I worked with a Kenyan safari tour operator to put together this 12 day/11 night safari that included a majority of time in Kenya. A separate journal and trip report on the Tanzanian component of this safari adventure will be written as well. Additionally, a separate review will be written on the tour operator.
For this trip, I was accompanied by my friend Jane, along with her sister-in-law and her spouse. The four of us got along very well throughout the 12 days, in spite of what was an apparent difference in focus and interests. All accommodations were double occupancy in order to keep expenses down, so that meant Jane and I had to have a basic sense of comfort with one another in order to sharing living space for nearly two weeks.
Our safari began in Nairobi on a hectic Tuesday morning. Due to some adjustments in their arrival, Jane et al arrived to Nairobi via a redeye flight from Johannesburg, South Africa. I was with our safari driver Bedan on the pick-up at the NBO airport to get them. From there we headed out for the Maasai Mara with a short breakfast stop first in the suburb of Karen.
The ride from Nairobi was gut-wrenching with all of the traffic and people everywhere. Because the Nairobi-Mombasa Road was under significant construction, Bedan chose to take some very bad side "roads" that were in terrible condition. Unpaved and full of very deep ruts and pot holes, we were given our first "free massage" as he called them. It was a kidney jarring experience that lasted nearly an hour . . . and that was just to get to the outskirts of Nairobi!
Once off the dirt road and back on asphalt, the roads were smooth even if filled with crazy drivers in vehicles that hardly looked road worthy. We traveled through some of Kenya's poorest communities and slum areas. Cows, goats and people were everywhere along and on the road.
Our path took us up to a lovely overlook, providing an opportunity to see the entire Rift Valley. This was also a tourist stop, with little gift shops and our first opportunity for public toilets. The local people were very aggressive in their attempt to get us to make a purchase from them. Public toilets were just pit toilets, a seat over a hole in the ground . . . no toilet paper. None of us had to go that badly, so we took a pass. Big mistake as the "toilets" only got worse on the road from there.
The last real city that we would pass through would be Narok, a very large area with an urban feel with banks, gas stations, restaurants and stores. It would be Narok that we would stop on our exit from the Mara to use the ATM machines to obtain local currency a few days later. This was also our last opportunity to top off the gas tank before heading into the bush.
The road into the bush was a mix of torn up asphalt and rutty red clay. Many areas were impassible causing the safari drivers to go off-road on the shoulder or completely into the Maasai pasture land. It was very bumpy, often jolting us completely out of our seats. I found it very interesting, however, to see the Maasai pastoralists with their livestock throughout this area. In their bright red clothing, they were easy to see at great distances from the road.
Once we arrived at the Maasai Mara National Reserve, the Maasai with their livestock disappeared from view. With the risk of attack by the large cats, the Maasai must protect their most valued possessions - their animals. There are a couple of Maasai Villages adjacent to the game park, but those warriors must be vigilant in protecting against predators.
The drives between subsequent parks were often very similar to this first day's drive to the Mara. They took a lot of time, and were over very poor roads. Of all of the inconveniences of being on safari, this one seemed to take the greatest toll on my travel companions. For me, I was prepared for it and found the drive time to be part of the cultural experience of seeing how the people of Kenya live.
For those who are less interested in this aspect of going on a safari, there is the "fly-in" option whereby you can fly from park to park, but expect the price of your holiday to rise exponentially! By moving on the ground by safari vehicle, we were also able to retain our driver throughout each segment of our safari. Having Bedan for the first week while in Kenya allowed us to build a comfortable relationship with him, adding to the overall experience.