Tag Archives: Safari

Kenya: 12H safari in Maasai Mara (2)

After 6 hours of riding across the vast savanna, I was getting so high on Maasai Mara. It must have been around 12pm but time in the wild is counted by the sun only. We were all contemplating in silence those fields as our minds were processing the images we’ve fed them so far. Too much to believe. The dream that brought us all to Kenya was happening, we were living it.

As the dust was a provocation we thought we got used to, the next level was quite annoying: the flies. First 2-3 of them and seconds after they were everywhere. In our eyes, ears, mouths and no techniques we used would discourage those kamikaze. Then came the odour… We understood soon why all these: the golden fields of the savanna turned dark. Thousands of wilderbeasts were occupying Mara as far as we could see. Zebras were joining the party in much small numbers, like black and white spots on that paint. I have never seen so many wild animals in one place and never thought this could be even possible in the wild.

– There! This is the Great Migration, I heard Richard, our driver and guide saying. And my thought completed his words: …and this is why is called one of nature’s greatest shows of Earth.

Kenya, Maasai Mara, The Great Migration, Serengeti

We finally arrived to the river, this ground 0 spot of the Great Migration from Serengeti to Maasai Mara, one huge national park split between Tanzania and Kenya. Here, down the hill, we escaped the flies and the smell. I instantly recognised the place as if I was there before multiple times. The deja-vu feel was caused by the mind-blowing images in National Geographic where hundreds of wildebeasts were rushing into the river into a cloud of dust and death as many of them got straight into the jaws of hungry crocodiles waiting down there for their Migration festive meal. We stopped a few meters close to the edge and wait. All the other people in all the other jeeps and vans were playing the same game: waiting for a river crossing. To feed our rush for excitement and our primary instinct for kill. A crazy game I got myself dragged into during those days in Africa. Though I condemn violence in all its forms, I was surprised and ashamed to realise I also joined the club into that thirst of blood, of kill. Somehow… there it seems justified, on that primordial movie set where life and death meet in the most natural form: the kill to survive.

5am – start of a great day

Terrible night! Though I was exhausted, I’ve barely slept. The noises all around I couldn’t identify played like riddles all night long, the suffocating smell from all my 8 mosquito repellent I used before sleep, the feeling that there was someone inside my tent that made me jump out of sleep, the unexplainable real sensation that someone touched my shoulder at one point… and in the end the morning chill that woke me up.

I used my phone in the dark to find the opening in the mosquito net of the bed and rapidly reach the light switch on the wooden wall separating the tent from the bathroom built behind it, with an open roof. Well, at least I slept in fresh air… I then checked the zipper of the tent, with no lock, the only thing separating me from the outside that night…

As there was no other furniture, I used the second bed, which was empty, instead of table, chair and closed. And started to dance. The mosquito proof dance which meant that any time significant areas of my skin were left uncovered or unsprayed with insects repellent, I had o move a lot. On the shower or on the toilet, I wouldn’t stop “dancing”.

I finally put on a lot of clothes and I completed my declaration of style for that safari morning with sox and sandals. Too cold to care: 10C. Yes, Africa, exactly! Not that hot as a European might think.

At breakfast I found out half of my safari buddies had also endured a bad sleep while the other half slept like babies. But we had a whole day safari in Maasai Mara ahead of us and that was the best thing in the world in that morning at the end of August.

– Haaaa, did you hear the hyenas last night: eeww, eewwww, eeewwwww. That was Richard’s good morning….

I exchanged frightened looks with Ariadna, the Venezuelan woman in our group.

It was 6am when we left the camp, following other jeeps, heading towards the sunrise spot in the horizon. The sky was in flames, the safari day was starting. What a great feeling!

In the first hour we saw a cheetah, two lions wandering around in the distance, probably preparing for a hunt, hundreds of wildebeasts, of zebras and Thompson’s gazelles, an ostrich male, warthogs, buffalos…

Kenya, Maasai Mara, The Great Migration, Serengeti
, wildlife

We drove further until there were no other jeeps in sight. On top of a hill we met a family of giraffes formed of more then 15 members, including 3 calves. We stopped the van and observed them for some time from just a few meters distance. They were so calm and quiet, moving slowly from one acacia tree to another, curling their long tongues around the big thorns on the branches to reach those tinny leaves, spreading their long legs and bending their necks all the way down, to reach the grass. In this position in which they look soo hilarious, like some clumsy gymnasts, we’ve learned that they are the most vulnerable towards predators. They only do it when they feel safe. Otherwise, their kick can kill a lion on the spot. Such a majestic creation they are.

