A Travellerspoint blog

The Magical Masai Mara

It was like waiting for santa on Christmas eve as was my excitement the night before the safari. I tried to sleep but to no avail. I even tried counting zebras (thought it was better than sheep given the context) but it didn’t work -I eagerly awaited the morning time to head to the Masai Mara. We were delighted then that at 7.30am the next morning, the safari company arrived with our vehicle ready for the trip. You see picking a safari company is quite hard as there are so many to choose from and it is so expensive that we wanted our moneys worth. In the end we decided to go for a local company that we had read good reports about and it also meant that we had the vehicle and driver to ourselves.
Once the van was loaded we headed off on the long trip to the Masai Mara. On the way down, we passed through the famous Rift Valley which is a sight to behold. Its is where the first human remains were found apparently. After about 7 hours of driving down some of the bumpiest roads I have ever encountered, we arrived at our campsite. We were tired and hungry and were beginning to wonder if the journey was worth it. I can say now that it absolutely was. After a quick bite to eat, we entered through Talek gate to see what lay ahead. I should mentioned that even though we entered through a gate to show our passes, the Masai Mara isn’t actually ring fenced, It is far too big for that. After we entered the gate, it didn’t take long to see that the journey down the bumpy roads were more than worth it. It is spectacular. In the 2 hours of our first drive, we saw 3 of the big five (lion, buffalo, elephant –the other two are leopard and rhino) and much much more. It is difficult to describe the feeling of seeing so many animals I had only seen in documentaries roaming freely. Needless to say that as you drive through the reserve the camera becomes an extension to your hand. We actually got very lucky with our little video camera catching a scene of a male lion fighting off another right in front of our vehicle.

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Of course the most important thing about this month in the Masai Mara is the arrival of the wildebeest from Tanzania. The Great Migration – and great it is. The migrate from Tanzania to the Masai Mara every July/August and then go back aorund December. How they find their way is beyond me! It is spectacular seeing thousands of wildebeest roaming migrating across the grasslands walking, leaping and running about. The are true to their name and are prone to buck-leaping about.

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The amazing thing about the arrival of the wildebeest is that they seem to complete the ecosystem here, providing much needed food for the meat eaters and friendship for the zebras. The zebras and the wildebeest are good mates and can been seen hanging around together in massive groups. This relationship works well for the wildebeest as they can sense the lions approaching, and start running. Unfortunately the wildebeest aren’t the smartest of animal in sensing danger so the warning if much needed.

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On day two of the safari, we left the campsite at 7am and headed off on our full day game drive across the park. It was unbelievable. We saw so many animals and birds I think I was just going around with my jaw dropped for the day. Some of animals were more elusive but many had no fear of the vehicle and a lion walked straight beside the van. One interesting thing about the lions in the Mara is that they aren’t man eaters. The ones in some of the parks near Mombasa, the lions can be man eaters but apparently if a lion eats a man, he is killed. The reason being that humans are meant to be unbelievably tasty to eat and once a lion eats a human it wont eat anything else and will continue to hunt humans so it has to be killed. I never knew we were delicious!!!

The thing I found so amazing was that all of these animals (elephants, lions, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, gazelles, wildebeest just to name a few – live in the same area and just get about their daily business. Yes, obviously some animals are food for others but it seems to be on a need only basis. They don’t just randomly kill for fun. The day ended seeing two Cheetahs lying together under a tree – what a sight. They were so cat like just sprawled out (I couldn’t help think of poncho at that moment).

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Today- Sunday we got really lucky and got to see the famous wildebeest crossing of a river. It was spectacular. Thousands of wildebeest crossed the Talek river. It was over in about 15 minutes. The amazing thing is that they all gather together on one side of the river and when the leader decides to cross they all follow. It was amazing. There were a few zebra in the group too!!!

Aside from the animals, it is also important to remember that this area is home to the Masai people who live just on the outskirts of the Masai Mara in different villages. We passed through some of them on the way to the campsite. They are a very interesting tribe and take great pride in their livestock. They have a wonderful traditional dress that some of them wear but many others just wear plain clothes and are not involved livestock anymore but have taken jobs elsewhere. We got chatting to a really nice guy called Freddy in Watamu who a shop selling Masai crafts. He was very interesting and while he seem to take part in traditional dances etc, he lived like us other days.

