Emma Birrer travels to Kenya. After an apprehensive start in Nairobi, Emma visits the Masai Mara National Reserve where she sees the Big Five. Emma, tell us about your African safari experience in Kenya.
Kenya is one of the ultimate African destinations. Its animals, landscapes and native people have long been the iconic image of Africa. It has also recently gained more exposure as being the place where Prince William proposed to Catherine Middleton. Despite its political and civil unrest in the past, it is still one of the most popular countries to visit in Africa.
I arrived in Nairobi at the end of February, slightly apprehensive given the reputation of the city that used to be called "Nai-Robbery". The sun had barely risen when I found myself in the arrivals hall of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport being approached by several men offering their taxi services. Overwhelmed and very jet lagged after a long, much-delayed flight I looked for an official looking tourist desk and was relieved at how well everyone spoke English and how polite and helpful their staff were. Rather than being hassled and arguing about prices for a taxi to take me to my accommodation, the staff at the service desk found me a driver, negotiated a price and welcomed me several times to their country.
My first taxi driver was eager for a chat and assured me that while Nairobi had a bad reputation in the past, the city was changing for the better. Five years ago, locals could not drive their cars with the windows down as there was a high risk they would be carjacked. Now, my taxi driver had all the windows down and some local hip hop blaring loudly out of his sound system without a care in the world. This would later be confirmed by all of the other taxi drivers that I used throughout my stay.
I was surprised to see that Nairobi was quite a modern city, with multilevel business buildings, traffic lights, air conditioning and all the mod cons you would expect out of any first world capital city. It was daunting to see armed guards outside hotels, backpackers and businesses but it was a strong reminder that I was in a country with a history of violence.
Masai Mara National Reserve
The next day my three day Masai Mara tour with Africa Travel Co began. I had been prepared for what to expect in terms of life on an overland truck, the camping and the facilities that we would be using while in East Africa. It was interesting to see just how the overlanding trucks operated and how they had been modified by touring companies. After departing from the Hotel Boulevard we made a quick pit stop at a very European style shopping village which had a supermarket and cafe where we got our last fix of Western food and drink for a few days. Then it was a long, bumpy day of driving through the Great Rift Valley out to the Masai Mara National Reserve.
Upon arrival at the camp and much to the relief of all our fellow passengers, we discovered that there was a bar on site, as well as plenty of room for us to set up our tents. Despite being able hear hyenas howling as they circled the camp at night, it was a relief to know that Masai Mara tribesman were guarding the perimeters of our camp for our protection.
The following day was a day of game driving in the Masai Mara National Reserve. After many hours on the road we could all tick the Big Five off our list. While most people have seen these animals in zoos, it is an entirely different experience to see them in their natural setting – we were lucky enough to be able to watch a lion stalk its prey! The scenery was beautiful and unlike anything else I saw in the rest of my African travels. It is the most amazing experience to sit down with a sundowner and watch an African sunset and see giraffes and elephants on the horizon.
We also had the option of visiting a traditional Masai Mara community, which initially had me a little uncomfortable as I felt like an intruder. However, the local community were happy to sing and dance and welcome us. After showing us around the village they also had some of their craft, jewellery and masks on offer to purchase. They also demonstrated their traditional jumping, which men do to attract more wives. Their traditional dress was colourful and their voices and harmonies whilst they sung were incredible!
After another night at camp, it was time to transfer back to Nairobi. It was a very short trip but it covered everything that I wanted to see and experience while I was in Kenya and was an amazing introduction to my own travels through East and South Africa.