Fresh off the amazing scenery at Cape Town, we boarded the flight to Nairobi, with a stop at Livingstone. As soon as we got on board, we started pestering the air hostesses with requests to fly over the Victoria Falls either before landing or taking off at Livingstone. Finally, the air hostess graciously agreed to relay our pleas to the Captain and when we took off from Livingstone, the plane headed straight for the Falls.
From thousands of feet up in the air, the falls looked massive. So one can only imagine the sight on the ground. The pilot was sweet enough to take u-turns a couple of times so that passengers on either side of the plan got a fantastic view of the Falls, also called Mosi-oa-Tunya or the Smoke That Thunders. As one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Victoria Falls is twice the height of the Niagara falls and twice as wide as the Canadian falls. So in terms of sheer length and width, it is the world’s largest sheet of falling water. Phew!
We landed at Nairobi close to 11 PM and headed straight to the hotel. Early next day, we were leaving for Masai Mara.
Masai Mara, Day 1: Enroute to Masai Mara, long lines waiting to vote
We left for Masai Mara – 280 kms ride – on this jeep that must have been a relic from World War 1. Add the fact that our driver drives it the way one would drive a tank, and that after Narok county the roads were simply non-existent, you can imagine the ride. He kept laughing and saying that the massage was free! I was told later that the jeep was only four years old – I will refuse to believe this till my dying day.
We would have taken longer than the 7 hours (after a couple of bathroom breaks and curio shopping, of course) if it had not been Election Day (August 8) in Kenya. Throughout the drive on relatively empty roads, we saw long lines of voters waiting patiently. We were thrilled that the democratic process was alive and kicking. Of course, we now know that Uhuru Kenyatta won 54% of the vote, but the incumbent Raila Odinga managed to annul the results. As I write this, re-elections are happening for the Presidential post, while Odinga has refused to contest and millions are apparently boycotting the elections, amidst ethnic tensions.
Once we neared the Masai Mara National Game Reserve (around 2 PM) we started getting excited as we spotted a giraffe there, a lone zebra here, hyenas here and there. Over the next three days we were going to spend a night each in three different parts of the reserve so that we could see the BIG FIVE – Buffalo, Leopard, Lion, Elephant and Rhino. Since all activity needs to cease by 6 PM on the reserve, we saw a glimpse of the Maasai village, promising to go back the next day, and tumbled to bed after one nerve-wracking drive!
Masai Mara, Day 2: The Big Five, minus the Leopard
We were all set for the Big Five. In fact, the first sight that met us early morning was a fresh kill! Hyenas feasting on a deer that a lioness had just killed. Over the next 6 hours we simply had no time to close our mouths or stop clicking on our mobiles and cameras as we swept across the reserve seeing every imaginable animal possible. We were lucky to see the migration as it happened (The Great Migration happens twice a year as animals – usually zebras, wildebeests, and gazelles – from the Serengeti in Tanzania cross into Kenya’s Mara reserve). Hordes and herds of zebras and buffaloes met our eyes. We saw a lone rhino, a pride of lionesses with their cubs, a tusker and the two cubs, and three lions sleeping after a meal.
The next visit that day was to watch a bunch of hippos laze in the sun.
Masai Mara, Day 3 and 4: Leaving no inch unexplored!
The drive into the interior of the reserve continued as we drove deeper and saw more wild animals to our hearts content. Our favorite moment of the day was when we saw a lone cheetah with its kill. It sat absolutely fearless as we drove as close to it as possible for better pictures. In the 72 hours that we were in the reserve, we saw warthogs, elephants, lions, buffaloes, quails, vultures, impalas, Thomson gazelles, kopis, zebras, wildebeests, bush bucks, hippos, crocodiles (lying patiently in wait for the zebras to cross the river into the Mara) hyenas, secretary birds, storks, eagles, ostriches, giraffes….unfortunately, not the leopard though.
Masai Mara/Nairobi, Day 5: Balloon ride over the Mara, visit to the Masai village and back to Nairobi
Imagine waking up at 5 AM, walk in total darkness up to a field where there is this huge balloon spread all over the grass, and then take a ride of a lifetime hovering 50-200 feet above ground level? We saw the Serengeti in the distance, the sun rise, and animals just waking up for their morning kill! Simply beautiful.
And on our way back to Nairobi, we went to the village we missed seeing on our way in. We were welcomed warmly and invited to see how a typical hut looks. What humbled us was the fact that in most Masai homes the largest (relatively speaking of course! The whole hut was only 100 sq. ft.) room was usually reserved for visitors. It tells you so much of the humanity and the friendliness of this people who are supposedly “uncivilized”.
As we drove back, the roads were deserted, again, as the election results were to be announced. There were guards everywhere, and the air was heavy with happiness as Kenyatta was rumoured to have won the election.
Nairobi, Day 5 – Sightseeing in the city and then boarding the flight to Kochi
We could not leave Nairobi without seeing a little bit of the city! After a quick tour of the city, some shopping at a local market, we headed to the National Museum which had an exhibition of the Hominin skull (one of the oldest fossils of our ancestors!) and a huge snake park. It was not enough that we saw all these animals and birds in the Mara! We went around the beautifully well-kept and well-stocked museum full of birds, stories, and artifacts about life in the Cradle of Humankind that is Africa.
We reluctantly dragged ourselves from the museum and the snake park and rushed back to the hotel to pack and head to the airport. The 10-day long trip to Cape Town, Nairobi and Masai Mara was coming to a close.
Why I fell in love with Kenya and Africa – Unlike Cape Town where the views were pristine and the environment spotless, Nairobi and the Masai Mara were elemental, unclean and with almost an Indian village feel. So why did I fall in love with this country?
There is something so primal about Kenya that reaches out and touches you. Yes, it is dangerous, primitive, raw. And in your face wild. No holding back. I felt there was something of the yogi (the true detached observer) in every African I met – bodies sagging under the weight of lifetimes of sadness, failures and poverty, but with eyes that were kind, watchful, happy and in-the-moment. While you can play the happy tourist in Cape Town, and leave the place with your soul intact, in Kenya, you get sucked into the grand game called life. And in this game, just as in life, patience, perseverance, and physical vigour is the only thing that keeps you alive.
They say travel widens your perspective. Kenya widened and added depth to my perspective more than any other country I have visited in my life. And I will be going back soon. Without a doubt.