Kenya, Maasai Mara, The Great Migration, Serengeti, wildlife

The next live performance was “acted” by a group of 10 elephants, mothers and their calves. Their society works like this: the males are solitary while females live in large groups lead by a female leader. Richard broke the rules and got us off the track for a few meters, bringing us so close to them until we could even see their eyelashes. He stopped the engine again and we observed them in complete silence. Time was paused for all of us there, turning seconds and minutes into frames and memories made to last all our existence. At times they looked straight to us, peacefully, rising their massive heads to just check on their new visitors. What could they be thinking about us?

Kenya, Maasai Mara, The Great Migration, Serengeti, wildlife
Kenya, Maasai Mara, The Great Migration, Serengeti, wildlife

A massive buffalo was approaching fast from the other side of the field, looking not so happy to have human spectators at that early hour, so we had to leave in order to avoid getting dangerously close to the one who’s reputation is of being the deadliest animal in Africa.

I couldn’t stop thinking: is our presence there right? In the wild, in their world, as little as we left of it to them. It is intrusive, to call it straight. I felt it often there, during those 7 days of safari, in many situations. Sometimes big predators as lions or cheetahs have to change their hunt plan just because 10 jeeps filled with curious humans got in their way to take some photos or make loud excitement noises. In the savannah reality, us, humans, with all our reactions, devices, cameras with huge lenses, we no longer look as the one specie that has evolved so much… It’s somehow a funny scene and we look dumb.

But in spite of all this interference, the fact that we are intrusive there, it’s a compromise that is digestible up to one point: all animals there are free, they can hunt, eat, fight, mate, wander, sleep, raise their offsprings as they please. They have adapted to this human presence. It’s common to watch hunt scenes taking place a few meters away from safari jeeps or see lions from very few meters distance, as we did later that day. I won’t believe it unless I lived it: two young male lions, sleeping next to a bush, for a little shade in that hot afternoon, ignoring completely the jeeps filled with people, moving in circles around them.

Kenya, Maasai Mara, The Great Migration, Serengeti, wildlife
Kenya, Maasai Mara, The Great Migration, Serengeti, wildlife

Still, everybody is that calm and that safe only as long as humans stay in the jeep. It’s totally prohibited to step off the car during a safari. We once saw a lion suddenly changing its direction just because he felt a human was on the ground at more then 500m distance. One safari guide had troubles with its car and had to check it for a few seconds. For us, the only times we walked on the fields of Maasai Mara were for those nature calls that really demand it: a visit in the bushes. Always on higher ground, chosen carefully by Richard. Peeing in the wildest wild, after you just saw what can get you, is really something to laugh about. After…

Picnic in the savannah

We left the river site where no crossing seemed to be in plan for the next hour to look for a quiet and safe place to have our lunch. After a few tries nothing seemed good enough for our Richard. We were all hungry… Then we saw it, this huge acacia lonely tree in the middle of a field with tall golden grass where a heard of zebras were enjoying the fiesta. The ideal place. We stepped off the car, walked around a little, breathe that hot dry air then laid down under our tree and had the best picnic in the world, watching the zebras nearby. Happiness is made of moments like this.

Kenya, Maasai Mara, The Great Migration, Serengeti, wildlife
Kenya, Maasai Mara, The Great Migration, Serengeti, wildlife

To cross or not to cross

By the river we occupied again a still vacant spot close to the edge and joined the waiting ritual. Thousands of wilderbeasts were turning the horizon dark, some part of large groups, others marching in long lines one after another, in a perfect rhythm. A group of hypos were relaxing on a sand bank by the river.

Kenya, Maasai Mara, The Great Migration, Serengeti, wildlife
Kenya, Maasai Mara, The Great Migration, Serengeti, wildlife

A few crocodiles raising their heads above the muddy water from time to time. By that river that day every living creature was waiting: the wilderbeasts for one of them to have the courage to initiate a crossing so they all can follow, the zebras for the wilderbeasts to go first, a strategy they ofter apply, the crocodiles for their opportunistic fresh meal and the people to see some action and witness how animals are being killed on the spot, without them feeling guilty for it.

Kenya, Maasai Mara, The Great Migration, Serengeti, wildlife

I’ve noticed a group of zebras moving a lot, going back and forth around the edge, approaching then distancing, forming a circle and making a lot of noise. They looked as if they were up so something but keep changing their minds. I started paying attention, they wanted to cross the other side. A few others seemed to be calling them from the other side with noises and moves close to the edge on their side. It was an unbelievable scene: they wanted to cross but were afraid.

A larger group of wilderbeasts was forming close to the edge as well. A few times one of them was rushing up to the edge, but then suddenly stopped, coming back slowly and discouraged. It’s how the crossings happen during the great migration, it all starts with one crazy fella that starts running out of the blue towards the edge and all of a sudden hundreds, thousands follow into the river. Some broke legs, some are drowning, many are hurt by the crowds crossing over them while a few get eaten by the crocodiles. But most of them, around 2 millions, survive and so they complete a journey meant to bring them from Serengeti to Mara where in that time of the year the grass is greener. They do this journey every year, facing death in the face and pursuing with living.