I could go on and on about the experience in the Masai Mara but I don’t think I could do this place justice in just how amazing it is. It was always my number one dream to see the African wildlife in person and now I have fulfilled it. Hopefully I will be back again someday – actually I know I will!

Dodging Mosquitos Status: Was so overwhelmed by this place that I forgot about them!

Posted by ofenelon 12:49 Archived in Kenya Comments (4)

Eating our way around Mombasa

We finished up our stay in Watamu with a trip to the local snake sanctuary which was fascinating. Bio-ken Farm is located on the edge of the village and has a very important role in snake research and in the production of Anti-Venom for bites. One of the workers took around the centre and I was quite surprised to find out how many of the deadliest snakes could be found in the local area such as the yellow/black mambas, puff adders, pythons and a few others. I got a little worried when he mentioned that the adult python that I was looking at was found just across the road from the farm. I guess I hadnt thought much about snakes till then. However he did proceed to say that most of the snakes in the sanctuary were harmless and we got to hold one which was cool. It was also interesting hearing about how they milked the snakes to create anti-venom

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We really enjoyed Watamu and the people were lovely but as it was quite a small village with not too many tourists at this time, we were kind of a target for people offering tours, selling stuff etc. Its very hard saying no to people as I know that tourism is a low in Kenya at the moment and we have so much by comparison. As we are on a budget though and have small packs we cant really buy stuff etc. I would say though that if anyone was thinking of going there on a holiday, they do have some wonderful crafts, pictures, furniture etc.

After Watamu we got a matatu (local mini-bus type taxi) to Mombasa. We are staying out near Nyali beach in backpakers nirvana which is lovely. Very relaxed atmosphere. This morning we headed into Mombasa for a look around and got a tuk-tuk in. I love tuk-tuks although I dont know how they drive around the place - there seems to be no traffic lights here. The traffic seems to work ok though. There probably isnt loads to see in Mombasa expect for Fort Jesus (we didnt go in). This is a good spot to go shopping, eat and stroll around the old town. We managed to eat our way around and had an amazing indian lunch. There seems to be a strong Indian influence in the food here.

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The markets here are class with loads of wonderful spices that you can sample. Unfortunately for us, we could really buy any as we are not cooking but i enjoyed hearing about them from the market stall owners. Ger done a bit of negotiating over some Kenyan coffee.

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We are making the trip to Nairobi tomorrow. 8 hours by bus but I dont mind though as on Friday we leave for Safari. Im not sure I have been this excited about something ever before!!!! I feel as if i have been waiting to see the african animals since I was a teenager. Fingers crossed I'll be doing my best David Attenborough reporting, this time next week!

Dodging Mosquito Status: Unfortunately one 'Bond' like mossie slipped through the net the other had night and had a right feed! We found the perpetrator around 4am and he was eliminated. Needless to say we have upped our guard!!!! Since then, its been ok

Posted by ofenelon 05:40 Comments (4)

The Christening of the backpacks

from Lamu to Watamu

Much like when u get a new pair of runners, the backpacks were looking kind of sparkly new. This had to change and it did as we begun our trip from Lamu down the coast to Watamu. We got on the local ferry to get to across to our bus and it was a very interesting start to the trip. While waiting on the Dhow boat to depart, we sat relaxing in the shade when a crowd began to gather at the pier and we looked up to see a group of boys, trying to push a massive cement mixer down the steps of the jetty onto our boat. They were pulling it with ropes and it was getting caught on each stap. Then they tried to get it on the boat, it tipped and hung over ledge. after much help, they managed to pull it on to roars of a big cheers from the crowd and our boat. (myself included). The very definition of Harambee - swaheli for working together. Eventually, we got our bus and headed on the 5 hour trip down the coast. Our bags went into the storage underneath which is where the christening took place. I have to say the bus seats were super comfy albeit a little hot and bumpy The best thing was that when you went through villages, you could buy food out the window....excellent service, they should start this at home!!! When we got off the bus, we were handed our bags and they had well and truly lost their shine, they were covered in dust but in perfect condition so no worries there. It was a tiring trip but we made it to Watamu no problem and checked into our accomodation. The accomodation is fab but its low season so we are the only residents. In some ways its great but its a little strange. They have parrots though that i say hello to in the morning. Needless to say, they dont reply but when i walk away they begin to make a kinds of noises which are class. One of them is the wolf whistle noise, not sure if someone taught them it or its part of their daily parrot converstion but its hilarious. Perhaps it just cause i look so fab in the mornings - i wish!

