If you’d have told me when I was a young scamp that I’d one day get to go on a safari, I wouldn’t have believed you, mate.
I’ve always loved animal programmes; from Steve Irwin’s Croc Files (a hero gone far too soon), The Really Wild Show on CBBC (if you don’t know what this was then we can’t be friends because you are far too young) to hours of misspent youth watching documentaries on Animal Planet about lions, bears and of course, whales. I always thought that as much as I’d love to go to Africa, I’d never really have the chance.
That is until just over two years ago that a gorgeous pair of humans who we luckily call our friends decided to get married and it just so happened that the bride is Kenyan.
Cue a two holiday extravaganza with a beautiful wedding, the most incredible wildlife, so much Deet and the greatest adventure with my wonderful boyf, donning his safari vest and all. We had the best time and words and photos could never really do it justice.
I am feeling very lucky that I managed to see this wonderful place and already can’t wait to go back. We took so many photographs and want to use this blog post as a chance to just log some of them so I can look back when I am old and wrinkly and remember what a bloody great trip it was. Prepare yourself for all the wildlife, beautiful scenery and me in a cravat. What a treat.
Lions and lions and lions, oh my!
After the first few days, including one hell of a wedding, we began the drive to the Masai Mara. This involved lots of amazing sights, bumpy dusty roads and gorgeous smiling children who waved us on our way. One little legend even flashed the V at NK and fell about laughing yelling ‘EFF you!’. Kids, eh?
We stayed in an amazing hotel in the Aberdare National Park called the Ark which was right on a watering hole. Won’t ever forget that day/evening. Being close enough to animals to get a whiff of them and hear them breathing and snorting looking for minerals in the ground. Can confirm buffalo smell as you would expect but still bloody gorge.
We saw a beautiful family of elephants, including a big bull who just appeared from the greenery around the hotel and moved so gently for an animal so big. Turns out ellies greet one another by using their trunks to sniff each other’s bums and bits. A bold move but they seemed OK about it.
After a few hours of watching elephants and buffalo grazing in peace, to say it all kicked off would be an understatement. We had spotted two hyena lurking around the place earlier in the afternoon and as we were back in the room (deeting up, putting on three pairs of socks and all the layers I owned to prepare for a night of animal watching in 5 degrees mountain weather) there was a heck of a commotion outside and it turned out we were witnessing a hyena hunt.
The two we had seen earlier in the day were the scouts for a much larger pack who had managed to chase a young buffalo into the watering hole. So began the ultimate war of attrition. Three hours followed of being unable to look away and, in my case, proper ugly crying; you’re used to seeing images of hunts on the tele but when it is happening right in front of you, you can hardly breathe. The buffalo would manage to get away, only to be chased back, before getting away and then brought back again. There was a brief interlude where another even larger bull elephant rocked up and brought a moment of calm to the proceedings and Shanzi, Ed et.al didn’t want to get too close to him either.
The buffalo got a nasty wound and eventually the chase disappeared off into the trees.
We didn’t see the young buffalo in question the next morning so I expect the worst happened. After a few more hours of watching into the early hours, we called it a night. Not before watching out in the hotel’s hide at ground level and clocking eyes with one of the hyenas in question. Really funny looking (wouldn’t say that to his face, obviously) and a lot bigger than I expected. Heart was really racing with just a matter of feet between us and them.
After one heck of a night, we made our way on to the Mara and arrived at our hotel just in time for an evening game drive. My first proper safari was one of the best experiences of my life.
Started off with this big gal right outside the hotel’s bar balcony. She was huge. Easily nine feet long and just super chilled out. And 20 metres away from us. We ain’t in Kansas no more, Toto.
What followed was the perfect encounter with the bush in all its majesty. We had been driving for 10 minutes max. through the most beautiful landscape when we were saw lots of cars gathered in one spot. You quickly come to learn that that usually means there’s a predator around.
And boy, we were not disappointed. The most wonderful lioness was strolling through the grass and I will never forget her because she was the first wild big cat I had laid my eyes on. As if it couldn’t get any better, she wasn’t on her own. She had three cubs with her. Three. Again, I cried. You can see a pattern emerging here right?
She was so majestic and the cubs were just gorgeous beyond words. Looking back it makes me uncomfortable to think of all those tourists in huge jeeps driving so close to a mama with her babies. She was completely unfazed but one of the babies really didn’t like it and kept running back into the undergrowth and completely disappearing- their camouflage is something else!
It’s a complicated one because I was also in one of those cars (although our driver Robert was great and was very respectful of keeping an appropriate distance away) and wouldn’t have had that amazing experience without getting close enough to her family. It’s a tricky one and still battling with how I feel about it. But for now, baby lion!
We left them in peace and went on to see another lioness with a kill. Can confirm lions sleep, a lot. The momma lion and her brood were the only lions we actually saw not lying down. A-pex predator perks, right?
We then happened across a boy-band gang of male cheetahs who were graceful and jumped like rabbits. This bunch of lads were chill beyond words and it is apparently common for males to go around in groups of this size. The next day we saw a female on her own and she put the boys to shame with her elegance.
As we circled back around (limited time in the reserve and everyone has to be back at their hotel by 6.30pm) we found that the lioness who was asleep post kill was no longer on her own.
I have never actually gasped and had to cover my mouth because it was so loud before but at this moment I did. A fully maned, very handsome lion was now chowing down on the kill and we were a matter of feet from him. He looked up, clocked eyes with us and carried on eating his tea.
Will not be forgetting him in a hurry either.
We finished the game drive with a view of the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. It was a complete Circle of Life in reverse moment and photos will never be able to capture it. The sky was red, orange, yellow and purple all at the same time. And as quickly as it began to set it was gone beyond the horizon. Those African sunsets really are something else.
