An adventurous walk in the Mara, Kenya
As ever on safari, I was awoken by one of the camp porters at around 7am for my breakfast. I was staying at Alex Walker's Serian Camp in Mara North Conservancy. The camp is situated high on the banks of the Mara river, and breakfast is normally taken from their ‘mess’ tent whilst watching hippos wallowing in the muddy river below. Such was the case for me anyhow.
I was due to partake in a walking safari this morning, we would set out from camp (‘we’ being two Maasai guide’s and myself) cross the river and head north a short while before then heading away from the river, up the escarpment opposite camp, south along said escarpment, before dropping back down and back over the river to camp for brunch. It was mid March, and the rains had come early. Didn’t matter though, I live in England. So as you can imagine, we set out from a wet camp, on a wet path, and soon my newish trainers were looking oldish and my feet were wet. A bit like a mid-autumn term day at school.
It was never going to hamper the experience though, my two Maasai guides, in full attire with spears (wearing sandals) were constantly picking up on footprints, different faeces and various flora and fauna. Once we had crossed the river via a thin, slightly wobbly foot bridge that links Serian Original Camp to Serian Ngare camp, we headed up stream as planned, standing to watch a large pod of hippos grunting and keeping their large beady eyes fixed on us, inches above the water. It is worth noting that hippos are actually one of the most dangerous animals in Africa, mainly due to their temperament, so a safe distance was kept! After a while we headed away from the river, again as planned, and started the trek up the escarpment.
It was fairly steep and I have to admit to not being as fit as I’d like to be, meaning I was slightly huffing and puffing after a few hundred metres, perhaps it was the combination of walking, talking and just trying to take in as much information as possible. Despite the mild exhaustion, there is something about a walking safari that really does heighten the senses. For me, it is the way a walk can create adrenaline, perhaps through the knowing of trespassing through lands run by the greatest of animals- and in the Mara there are a lot of these animals.
Half way up our ascent of the escarpment, we came across a herd of elephant, some 50 or so metres to our left through thick vegetation. After having spent 5 minutes crouched down trying to get the all important photo(s) we started to slowly move on up again. After about 5 or so metres, my guide in front of me (you walk in a line) spun around and ushered me back down with a real sense of urgency, no running allowed in this part of the world though. So we walked briskly back to where we had just stopped. We had unintentionally managed to walk between a herd of elephant- the other herd we had just seen was actually the other half of one big group.
We were now in a bit of a situation, and my adrenaline was certainly flowing! Luckily this is where guides really step up and show their experience and knowledge, and there is probably no one better to handle this situation than the guys I was with. Born and bred in the Mara, countless hours of driven and walking safari’s under their belts, knowledge of the smallest bird to the largest mammal, from snakes to giraffe to mongoose, they probably know people better than anyone as well. So despite the adrenaline rush, I knew I was going to be OK. And I was. After a few moments, and some route planning, we managed to head up the hill cutting a diagonal line through the herd, albeit a fairly hasty line. By the time we had averted danger we were near the top of the escarpment and the views were getting bigger and bigger, better and better. I decided to let the guys have a well deserved rest to catch their breath…
After a quick rehydration and some photos I called time on the pit stop and we made our way up the last few hundred metres to the top. On arrival we were greeted with even more beautiful and serene views over the Mara. If you haven’t been then I almost beg you to. It is vast, with some of the largest skies I have ever seen, up their with the outback of Australia and, so I’m told, the skies of Montana- self named ‘Big Sky Country’. Obviously the Mara is in a league of its own though due to the large amounts of game that reside there.
I hadn’t been in the Mara more than 24 hours and had seen lots of; lions, elephants, giraffe, zebra, antelope of varying sorts, wildebeest, hippo, the list goes on. I’d even been joined by genets at dinner the night before. Stood at the top of that escarpment, even on a slightly overcast (but thankfully not rainy) day, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly small in a big, beautiful, natural world. I’d almost go as far as to say I even felt quite irrelevant!
Pensive moment over, we moved on along the escarpment- I was thankful for the flat gradient. After a few hundred metres, I turned to the guides and asked them a question they probably dread ‘How accurate are you with your spears?’. It turns out they are quite accurate. I was more amazed at the fact they threw the spears the complete other way around than I thought they would. The joke was soon on me though as I was then handed a spear and after a few laughs I was in the zone and going for gold. Sadly it wasn’t my day though and my spear sort of weirdly flopped through the air landing flat on the ground a few metres short of the target. ‘Oh look a giraffe’ I said pointing into the abyss of the Mara and with embarrassment deterred, we started to make our way back to camp.
On the way back to camp we picked up on lion footprints, found dung beetles literally pushing much more than their weight, actually did see some giraffe nearby, and found some flowers flourishing from the local rains. The guys also started tapping at dead trees at one point, looking for black mambas which could possibly be one of the most unfunny things I have ever witnessed - I have a serious fear of snakes which they both knew so this was their entertainment for the day. As if my spear throwing wasn’t enough.
We eventually reached the bridge to get back to camp, not a black mamba in sight, where I was taken to my tent to freshen up before brunch. What a morning. I had left camp 3 hours previously, had taken good exercise and had had my adrenaline pushed, all whilst at the hands of two guides who I chatted and laughed with nonstop but trusted implicitly and who I could call on as friends by the time the whole thing was over. Kenya is one of those countries that comes to the mind the moment anyone says safari, and rightfully so. The Mara also hosts the famous migration, and I would love to come back and see that one day.
Whenever I go to a new or different part of Africa, I do find myself conjuring up so many mixtures of emotion; excitement, nerves, curiosity, bewilderment, emptiness and ultimately mild depression and anxiety when I have to leave. The Mara does this to you in all the best ways possible, and a walking safari in this pocket of the world will leave you with memories and stories to last a very long time.
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