Iconic? Inspiring? Enthralling?
In the quest to find words describing this safari I found myself with nothing. How do you contain the wonders of Africa within a simple paragraph? How do you relay the essence of a safari with merely words and images?
Read on and I will show you…
On the banks of the infamous Mara River lies a camp so special, so charming. Shaded by large tree’s and gently serenaded by the flowing water of the river itself, this camp is simply idyllic. True Maasai are always at hand to look after your needs and to take great care of you whilst in camp. Dickson, Frances, Maria and their team find great enjoyment to welcome you to their homeland, to their pride and joy.
This would be our home for the next week as we explored the incredible Masai Mara and all of its natural wonder and beauty.
August is an exciting time here as the Mara plays host to one of the 7 wonders of the world, The Great Migration. Well over a million wildebeest arrive from the Serengeti further south and roam the plains of the Mara in search of green grazing pastures. Jono Buffey and I opened up a whole new world to our guests as they fell in love with this amazing wilderness.
On our first morning out we encountered a striking young male leopard. He oozed confidence as he strolled right past our vehicles and into a dense grassy plain. Seeing leopard within the Mara is never a common sight and always much appreciated!
A sight everyone is after during these months are the large herds of wildebeest and zebra crossing back and forth over the Mara River. We were fortunate to witness a few of these incredible crossings early on. Wildebeest seem to have a mind of their own, and most of the time their actions make absolutely no sense at all.
One particular crossing had them jumping into the river without an exit point. It was impossible for them to scale the steep embankments on the other side and all they could do was to swim back to the island they came from. Why try in the first place one surely asks? Regardless of reasoning it makes for riveting game viewing!
One of the dangers of visiting the Masai Mara during this time of year, is spending too much time focused on the crossings and going in search of them, whilst neglecting too see the beauty in what else this diverse landscape has to offer. If that was our focus we would have completely missed out on the next specimen…
I have seen many a male lion in my life as a guide and wildlife photographer. Never have I come across a male lion demanding of more respect than what I have on this safari.
His intense gaze is frightening, it grips your most inner being! Despite a serious wound to his right eye he still stands tall and proud.
I wish that I could explain what it feels like, the emotions attached to spending time in the company of such a lion. Time really does seem to stand still, yet when it’s time to leave him it feels as if it is over far too soon. You yearn for just a few more minutes, for just one more gaze. As our guests sat watching this male one could clearly sense the appreciation, the awe.
This is what it is about, bringing guests from all over the world and introducing them to nature in a way they have never before experienced.
We would still see this scar-faced male lion on a near daily basis and every meeting was as inspiring as the other. He was accompanied by two other large male lions. A fourth male was across the Mara River tending to the needs of a lioness.
Three lionesses also constantly moved around within the vicinity of camp . They had 2 young cubs, roughly 4 months of age. On most of the afternoons as we returned to camp we would find them perched on a termite mound awaiting the suns departure, readying themselves for the evenings hunt. On one evening as we returned to camp we actually got too see the older lioness kill a wildebeest, a real special experience.
One of the highlights was a sighting of a leopard chased up a tree by a large pride of lions. The leopard had caught a young wildebeest. At some point during the morning lions had happened upon the scene and proceeded to steal her hard-earned kill. They sent her scurrying up to the top of the tree, safely out of the reach of the far-larger lions. The lions hung around for some time at the base of the tree. As we settled in to wait for the leopard’s descent 3 young male lions appeared and chased the pride away. Our guests were delighted with all of this unexpected action. This was the moment the leopardess had waited for and she used the opportunity to escape the attention of the lions. Seeing her effortlessly descend from that tall tree was magical and our guests were blown away by what they witnessed.
One of the most memorable experiences was the hot-air balloon flight. Waking up at 4am and leaving camp by 04:30, our excitement levels were at a high. This is without a doubt a bucket-list experience, something many of us only ever dreamt of doing. To see the Masai Mara from the air is indescribable. The sensation of floating across the open savannas and the sporadic forests along the river banks is like nothing I have experienced before. As the bottom of the basket grazed over the tall forest tree’s one could hear the mornings songs of birds emanate from the tree canopy. It felt as if you were floating in a cloud, as if you were awake yet in a dream, in some enchanted world. It was a surreal experience and something I will never forget.
The question we all had on our minds was the actual landing of the balloon. Seeing as the controls are rather limited we were not sure of what to expect. The pilot also was not sure of the outcome. When he gave the command to “brace for landing”, we wasted no time. I hurried to pack away all camera gear and lenses and only just braced in time for impact. It was not nearly as bad as we had envisioned! We “hopped” along two or three times and I felt rather confident that we would stay upright. As always in Africa things never go the way you think. A small termite mound found itself right in our intended landing path. Well, perhaps it was the other way around. Regardless, as the the basket nudged against this the basket slowly and gently tipped on to its side leaving us with an interesting view of the surrounding landscape. It made for entertaining stories and an exciting end to one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had!
The Masai Mara is without doubt the most famous national park in the world. It has played host to countless explorers, wildlife documentaries and even inspired movies such as “Out Of Africa”. Many say that it is too “commercial” and “over-populated” with tourists and safari operators. Yes, it is very famous and so many people visit this park, but all of this is for a reason. It simply is one of the most incredible wild places on this beautiful earth of ours.
Our guests were absolutely blown away by the experience. They had seen the Mara in a different way, an intimate and personal encounter with a place well documented and visited. Some went on every safari available, and some stayed back in camp and enjoyed a cigar and some good quality scotch with the setting sun in the background.
There’s something here for everyone.
The Masai Mara is legendary for many a good reason, and it is a place every person should visit at least once, if not twice 😉
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Marlon du Toit