Watamu is really nice. It is a beach town located about 120km from Mombasa. The beaches are absolutely amazing with the most famous being 'Turtle Bay' which runs for 12 km along the coast. There is a good bit to do here apart from just hanging out on the beach. The areas had a massive marine park which is heavily protected from fishing so its a great place to go snorkelling/diving. Yesterday we went over our daily budget and splashed out on a day boat trip to see the mangroves of midi creek and do some snorkelling in the afternoon. Our guide was really nice and on our trip to midi creek, we had an impromtu visit to a local school. The kids were so nice. Myself and ger got invited into the class and ger even taught them a bit of Irish - which they loved. After lunch of barbecued, fish, lobsters and octupus soup we continued to the marine park where we got to do some some snorkelling which was amazing. The sea was a bit rough so i was nervous at first but soon relaxed into it and it was class. It was especially good when the boys on the boat threw a bit of food at the fish as they all gathered together right in front of our faces. They were amazing colours. Zebra fish and trumpet fish along with others. I even seen one in the Wexford colours of purple and gold! - good to see they swam to support me!.

This morning we decided to go visit the nearby Gedi Ruins for sunrise so we rented bikes, left at 6am and cycled to it about 6 km out the road. The gedi ruins is a massive swaheli settlement that exsited about around 1400-1500AD. It was abandoned but the ruins of the city are there and it is quite spectacular. The area is overgrown with forest but the ruins have been excavated so its very interesting walking down the forest paths looking at the various sites.

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Ger and I were the only ones in there which made it even better as it was so quiet we could hear the wildlife. We saw lots of vervet monkeys, some giant millipedes about 12 inches long, small antelope (in the distance, they are very timid) and Ger saw an elephant shrew. I missed it!.

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Watamu is an lovely place, again the locals are lovely but unfortunately parts of the area has been somewhat spoilt by large hotels that cater to masive groups of Italians mostly but there are a few hotels catering to other nationalities.. It is very odd, the locals all speak Italian here as well as swaheli and english as there are so many italians. The one issue with these hotels is that they contain guests that pretty much stay in the hotel except for walking down the steps to the beach and doing the odd tour. The hotels are luxurious and provide some employment but the local shops, restaurants aren't really benefitting which is a shame. It seems to be a complex issue and there seems to be some indifferent feelings here from the locals towards these type of tourists but everyone has been super nice to us. We are a bit of a target for people selling stuff and this gets a little tiring but have had some very interested chats with the locals as a result.

I better go here, I'll post photos again. I'm not on WiFi so dont have access to them. We continue down the coast to Mombasa in a couple of days and then to Nairobi for our Safari.

Dodging Mosquito status: Better, they little devils dont like the coastal winds i think. Plus my husband has become an master assasin at killing them. Personally, i cant see them unless i have my glasses on.

Posted by ofenelon 02:32 Comments (1)

Calling all tourists to Lamu!

We extended our stay in Lamu for another few days so so have had a chance to get a good prospective on life here on this wonderful little Island. The title of this post ' calling all tourists to Lamu' I suppose is an appeal for people to consider Lamu as a destination in future travels. Unfortunately tourism here has suffered greatly at the hands of Somalian Pirates who kidnapped tourists off a very rich and exclusive Island North of Lamu in 2011. While the area is now completely safe and warnings have been lifted by the Brits and the Americans, this has had a big impact on the community here. While Lamu is very rich in culture, the people are not rich and Tourists provide an invaluable source of income. I can honestly say in the last 5 days we have been here, i have never felt safer anywhere else. It is perfectly safe for people to walk through the streets after dark and they not even lit up (we carry a torch). Yes when you walk down by the seaside, you get a lots of locals offering tours, donkey rides etc but they do not force it on you and will take no for an answer. There is also the added the bonus that everyone knows everyone so once you have a done a dhow trip, they wont ask you again. Ger and I laugh at this, its a if we have a GPS tracker on us. All the locals know what trips the Mzungus (swaheli for white people) have done.

