Even though an early night was had in preparation for our ‘moving day,’ it was a restless night owing to the thunderstorm and the eerie sounds of the night, including the lions roaring to each other. Their roaring was loud and booming, reverberating around the valley and sounded a little too close for comfort. It wasn’t until we had risen that morning that we were told the Askari had been watching not only the river levels because of the deluge of rain, but also keeping an eye on the lions perched on a hill only a matter of metres from our tent!
Following a hearty breakfast, we saddled up for our departure and rode out of camp with our trusty professional guide, Gordie Church, who runs Safarisunlimited.
We all trickled past the site of the lion kill from the day before expecting that the carcass may have attracted other carnivores such as hyena but to our surprise, the carcass was largely untouched. I can only presume the thunderstorm and driving rain had kept the other predators away. Mr Nomad left the camp in the safari vehicle with his new best friend, Pete and was able to take a steady drive through the conservancy towards our next destination, and to advance towards the area where we were to meet up and have a picnic lunch. Mr Nomad and Pete were joined by another chap, Fred who had foregone his ride that morning to observe the wild life from the safari vehicle.
This was our first full day in the saddle and was to be a long ride of around 20-25 kms. This gave me the opportunity to get to know the other people who had joined the safari and to make new friends. Joining us Nomads were four Americans – Fred, and his wife, Missy, and their friends Debbie and Cindy. There was a lady called Sharley from New Zealand and a lady called Anna from Brazil. On every ride we were led by Gordie and we were protected from the rear by a syce – the Swahili word for groom. On this occasion, our syce was James, who was extremely professional and knowledgeable.
James is Maasai so his knowledge of the Mara was second to none and he was responsible I suppose for keeping us all in check! He also brought with him a spare horse which was led in hand alongside his horse, accompanying us to our next camp. Another rider joining us was a lady called Rosie from England who was Gordie’s very able assistant who rode with us, helped out in camp with the horses and offered us assistance when it was required. We were very well looked after which was all very reassuring given that we were riding in the wilderness, along side the extremely wild wild life!
The ride that day was lovely. As appears to be usual for the Mara, there was an abundance of wild life. We saw hundreds if not thousands of zebra along with many giraffe.
We saw thousands of impala and gazelle, warthog, buffalo and wildebeest and at every turn of the head, there were creatures to be seen over the miles and miles of vast open savannah.
It was breath taking. There was the glorious topi and water buck, and there was an abundance of large birds of prey soaring overhead casting large shadows wherever they appeared, along with smaller brightly coloured birds such as the lilac breasted roller amiably flitting around.
We even saw a huge male ostrich.
We came across many cows too, accompanied by their Maasai tribesmen and my horse, Rego, was particularly fascinated by them.
The Maasai are proud of their heritage and have worked along side other members of the conservancy to ensure the survival of the conservancy and the animals within it, whilst still maintaining their own way of life. Safarisunlimited are a company who are eco-friendly and environmentally responsible and are anxious to conserve and protect the Maasai Mara and its inhabitants and take great pleasure in being able to enjoy the Mara along side the existing Maasai tribe without interruption and without upsetting the increasingly delicate ecosystem.
We had our first long canter through the grassy savannah which the horses enjoyed in rather a high spirited fashion! It was fantastic to canter along side the other animals, with total freedom and the complete abandonment of any cares and worries…..
We stopped for a picnic lunch in a small forest known as Olomai where we met up with the safari vehicle which had already arrived in the forest clearing and to my delight, the guys had already set up lunch. We tied the horses to trees, untacked them and gave them water and food and then we had a long leisurely siesta before continuing on to the next camp on the banks of the river Mara.
Mr Nomad delighted in telling me that upon their arrival in the forest, they had stumbled across a hippo which upon being disturbed had duly chased them! The story unfolded in an almost comical fashion and imagining Pete, Fred and Phil fleeing through the forest was laughable that is, until one remembers that hippo kill more people than lions every year….. By the time us horse riders appeared, all was well and the guys had encouraged the hippo to be on his way.
