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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Masai Mara - The Best There Is : The Best There Was : The Best There Ever Will Be

That the Masai Mara is one of the world’s most pristine, picturesque, amiable, vivacious, tranquil and all that is good game reserve is no longer something in doubt. So much has been written and read about it, so much has been heard and documented, while even much more remains to be discovered and seen.

Little wonder a plethora of grown-up men, their wives and children all the way from Europe, the Americas, Asia and even within Africa throng this place located in south-western Kenya every year to have their own experience of a lifetime. That is what I discovered.

Before the weekend of 7th-9th May, I fell in one of those categories of people who have only heard of the Masai Mara, scribed about it and even gone better by seeing it on the tube. Of course I have always envied those white guys traversing our land with our land cruisers, their heads hoisted up the ceiling of the vehicles as they take pictures of our scenic landscape made of trekking women, sweating men and struggling kids waving at them as if everything is normal in their lives.

I can always certainly imagine them eating our food prepared by our people, playing in our fields with their little ones, sleeping in our pompous beds in our country near our people whose backs are on the brink of breaking as a result of sleeping in punishment-like beddings. But that is the way life most of the times is.

And aren’t we grateful for the dollars they leave behind that support our at times fragile economies?

Away with the complexities of tourism and its benefits. I had a chance to be seen as one, driven like one and treated like one. And boy did I love it.

To start off our trip, we converged at the Sarova Panafric Hotel where we had the first feel of their unrivalled refreshing African hospitality and state of the art banqueting. I have been there many times for cocktails, luncheons and big breakfasts but none of those compared to this day.

After having a surfeit on the countless dishes and platters of food ranging from scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, bacon, chicken sausage, ham, corned beef hash, vegetable pizza, English muffins, bagles, cakes, more cakes, fresh fruit, and fruit juices available under the theme of our buffet breakfast, we set off for the 5-hour trip.

My dream safari trip has always been on a 4wd Safari landcruiser. After all, seeing the men and women from the west angle their heads out from the top as their eyes swivel up, down, left and right had convinced me that’s the ultimate safari experience.

You must have guessed right so far that I was among the passengers in the 9-seater landcruiser as its wheels waved goodbye to the serene Sarova Panafric environment made of engaging scent of bouillabaisse, at least until we came back two days later.

The drive out of Nairobi was humdrum if not routine. I had armed myself with this Idi Amin book that kept me company as everyone else in the landcruiser still not eager to break the silence kept themselves busy with reads from newspapers to story books, and in the case of the driver, the steering wheel.   

Fast forward 108km, three bottles of thirst-quenching non-alcoholic crisp novida (a local beverage) dispatched successfully and stored safely in the liquefied part of the belly, some potato crisp and nut-munching, a few glances here and there and we are in Narok town, about 108km from Nairobi where our driver stops to wait for the other two vans that carried the weight of rest of the “domestic tourists.” In safari driving, the car in front is always a landcruiser!!

We stay here for some twenty minutes and get the opportunity to freshen up, after which my crew decides they should charge and top up their system by - as they called it - buying some Kong’o (Luo for alcohol).

This idea comes in handy as it effectively means am the odds-on favourite to drown the soft drinks to their resting place. But then, this guy seated adjacent to me reveals that he’s also a teetotaler. “But the drinks should just be enough for both of us,” I conclude. And it proved to be a good conclusion.

Our ride to the Mara proves to be such an experience as we navigate from towns, to suburban to suburbs without any complaints, save only for some rough roads that mixes up the digestive system and prompts one of us to ask for akashort break to answer the call of the gallbladder.

However, this call of nature misbehaves as it becomes contagious and all of the men in the cruiser, save only for the driver, are forced to get rid of the excessive fluids. The only two ladies in the vehicle however hold still their urge, or, the more unlikely, don’t get caught with this mid-journey malfunction of the bladders.

Back in the vehicle and we throw a few stories on each other discussing topics ranging from gay and lesbian relationships to some male goats who the owner has deemed necessary to fix their goat-hoods with makeshift polythene condoms to how the centipede is such a dangerous myriapod unlike the millipede which is so cooperative that all married men wish their wives were of the class diplopoda. The gay-lesbian thing however arouses more discussion as everyone seems to be really interested in dressing down these unfortunate species who have peculiar feeling hormones in their system. I mean that.

