In August 2010, I embarked on my first journey to East Africa with my husband Prasad and daughter Aariya. Having been to South Africa only a year ago, this was my second visit to the continent.
I had read and heard about the experience a bit, but wanted to dive in and discover it all for myself. What unfolded before our eyes during the fortnight spent visiting Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar was incredible.
Beginning our trip with Kenya, we landed in Nairobi on a chilly morning (just 15 degrees) and as we deplaned and walked to the terminal building, I felt a little unprepared for the pleasantly cool weather. Once outside, we were met by Eileen, a friendly Kenyan girl, the Customer Service Representative for Vintage Africa, our ground handling tour operator.
Eileen asked me “So Renuka how was your Safari?” I was perplexed, “Safari?” I asked, “But it hasn’t begun yet.” To which she replied, “Oh, I meant your flight journey. ‘Coz in our language any journey is a Safari.” Aha! The learning had begun for me.
From the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport we drove to the Wilson airport to take our first ever “Bush Flight”. It was a 12 seater Cessna, which felt just like a flying taxi. We flew onto the Musiara airstrip in Masai Mara and made our way to Governors Camp Collection, which was home for our time in the Mara.
The Mara River meandering through it and surrounded by marshes and swamps, the Camp attracts many animals and is reputed to be the in the best location and is a favorite filming area for BBC’s Big Cat Diary. It was love at first sight for me.
The First Cat Sighting
Our driver guide Joseph was raring to show us around and to match his enthusiasm, the scene that unfolded was unbelievable. Three Lionesses were crouching and hiding under mounds and bushes, their eyes fixed on a Wildebeest oblivious to the fact that he had strayed away from its herd.
As they moved slowly and purposefully towards this easy prey, their poise and co-ordination screamed of thousands of hours of practice. In a flash, the leading lioness pounced on the Wildebeest, giving it no time to think or react. We were stunned, eyes glued to the action. The silence was only broken with Joseph’s gentle “Are we ready to go?” Phew! This was it, we were right in the middle of the wild; all the stories heard so far becoming a screenplay in front of our eyes.
As we got back into the jeep, we spotted one of the lionesses going towards a mound. Three tiny lion heads popped up from behind it. Joseph told us that the cubs, Moja, Mbili and Tatu would now be taken to the kill and taught how to eat. It was later I learnt that the cub names were not names but numbers. Moja, Mbili, Tatu mean 1,2,3 in Swahili.
The cubs were not forgotten. Our tent number 35 overlooked the plains and we could see far into the distance, making us wonder what might be happening out there at that very moment. Finishing our lunch, we speculated if the cubs had finished theirs too.
The next morning, we woke up at 4.30 am for the Balloon Safari. It was still pitch dark outside and we drove up to the site huddled together, wondering how it would feel to fly up in a Balloon. As the balloon was inflated, we watched, sipping on freshly brewed, warm Kenyan coffee. Oh, there is nothing like it!
Climbing into the basket, I noticed the first rays of the Sun started begin to spread a golden hue. The Sun and our balloon rose almost together. The animals looked so harmless from above, and as we flew over the tops of tress, we could have picked an egg or two from the nests of birds.
The balloon flies, rather floats, at a speed of around 8 nautical miles per hour at a height of 30 feet from ground level and the journey lasts for about an hour, ending with a sumptuous, delicious breakfast with Champagne. It was so exciting to see breakfast being cooked over the same propane burners that were used to fly the balloon!
We wanted to watch the wildebeest migration that Africa is so well known for and our wait paid off as, one day, we finally saw a huge herd of around 1,500 Wildebeest jumping with thumping hearts into the Mara River infested with Crocodiles. What a sight! The initial indecisiveness, hesitation, anxiety, fear of the unknown and all of that culminating into a jump which could decide between life and death.
We went to Lake Nakuru, mainly to see the glorious, pink Flamingos. Not only did we see these noisy, algae eating, graceful birds in the soda Lake of Nakuru, but we also spotted the Black Rhino that we had missed spotting in the Mara.
Crossing the Equator was also very much on the agenda, so as we headed to the Mt. Kenya Safari Club. Mt. Kenya is unique in that it has snow on its summit despite being just three degrees off the equator and the Safari Club is a splendid property. The zero degree latitude actually runs through the property, so some rooms are in the Northern Hemisphere while others are in the Southern Hemisphere!