We rode onto the next camp that was to be home for the next two days and it was stunning. Our tents were set up on the banks of the mighty Mara river and there were pods of hippos and giant Nile crocodiles only a stones throw from our tent! It was amazing!
I had never seen so many hippo’s and I was reliably informed that the Mara river has the heaviest density of hippo any where in the world. It was incredible, made even more so by the foot prints made by the hippo coming in and out of the river right by our tents! A salient reminder that we were in the wild in the true sense of the word – no fences, no barriers, no restrictions or impositions and that we were in their world now, on their land, on their turf where we were merely visitors who had to respect this very fact.
Once again, there was no sign of any other people, or any vehicles and this camp site was exclusive to us. Mr Nomad and I embraced this feeling of being at one with nature. It was more exhilarating than terrifying and we had to pinch ourselves to make sure it was not a dream. It was surreal to think how close we were to incredibly dangerous animals.
A reminder came through the night that these animals can be dangerous and unpredictable. Mr Nomad and I were awoken at around 0400 hrs by a commotion – horses neighing at the top of their lungs, the thundering of hooves, the urgent chatter of people, the searching flash lights flickering rapidly, the incessant grunting of hippos which I have to add, never ceased in the entire two days spent at this camp site but generally, the sound of panic. I stayed within the security of the tent whilst Mr Nomad went to investigate in his steel encased pyjamas and much to our horror, although slight amusement, a hippo had meandered inquisitively through camp and spooked the horses who were tethered to their picket line and had been peacefully snoozing away. Horses being horses, panicked and unfortunately two of those horses took flight, breaking free from the picket line and galloping off into the dead of the night across the Maasai Mara! Hot on their heels was James, the Maasai syce who would not let the horses out of his sight! Thank goodness for the Askari on guard, and for James, as the horses were safely recovered quite quickly and although having had the fright of their lives by the errant hippo, they were unscathed and none the worse for the experience. The other horses were neighing presumably in alarm but they settled as soon as their buddies returned. Not much sleep was had that night but no person nor horse came to any harm so the safari continued without any further disturbances!
The ride out into the wilderness the following day was as spectacular as those rides before. I felt weary from the night’s escapades but the ride was reasonably short and relaxing although a lovely canter was enjoyed whilst taking in the sights of more giraffe, elephant, zebra, impala, gazelle, wildebeest, waterbuck, topi and many more animals. The concentration of game was astounding everywhere we went.
I can quite honestly say that I have never seen anything like it… there were animals and birds everywhere. The icing on the cake was stumbling across a mating pair of lions. In fact, not just one pair of mating lions, but a second pair. It was magical. We had been incredibly lucky with the sights we had seen. We did however, maintain a reasonable distance from the busy lions as Gordie informed us that whilst mating, sometimes the male can do a ‘mock’ charge and ‘mock’ or not, none of us wanted to be charged at by lions!
We leisurely rode along the banks of the Mara river and were lucky enough to see hundreds of hippo basking in the muddy water. We stopped not far from camp and dismounted and whilst the syce took the horses back to the camp, Mr Nomad and I and our other friends enjoyed ‘sundowners’ by the river. We were served a drink known as ‘dawa’ which is the Swahili word for medicine and it was readily knocked back as we watched the sun go down in the magnificent Mara. Yet another magical day.
The day was not finished there, and we were driven out into the conservancy for a night drive. It was pitch black but we were provided with powerful torches and a steady drive out revealed a different perspective on the wild life. We were not out for long, as it is not the done thing to disturb the wild life at night but we were able to see hippo’s out of the water, grazing just like cattle in the bush. We also saw spring hare which I had never seen before and whilst the furry creature is described as a hare, it looked more like a miniature kangaroo and bounded along like one!
The days were flying by and whilst we were exhausted, we retired to bed with a glow of happiness, overwhelmed by the greatness of the Maasai Mara. We were to move to our next camp the following day and once more, we were excited to see what else this magical place had in store for us.