Can ya go to Kenya for the weekend? Well, the answer, it turns out, is absolutely.
Never one to sit idly by and enjoy a quiet Memorial Day Weekend at home, I opted to take advantage of the extended weekend by flying from US East Coast to Nairobi.
- Total flying time? 34 hours.
- Time in the Masai Mara? 48 hours.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Probably something like, “That’s no way to experience Kenya.” Or, “What about the jet lag?” Or, perhaps — most likely — “You’re an idiot.”
And those are all very normal responses to this situation. However, if you’ve read this blog before, you’ve come to realize I’m not a “normal” traveler.
A safari in Kenya had been on my radar screen since I visited a Game Preserve in South Africa back in 2012.
So, after flying through the night (to Frankfurt) and for the entirety of the following day (to Nairobi), a refreshing night’s sleep followed. The next morning, it was time to get into a small propeller-driven airplane built in the late eighties for a short flight to the Masai Mara.
“Masai” is the name for the people who live in the area and “Mara” means dotted plain. The plain is dotted by trees. From the air, it looks dotted. Well, at least that was the explanation from David, our driver who was standing ready to drive over the African plain just after we touched down.
Let me take a moment here to describe what driving is like here. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Kathmandu. The roads there are currently being rebuilt and I had a frightful experience traversing them. The “roads” in the Masai Mara were worse still. In fact, calling them roads is a stretch. The perennial joke is that a car ride includes a “free African massage” thanks to the ruts and bumps in the “roads.” But that’s not quite right. A massage sounds soothing. This, on the other hand, involves slamming your head repeatedly on the roof of the car (thankfully, it was made of canvas).
David, the driver, was a quiet man, which – in my experience – makes him unique in his profession. Most of the guides I’ve encountered are “people people.” They enjoy sharing their countries with visitors, telling stories, and – you know – generally talking. This was not David’s specialty. As we passed herds of elephants, gazelles, and topi, David would say the name of the animal, perhaps slow a moment, and then accelerate.
I felt most sorry for the poor guy in the back of the truck.
He desperately needed to go to the bathroom and let out an audible whimper each time the car went airborne and slammed back to the earth. He was too afraid to ask David to stop for fear of being eaten alive if he stepped out of the car. Understandably.
We finally arrived at the camp, which was remarkable for its creature comforts (cell service, fluffy towels, showers, and hippos out back) given its location quite literally in the middle of nowhere. The over-hydrated passenger practically ran me over on his way to the loo. Thankfully, he made it.
A quick bite of lunch and it was time for our first game drive. We all made sure to visit the bathroom one last time before we left.
Thankfully, David took this ride a bit slower. Seeing animals going about their business in their natural habitats is a truly wonderful experience. I’m not sure it could ever get old for me.
After driving past gazelles, bush bucks, and others, we noticed three other cars with equally eager tourists. As we got closer, we saw a family of lions. Indeed, there in the bush, were ten of them!
A guy in the front of the car opened a bucket, pulled out bottles of Tusker beer, cracked them and passed them around: A beer, five tourists, ten lions, and the Masai Mara. Not bad.
The next day was an early one. 4:00 a.m. came quickly, but waking up was easy. Why? Because today would begin with a hot air balloon ride at sunrise. The ride to the launch site should have taken 45 minutes, but ended up being much longer because we got stuck in the mud several times.
You see, this is the “green” or rainy season. In fact, the airstrip where we were supposed to land the day before had been washed out.
Despite the delay, we arrived just in time to hop on the balloon and see the sun come over the horizon.
Now, let me tell you this: Floating above the Mara, passing over giraffes, cape buffalo, and other animals while the sun rose was one of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. It was powerful. Very, very powerful.
I’m struggling with putting words to it, but the best I can do is – gratitude. I felt so incredibly grateful for the world I’m fortunate enough to inhabit.
In the afternoon, there was time for another game drive during which we came across four cheetahs and countless other animals. Another early night before it was time to begin the 36 hour journey home the next day.
Even now, as I’m sitting back on the East Coast, it’s hard to fathom that only a short while ago, I was amongst lions and cheetahs and elephants and hippos and other massive animals in Africa.
This is just one of the many reasons I love aviation.