Under this heavy discussion, we reach our first surprise point. The Masai warriors, who most of us have seen jump and sing to tourists were now doing this routine gig to this new breed of domestic travellers made up of me… and others. Call me selfish like Atuech recently did but that is the way it was.

After nodding and feeling really special to be entertained by fellow Kenyans for no apparent reason, we are led to the luncheon table, in the bush! So far, I have loved what the Mara Sarova crew is doing for us.

But at this point, I begin falling in love with them as we unflappably glide our way toward a table d’hôte Carte du jour with an enviable range of a la carte options in a verdant savannah garden. To our left are the seats and faultlessly dressed tables, while three chefs wearing smiles of expertise in their faces are to our right making the final touches to ensure that I leave without any complaints.

If I start describing the menu, I might make you drool excessively and drop saliva in an open power cable leading up to your computer. Result? An electric-fried nose and a junk computer.

Let me just say everything was perfect. Especially that ginger chicken soup served in a calabash. And that roasted goat meat agglutinated with the spicy sauce. Oh, and that grilled (whatever that means) fish cooked to perfection? Did I mention that morsel of cake covered with chocolate juice? How about the scrambled beans that none of us needed to scramble for since they were in plenty?

Mentioning that the appetizer performed its task, the dessert never deserted its mandate, the drinks must have come from chosen and not picked fruits and that the main course welcomed us to the course of respectable life should summarize our vibrant and colourful entry to the Masai Mara.

After all was said and done as we treated our deserving stomachs to a lunch in the bush, we proceeded to the Mara Sarova Game Camp, a flawlessly located deluxe hotel with a subtle ambience, an ultra-fresh air, a true spirit of Kenyan wild and a globe-trotting cuisine.

“This is where am going to spend my weekend,” I whispered to myself proudly. We were then led to a foyer where we got instructions on what was expected of us. The revelation that we were going to sleep under a tent drew some discontenting reactions from the crew… until.

Until we got inside the tents. My word!

Large beds, loungers, wardrobes, safari chairs, coffee-making percolators, foam mattresses, cotton-soft pillows, chandelier lights, a relaxation deck outside, hot water bottle bed warmers, electric mosquito repellents, morning room service if you manage to wake up from the comfort, and more besides.

I have never taken a picture to show the status of my beddings but I did when I stepped foot on this most welcoming tent of maximum comfort and random faultlessness. In the days leading up to the trip, I had had some very weird dreams of boogeymen, running from mosquitoes, wearing headgears, assaulting speed bags, dying by detergents, smuggling turquoise cigars to Mexico and being in possession of snake and rat sculptures. But under the immense comfort of this tent, I could only dream of seventh heavens, royal confetti of victory, blue skies, orange suns, tree-lined streets, serene surroundings, driving Bosozoku convertibles, wearing disease proof vests, riding a golden miller horse and having everything treasured from amethyst rings to sapphire necklaces to golden eggs.

Does those words do justice to the tents? I doubt. There must be many more befitting words in the oxford lexicon or Churchillian oratory to describe the truckload of comfort the tents provided.

But before we got into this bed and dreaming business, we went for a game drive in the evening. From the look of deep contentment that everyone was wearing on their faces, one could easily conclude that everything was spectaculaire.

And spectacular it was.

How many people get to see, live, two lions and a lioness debone a buffalo with impunity, regardless of its age, sex, physical condition, and without caring of affirmative action? We were that up and close as the panthera leo got candid with a buffalo who our navigator told us was still a virgin.

After some click sounds of still cameras and a few meters drive from the lion scene and there was the African elephant towering and stumping its ludicrously big feet majestically on the vast grassland as if it’s the only specie destined for survival if global warming sinks the world.

My dream of seeing two of my best animals has come true at this point and on our way back to the Sarova Mara Game Camp, we are pummeled by many more sights and sounds of game from left, right and sometimes, centre. We get to see gazelles, antelopes, herds of buffalos, oxpeckers, guinea fowls, scavenger birds, zebras and many other wildlife that compete for dominance and complete the food chain in this zoologist’s paradise.

Back to the camp, we (if everyone did) freshen up and proceed to our humongous dining room for a dinner buffet. The carte du jour is, for the umpteenth time; rich. We all explore the flooding menu made of locally idealized and globally-inspired cuisines.

