Open your eyes wider
Before heading to Southeast Asia we went on a little ‘holiday before holiday’ (as my friend put it) – a safari in Kenya. Kenya oh Kenya. You stole my heart.
This trip was a dream come true for me. When I was a kid I loved watching nature programs; Sundays 12pm was my favourite time of the week because BBC nature documentaries were on. I still love it to this day. I mean last year Sundays 8pm became my new favourite time because Planet Earth II was on (BTW have you watched it yet? Wowza!). I love animals and love LOVE learning everything about them. I mean I love nature. Here’s how much I love it: Tarzan was (is?) my biggest crush of all time and I think I’d have a slight heart attack if I saw Sir David Attenborough. That should give you an idea.
Back to Kenya. For the seven days we were there, all we did was drive around tracking wild animals, and seeing the most stunning views and sunsets. (DREAM. COME. TRUE). We didn’t get to visit any of the main cities in Kenya, so really this post should just be ‘Stop 4 – Safari in Kenya’.
Usually I plan our own travels to the tiniest detail, but this time around the whole trip was organized by a travel agency, so I feel like there isn’t many tips I can give you. But I can still tell you how it was…
We were greeted at the airport by our guide and ultimate jeep* driver, Amos, who guided us through the African Savannah and taught us many things about the places, the animals, the people and the culture. We started in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, moved on to Lake Nakuru National Park and finished big at Amboseli National Park.
*tip: turns out I can give you a tip. If you can, make sure you ask for a proper proper jeep. Trust me this will make all the difference and your back will thank you.
The first thing we learned in Kenya (pretty much as soon as we landed) was Hakuna Matata. This was literally one of the first things our guide told us: ‘Hakuna Matata, this is Africa’. Now you might be (probably will be) more literate than I am, but I thought Hakuna Matata was a made up motto by Timon and Pumbaa (I honestly did!). Well it turns out it’s Swahili and it means ‘No problem/ No worries’ (basically what Timon and Pumbaa are all about). Amos would often follow Hakuna Matata with ‘squash banana’, usually when we’d go through a massive bump on the road or he had to break suddenly (happened a few times). Here’s a practical example: car comes to a sudden stop very close to truck in front, Amos says ‘Hakuna matata, squash banana’ and laughs. Welcome to Kenya.
Here are a few other words we learned in Swahili (this is important because you may feel as enlightened as I did about the Lion King):
- Simba – Lion
- Pumbaa – thoughtless/foolish but also warthog
- Jambo – Hello
- Asante Sana – Thank you very much
- Karibu – Welcome/ you’re welcome
- Sawa sawa – It’s OK/ Alright
- Lala Salama – peaceful sleep/ safe sleep
Maasai MaraOur first safari was in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, which is massive (1510 square km), it has tones of animals (that’s the official number by the way), and is home to the big five: buffalo, elephant, rhino, lion and leopard. Mara means spotted in the Maasai language and once you go on your first ride you can understand why: the reserve has loads of small trees spaced out that give it the appearance of a dotted plain.
It was here in the Maasai Mara that we learned our second very important lesson. Amos taught us what he said was ‘the first rule of the Maasai Mara’, which is ‘never ever leave the vehicle, never ever!’. Except of course when the next day he says ‘let’s have a picnic’. Puzzled? Yeah we were too. We were like ‘but you said never leave the vehicle, and we just saw a pride of lionesses’ to which he replies ‘oh it’s OK when it’s with me! And the lionesses are very very far, see that bush (points to bush not that far away), that’s where they are. Hakuna Matata’.
Anyway, never ate so fast in my life I can tell you that, and mind you I am a slow eater.
At the Maasai Mara we saw endless plains (that’s what Serengeti means, BTW), the savannah, and animals as far as the eyes could see. The landscape and views are simply breathtaking. I got really emotional when I saw my first zebras and again later when we were lucky enough to spot a cheetah with it’s grown cub. The next day we saw a herd of elephants and my heart just melted. I mean it could have stopped there and already my heart would be full, but it didn’t. We saw so much more! I guess it’s like the Bucket List Family put it ‘if you’re grateful for everything you see, then you’ll see everything’ (get it? Insert Cheeky smile emoji). And I soooo was grateful for everything I saw!
We didn’t see any rhinos at the Maasai Mara, mostly because there are so few left and it’s such a vast area that they’re very difficult to spot. The low numbers are due to years and years of poaching that nearly drove the white and black rhinos to extinction. Super sad, I know, but gladly the parks in Kenya and a few other foundations are trying to help the rhinos make a comeback. If you’d like to help, check the WWF or the Save the Rhino webpages.
During our stay at the Maasai Mara we also had the opportunity to visit a Maasai village, which can only be summed as both a cultural shock and a wonderful eye-opening experience.
We were welcomed by the chief, who is the chief because he killed a lion in defense of the village and the villagers’ cattle. Obvs. The Maasai woman then performed one of the songs they sing (kind of like a prayer) for rain and fertility, welcoming us. The young Maasai warriors performed one of their dances, where they have a sort of jumping contest. The winner gets more girls, of course.