We enjoyed watching the ‘Coriolis Effect’ experiment on the way to the Club. The guide takes a jug of water and puts a match stick into it. There is no movement at the Equator. But when you place the jug in the Northern Hemisphere, the matchstick begins moving clockwise and when you place it in the Southern Hemisphere, it moves anti-clockwise.
Our last day in Kenya was in the capital city of Nairobi, the place of “cool waters”. A visit to the Giraffe Centre to see and feed the giraffes and a visit to the Elephant Orphanage to see orphaned elephants guzzle 3-4 litres of milk in a jiffy made my daughter super happy.
We stayed at the Safari Park Hotel which features a show called the “Cats Show” each night. Around 40 young dancers perform acrobatic dances to the wild beats of drums and cast a spell on the entire audience. It was awesome!
The next morning as we landed at the airport in Kilimanjaro, it occurred to me that it was a very small airport, and you only needed to walk from the aircraft to the terminal building. Visa on arrival – now that is bliss! The airport has all of 2 baggage carrousels and we got out in no time.
Waiting for us was our warm and friendly Driver Guide Wolfugan Morosso, whose bright smile warmed our hearts.
In Tanzania, the Safari Vehicles are four wheel drives (mostly Toyota Land Cruisers) with sturdy, wide bodies having good floor clearance and pop-up / slide away roof tops. The van also has a mini-refrigerator for beverages.
Lake Manyara National Park
We started off right away towards the Lake Manyara National Park. This park stretches for 50 kms along the rift valley escarpment and Lake Manyara is a salt/soda water lake, perfect for algae and in turn, perfect for Flamingos which feed on these algae.
One can imagine what a spectacular sight this lends itself to – pink Flamingos framed against the perfect backdrop of this lake. On the banks of the lake is soft, powdery sand just like at the beach while giant Fig and Mahogany trees and numerous thick bushes complete the setting. The afternoons can get warm and sultry, but that doesn’t take away from the magical scene of the Manyara.
We spotted Zebra, Buffalo and some very cute Antelopes called the Dik-Dik – Aariya absolutely wanted to carry one home with her! Wolfugan had just started to tell us that since the afternoons are warm, and also due to the fear of the tsetse flies (flies inducing sleeping sickness), Lions and Leopards prefer to stretch out on the branches of the huge trees.
We started heading out of the National Park and there, in front of us on a huge Mahogany tree, was an entire pride of Lions – seven of them, lounging away after their afternoon meal, their stomachs looking swollen, leaving us imagining who had fallen prey to their might that day.
By evening, we reached Ngorongoro, which is yet another geographical wonder. A UNESCO world heritage site, it is a huge caldera made by the volcano exploding and the mouth falling in, leaving behind the world’s largest unflooded and unbroken crater. Around 20 kms across, 600 meters deep and 260 sq kms in area, the Ngorongoro Crater is just amazing!
We stayed at the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, a comfortable property. Sleep was hard to come, as the mind was super excited about what was to be seen the following day, but the body simply needed the rest and all three of us slipped into a deep slumber.
The next morning, it took us just 20 minutes to descend to the floor of the Caldera. Spread out before us was 260 sq kms of the wild, the salt / soda Lake Magadi and all the creatures that come with the unspoiled wilderness that is East Africa.
It was just picture perfect – The Lake with reflections of pink fluffed Flamingos, Zebras and Wildebeest rolling in mud baths, Buffaloes basking in the sun, thousands of Thompsons Gazelles and Impalas feasting on dew softened grass, Giraffes looking right up at the sun as though complaining at having risen too early and Lions lazing on the grass after an active night on the prowl.
It was simply impossible to take it all in at once. No camera in this world is capable of capturing what the mind, body and heart feels in East Africa. It’s stunning, simply stunning!
A giraffe against a spectacular East African sunset. Image credit: Rough Guides
Edited by Vibha Ravi
ABOUT THE GUEST AUTHOR –
Renuka Natu is an experienced travel professional and has worked with the Kuoni group in India for several years. She currently represents tourism companies, properties and attractions in Africa and Switzerland. She has also written a book titled ‘Little Aariya Goes to Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar’.
P.S. The pictures featured here are sourced from Tourism Boards/properties that Renuka is affiliated with.
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