To round off our Friday evening, we are led to a room simply referred to as ‘House A’ – an A class for refreshments. It’s here that those who enthuse at being hyperactive for a moment look up to our hosts for that one tactical nugget that would make a difference between a day well spent and one fairly spent.

Not willing to disappoint, our hosts needed not to delve into Arthur Guinness’s brewery to get the clues. An endless rounds of all kinds of the bitter drink doeseth the trick as many of the domestic tourists enjoy themselves way into the wee hours of the night.

One must have excused my time unconsciousness for gulping liquor frenziedly. But since a me no drink, I don’t know what made me read that it was 11.30pm, while actually it was 9.30.

Nevertheless, I retired to bed - my mind-boggling bed in the tent extraordinaire.

The next day proved to be even more adventurous. A morning game drive proved truly and wonderfully in order. The highlight was the view of a lion and his wife – for this day – explore each other’s body. What most of us found strange was not the lack of fore-play for this but the frequency and lack of commitment in this sanctified act.

The two lovebirds got intimate only for some 20 seconds, or less, after which the male would lie down feeling powerless, while the lioness did some jogging to aid the process of shuffling up the new foreign materials in her body. She would then come back for 20 more seconds of fame, lie down to recuperate, or just take a small walk in the park before going back for more.

You can imagine how the many looking faces of humans considered such act of lovemaking squalid, sluggish and short of six pack inspiration.

We watched about six episodes of this interesting but not wild wildlife pornography before we drove off, encountering the skyscrapers of the game in the name of giraffes, the modeling ostriches, the overeating buffaloes and the amalgam of speed but shy cheetah who, to the disappointment of many, refused to come out of its hiding place in a thick grassland.

Vroom… and back to Sarova, we tear our breakfast into pieces before everyone else is unleashed for some relaxing moment. I went for archery, where I performed fairly, played the swing-a-stick-and-hit-a-ball-to-a-hole game where I performed regrettably poor (explanation being golf is a lazy game while am always tenacious) and played badminton where, together with a white lady, we emerged the best in a double team.

The next activity in line was a tree planting exercise at a Sekenani Primary school, which was built by the Sarova Mara as part of its corporate social responsibility programme for the locals. Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson is one of the high profile figures who have left an indelible mark in the school, having funded the building of dormitories to ease congestion in the school’s beds.

This exercise turns out to be my best moment around and about this place when each and everyone of us is presented with seedlings and a stone bearing one’s epigraph. A big smile erects on my face from the time I receive mine to the time we get back to Sarova for our lunch.

More playing time then follows before we are taken around for a nature trail. Next, is the now routine evening game drive, which I skip to play badminton. We are then driven to a  perfectly-set cocktail in the bush where we get to see the famous African sun set on the far west as we drown drinks after another in yet another surprise from our wonderful hosts.

Back at the camp, we are led to another distinctively African set dinner in a semi-bush sort of dining hall. The pure beauty and the astonishing theme of this leaves me look around more than eat. Simply put; what a perfect way to have your last dinner at the Sarova Mara before you plan to come back!

One more visit to House A and we all retreat to that bed as the thoughts of next day’s long trip back to our rags, roasted maize, polluted air, honking Matatu’s and their hawking conductors that makes up Nairobi starts dawning on us.

Waking up from my sleep, the first vision that flashes through my mind is my bed. I frown. The second is the game drive. I smile. The third is the final encounter with the breakfast buffet. I dash for it.

A few hours later, we set off for our journey back to Nairobi. The thought of abandoning that life we took pleasure in makes everyone, except me I guess, look weary. Except me because I knew I was only living this tourist’s life for a petite time.

Not much to write about our journey back except that we stopped at a nyama choma (roasted meat) joint to replenish our energies.

The Masai Mara is a treasure house of wildlife. Its attractions have been described by countless authors in countless words, and captured by unwavering lenses, in stills and video equipment that have evolved for years. The Sarova Mara is a treasure house for accommodation. Although my first exploits in the Mara will remain firmly etched in my mind, the ultimate experience provided by the Sarova immediately became immortalized in one or so of my 14 billion brain cells.

I have had my word on the Masai Mara. With the future as volatile as nature itself, so much more will be written, said and heard about the wild and wonderful Mara. And for the days I lived in the midst of Africa’s indisputable splendour and under the sort of accommodation reserved for kings and queens, I can only be greatful to God and thank him for the opportunity, but ask for even more of these.

Just a little more.

And that’s thesteifmastertake!!