In the past couple of days we have been mostly relaxing but have managed to fit in a few activities worth mentioning. Two days ago, after chatting with a local man, we arranged a cooking lesson and dinner with a traditional swahili family. The lesson actually took place in his sisters house in a village just outside lamu and was very interesting. After walking to the village, it was easy to see that people in it were just as welcoming as Lamu town. His sister was lovely and we helped to prepare the dinner which would take place at 6.30pm (sunset) as Ramadan is in progress here. We learned to to make coconut rice, chiapatis and a tomato based dish containing a potatoes and fish. We also had a trip around the village and I got to meet the neighbours pet monkey who was very cute! It was so different from what we were use to at home but we were made feel really welcome and the food was lovely.

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Here is a picture of us with the family

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Today we also made an excursion to on of Lamu's main attraction, Shela Beach. This is about a 40 min walk from Lamu town or you can grab a boat for about 4 euro that will bring two people across. The beach is beautiful. Swimming is lovely and its practically deserted at the moment. This would be one of the richer areas with fancy hotels and villas owned by rich tourists but for the moment its very quiet. The downside is there is not much shade on it so we didnt stay too long and gave our sunscreen a good testing out!!! Which worked very well thankfully. Irish skin is not meant for Kenyan Beaches!!

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On thursday we move on down the coast to Watamu but I'm pretty sure Lamu will remain one of the highlights of Kenya. The food here is lovely (fresh juices, fish, some lovely cafes,), the muslim culture is fascinating, the beaches amazing and the people are so welcoming. That together with the brilliant service this guesthouse gives Jambo House, Lamu has given us with a fantastic start to our trip. Asante sana Lamu!!!!!

Dodging Mosquito Status: Ok but our arch enemies seem to be lurking in all areas. Luckily we haven't seen any more enormous ones, like the one in the bathroom the other day - he must have been the godfather!!!!

Posted by ofenelon 07:19 Comments (2)

Pole-pole all the way from lamu

Pole-pole (the swaheli for slowly slowly) pretty much summarises life here on the Beautiful Island of Lamu. Not that people are lazy, on the contrary, they are very hard working but they have a stress free attitude to getting about their daily lives which makes this Island the ideal place for relaxing and chilling out. It is hard to start to describe Lamu as there seems to be so much to say about it. Firstly, its a Muslim community and Ramadan just started so there is no eating or drinking from dawn till dusk for the locals. They are very respectful so likewise, when we head out onto the streets, I try to dress appropriately (mini skirts are at the bottom of the bag for the time being!).

Walking around Lamu, the first thing you notice is the small winding streets and lack of cars and that is because there are none. I think there are two on the entire Island. If you want a local taxi company then you travel by Donkey, although i mainly see kids riding these. We have chosen to walk instead - donkeys here are very strong but to me they look small so i cant bring myself to sit on them. They are a necessary part of the community though, used to carry heavy loads for the locals and they looked well cared for. There is also a donkey sanctury here that I plan to visit in the next few days.

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I had heard that Lamu was a friendly place but was unprepared for the warmth of the people. As you walk through the streets, tourists are greeted with 'Jambo' and kids smile and come up to you just to say hello. The locals do use tourists as a source of income by offering tours, donkey rides, boat rides etc. but they are always respectful.

As for things to do in Lamu, there are quite a lot. The most common is the Dhow tour. The dhow is a slow boat with a slanted sail and you can take a tour for the day stopping on Islands along the way. Ger and I done this yesterday and it was really lovely. We left with a group from our guesthouse at 10am and sailed to some of the nearby beaches where we could chill while the boat grilled fish for us on a barbie on the boat.

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These guys can cook!! we had a yummy lunch of red snapper, veg in a coconut sauce and rice.

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After lunch we headed to see the takwa swaheli ruins from the 16th century. We could only go there when the tide was in and the boat could only go so far, so we had to wade down some of the inlet which which was amusing.

It was here we got a glimpse of the famous baobab tree.

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When we finished in the ruins, we headed back to lamu relaxing on the comfy cushions provided and tried catch the sunset from the boat.

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Well that is it from me for the moment, dodging mosquito status is ok, got bitten once or twice. I spotted an assasin in the toilet the other night so i done what any avid traveller does, let a yelp, left the room and went asked my husband to go and kill it!!! This was needlessly followed by a lecture on how it was time for me to 'be a big girl' now!!!!

Posted by ofenelon 01:17 Comments (3)

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