, our friendly, expert Africa consultants are always delighted to talk safari with you and help you plan your dream trip. Or, like Jo, to tackle your safari fears!
All images other than Loldia House and Governor’s Camp © Jo Colman-Bown.