They showed us their houses, explained their day-to-day and family structure, sold us beautiful necklaces and bracelets made by the Maasai woman, and even taught us how to make fire.
They asked us about our land, asked if we also took many wives, about our costumes and how many cows we had. They were very disappointed when we said we didn’t have any.
All in all it was a very humbling experience, one I will (or hope to) never forget.
If you’d like to know more about where to stay, what to do, and what to see in the Maasai Mara click here.
Lake Nakuru and Lake NaivashaFrom the Maasai Mara we moved on to Lake Nakuru National Park. The way there was a bit bumpy as we took what Amos called ‘a shortcut’ and what we would call ‘not really a road’. But it was fun. Lake Nakuru (dusty place) is a much smaller reserve, and its very heavily guarded (against poachers). It’s much greener than the Maasai Mara, it has beautiful plains by the river, as well as dense woodlands, giving it a more ‘jungly’ kind of feel. Here we spotted loads of baboons and monkeys, lions, giraffes and more antelopes, but also… two rhinos! We saw them from afar (thank the unicorns, cause they’re a bit aggressive), but it was still wonderful to see such an impressive and beautiful creature (kind of made me think of the triceratops in Jurassic Park).
We also spotted two lovely owls on a tree. It took a while, as they were in perfect camouflage. We learned our third lesson from Amos: ‘open your eyes WIDERRRRR’. Turns out, according to Amos, that’s the only way to go on a Safari: you have to see beyond the tree branch, beyond the bushes, beyond the holes on the ground, because ‘the animals are everywhere. You might not see them, but they see you!’
Which reminds me, the park is also home to very large pythons, but even if they spotted us, (gladly) we didn’t spot them. Amos told us a story of a girl who, in a picnic stop, was eaten by a python. Ah always telling us great stories, old Amos. No picnics here.
While here we also went on a water safari (I’d call it a boat ride) in Lake Naivasha, where they shot some scenes from Out of Africa. It is simply stunning.
There’s an island in the middle of the lake where the production took some animals -giraffes, gnus, impala- you know, to make the set more real. After the shooting was done, the animals stayed behind, and as they have no predators, they just die of old age. It’s like gnu paradise. You can spot loads of them from the boats, just happily going about their business (which is basically eating and sleeping… can I join please?).
If you’d like to know more about where to stay, what to do, and what to see in Lake Nakuru click here.
Amboseli National ParkOur final stop was at the lovely Amboseli National Park. The Amboseli (salty dust) is a large park that spreads across the border with Tanzania, with stunning views of Mount Kilimanjaro.
It is also an elephant sanctuary. There are elephants everywhere. In the water, on the hills, on the plains, on the road… basically our hotel’s backyard were elephants.
This is because here the elephants are protected, however the park is only ten percent of the elephants’ range and ecosystem. Elephants are still an endangered species. Today more elephants are being killed than being born; last year alone at least 20000 were killed for their ivory. Very sad and scary statistics, ain’t it?
If you would like to help the elephants, and help those who are helping these magnificent animals, you can check the elephant trust and their Amboseli Elephant Program, check savetheelephants.org and/or join their knotonmyplanet campaign.
The Amboseli is home to many other animals: monkeys everywhere, loads of hyenas, all the antelopes, hippos in the swamps, birds and more birds (including loads of pelicans), zebras, vultures, giraffes, buffaloes,..
But I have to say though, the elephants were the ones I fell in love with. It was simply magical to wake up in the morning and watch herds of elephants walking by with the Kili as their backdrop.
Here too we had a ‘leave the vehicle and go see’ moment where we were like ‘huh? Excuse me? You want me to leave the car and climb that hill knowing there are hyenas (HYENAS) somewhere around here?’ and Amos laughs and says ‘Hakuna matata, look so many other stopping to see’. All right. We leave the vehicle, climb the hill, see the view (amazing), take pictures, back in the car, and Amos goes:
‘Once I brought a couple here, there weren’t any other cars or tourists around and I tell them to go up and see the view, and when they’re going up I see a cackle of hyenas [yup, that’s what it’s called] going after them. Haha’. Turns out there’s a happy ending to this story, don’t worry, he rushed with the jeep (see you do need a good jeep here) and they were safe. #funnynotfunnyAmos
On our last ride back we saw a wonderful sunset, elephants playing in the water, and loads of zebras and wildebeest, with the Kilimanjaro in the horizon. It was perfect.
If you’d like to know more about where to stay, what to do, and what to see in the Amboseli National Park click here.
Even with Amos’ horror stories (he told us a few more), I’d jump in the jeep and go through all those bumpy roads again in a heartbeat. Heck, I really hope I can come back one day and do it all again. Because it was simply magical.
Asante Sana Amos. Asante Sana Kenya.
Should you do a Safari?
Ah hello, is the Earth round and is pizza delicious? Of course you should. If you’re into that kind of thing of course. (I mean you don’t need to be in love with Tarzan or dream that Sir David is your travel buddy like me, but if you hate animals and nature I’d say, not the right place).
I honestly was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen and would do it again in a heartbeat.