All of this, and that was only day one.
We had a fair few more big cat encounters. As Leo girl I think I will always feel an affinity to the lions. Don’t get me wrong, the big males are magnificent. You are taking pictures of them and they are literally like, ‘yes, I am incredibly handsome. Take your photo, human.’ Turns out males live on average between 10-13 years because battles for dominance and mates always end ultimately in one of them losing their life.
We saw a set of brothers who apparently can work together to take control of a pride. I like to think of them as the ultimate tag team pairing in a table, ladders and chairs match on Saturday Night Raw. (A niche pun but actually pretty pleased with that one.)
But the lionesses, they are somehow even more majestic. Of course I am going to big up the girls but there really is an understated majesty, a quieter, less showy power than their male counterparts. The girls just get on with it. On our very last morning, we saw two females lying beside each other. They sat up and looked at us, barely batting an eyelid that we were ogling at them. Won’t be forgetting those two anytime soon either.
They were the last animals we saw on our safari and it seemed so darn appropriate. A pair of united sisters taking on the world, all before 10am in the morning, followed by a day long intense power nap. If that isn’t something to aspire for, I don’t know what is.
Reppin’ for the Verbivores
Now it wasn’t only the predators who were spectacular, I’m going to take a moment to appreciate the wonderful vegetarians of the savannahs.
I never got over seeing zebras on a daily basis. They are unbelievably beautiful and a zebra’s black and white stripe is so vibrant against the tan grasslands. We saw baby zebbies who were beyond ‘aww’ and huge herds hanging out with even bigger herds of wildebeest.
Apparently wildebeest (also known as a gnu and wildbeast which I really enjoyed) have poor eyesight and amazing ears and zebras have great eyesight and can’t hear as well so they work together to avoid being someone’s next meal. Very clever.
We saw the tail end (ha) of the great migration; millions of wildebeest travel from the Serengeti to the Mara on their annual pilgrimage but this year their numbers are not as great as they once were. You wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell as we saw so bloody many of these creatures but yet again, changes in climates and man’s influence in nature are causing animals to adapt and change the behaviours that are intrinsic to their existence. Not cool.
We also happened across loads of buffalo, including a rather tense few seconds when we almost accidentally separated a mother from her calf. She did a funny little kick as if she was thinking about charging the car but thankfully, the moment of crisis was averted as her baby was straight back at her side. Buffalo are a serious beast, killing more people on the African continent than lions, and I definitely didn’t breathe the entire time we slowly tried to find our way out of the herd.
The four days of safari also involved me desperately trying to remember the different types of buck. There are a heck of a lot; eland, Thompson’s gazelle (Tommys), impala, topi, bush buck, water buck, springbok. Eland can apparently jump three metres in the air and all of the buck’s tails were constantly wagging to keep off flies. Very heartwarming and reminded me very much of my springer’s wag. She probably would have barked at them if she’d been there. Fool.
You sadly do find yourself getting used to seeing the antlered characters and remarking ‘Oh, just a Tommy’ but looking back now, everything we saw was so incredible and I am desperate to see that tail wiggle again soon.
There were warthogs who eat on their elbows, giraffes who look so peculiar and wonderful against the horizon (their name in Swahili is twiga which sums them up perfectly), baboons who we saw fighting which culminated in a female chucking her baby into a bush so she had her hands free for scrapping and hippos in the river who decided to give us all a show by copulating right in front of us. There is zero romance in hippo sex.
We had gone out on a narrow boat on Lake Naivasha to see hippos and they are bloody big. The boat got too close for comfort and there was lots of yawning, ear wiggling and disappearing under water out of sight from these guys and you can certainly see why they are the most dangerous animal in Africa. All of the hotels near water had large fences and armed guards to prevent any grazing hippos happening across some tourists. Don’t get between them and the water as the sun comes up.
Even though hippos aren’t in the ‘Big Five’, we managed to see four out of the five which, for a first attempt at a safari I am pretty pleased with, thank you very much. A huge family of elephants including babies and a male resting his trunk on his tusks trumpeted at us, all the lions, herds of buffalo, sadly no rhino as there are less than ten in the Mara because humans are evil (hopefully on our next visit we will see some!) and we finally saw, last but by no means least, a female leopard.
She was a-kip up a tree in the afternoon sun and after hours of driving through leopard territory desperately looking for a flash of a tail, we spotted her. I went full on Safari Sheila (an alter ego I used to be paid to inhabit in another life), cravat and all, to spot her in this tree. It is crazy how well camouflaged she was, only her huge, long tail to give her away. Leopards are solitary and can pull a wildebeest backwards up a tree. Mad skills.
I am so thankful we got to see another beautiful big cat and I don’t care if she didn’t turn to face us, she was a beaut and I have never been so excited to see a spotty backside.
I could have spent weeks on safari. Our four days flew by so quickly and by the end of it I was bruised, covered in dust and feeling completely euphoric and so darn lucky enough to finally to have experienced such a special place.
We ended the trip with a few nights at the coast which was just what the doctor ordered and already I cannot wait to go back to see those animals again.
If you ever get the chance to go on safari, you simply must because it really felt like one of those life-affirming, once in a lifetime, pinch me experiences. Kenya was beautiful, the people were so friendly and generous and I have come away with my new favourite way to greet people. I challenge anyone to not feel happy after shouting a joyous ‘JAMBO!’ at everyone you meet.
This blog post has just scratched the surface of the wonderful time we had and I now have the delightful job of sorting through all the photographs for the family album.
Kenya, you were a dream come true. Asante sana.