Every time a wilderbeast was getting closer to the edge, we stopped breathing. Time stopped and all eyes were in that direction, cameras were ready… but nothing happened.

The only ones who seemed that were having a plan were those zebras. After many hesitations, “talks and argues” and calls from their friends on the other side, they finally rushed to the edge of the river and started the descend. Down there they analysed wisely which is the best spot to cross and finally they got into the water, did it and got away with it. All got alive on the other side, welcomed by the ones there who were watching their crossing all this time, in silence. Their victory was enjoyed on our side too, with applauses.

Kenya, Maasai Mara, The Great Migration, Serengeti, wildlife

And that was the only crossing I got to see. I left Mara the next day to continue my trip to Amboseli. A few days later a Russian woman joined our group, what was left of it after we started splitting. She showed me photos with the crossing that took place the very next day. Well, as I like to say: it is what it is and what should happen happens.

Richard was talking the whole time on his satellite phone to other guides. He seemed to know everybody we met and by the afternoon of that day we even got convinced he also knew all the lions in Mara. He was laughing and enjoying each time we were telling him this.

Only this time he was getting agitated and pushed the acceleration until our old white van seemed to be on a race of tearing itself apart on the bumpy tracks of Mara. We got to a small river and almost got stocked there in the mud. He won’s say a word about why all this. We arrived in an area with trees when he finally slowed down. From a few meters away I saw the sleeping beauty of the savannah: high in a tall tree, on a large brunch in the shade was laying a gorgeous leopard. Around it jeeps, people, cameras, photographers. Nothing could bother its sleep.

A few minutes after, as we were all charmed by its beauty, he woke up, turned its head towards us, open its eyes with the wildest and coolest gaze I lived to see, yawn showing its jaws and fell back to sleep. The show was over. We had 4 of the big 5: lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard.

Kenya, Maasai Mara, The Great Migration, Serengeti, wildlife

Richard tried to start the engine so we could move. Nothing, just a little engine cough. He tries again. Ups! Nothing. There couldn’t be a better moment for an engine to stop working then sitting under a tree with a wild leopard, a naturally born killing creature.

– Now who’s gonna push the car? He looked towards us and we stopped laughing instantly.

He was just having fun with us. He started laughing seeing our confused faces. Another jeep approached us from the back, pushed us until finally our engine started. We left the leopard sleeping and as soon as we got far enough our little adventure turned into loud laughs. We felt drained of every drop of energy. 12h were coming to an end and the sun was kissing the horizon again, preparing for a savannah sunset. We were dusty, exhausted, every cell of my body hurt but I was so absofuckinglutelly happy.

I took a shower being grateful for this gift in the middle of those dry lands. When I got out I thought I heard something which I didn’t wanna believe was true: my whole tent was conquered by a zzzzz-ing. Mosquitos were everywhere! It was getting dark and as the generators were not yet on, I had no light but I thought I saw something flying around inside the tent. Was not an impression. Was a bat… So reality was like this: a tent filled with mosquitos and a bat flying freely inside. I had no malaria pills but bats eat mosquitos. What could I do… I took my tusker beer bought by Hosea, my driver in Nairobi and left the tent to join my new friends and end a great day with a great evening. Thank you Kenya!

PS: that night I slept like a leopard

An animal was killed every 3 minutes by trophy hunters over the last decade. 1.7 million animals perished like this. An industry worth 340M every year. (Euronews)

Once among the world’s most iconic hunting destinations, Kenya has had a national ban on trophy hunting since 1977. But poaching still exists, in spite all efforts, everywhere where “trophies” are still alive. I can’t stop wonder one thing: how is it possible to see those animals in the wild and the only urge that comes out of all this is to kill, to destroy.

Kenya: safari in Maasai Mara (1)

– I will go to Africa one day to see the lions. And when I’ll see them, I will cry.

This is what I used to say to my friends about one of my biggest dreams: the African safari. The big truth that I now know it is that nothing can prepare anyone for Africa, the red continent where all expectations are exceeded.

The morning before

– Excuse me…Hello….Good morning….Excuse me….Pleaseee

Loud knocks at the entrance door. I opened one eye in the dark room with the curtains pulled and my first thought was: where am I now?

Ahhh, yes, Nairobi! My brain figured out: that one week safari starts today! That was the fuel I needed to jump out of the bed like a rocket and reach the door in 2 steps. I opened it and the light blinded me. A very worried man was standing there, and all I could see first were his eyes contrasting its cocoa skin.

– Sister, excuse me, they came for you, for the safari. Are waiting, I tried to call… he said in a hurry.

I loved how he called me sister. I must have been quite a chaos in person myself, in pyjamas, my hair was a mess and my eyes barely opened on a sleepy face.

– OMG, I overstepped! The safari, yes! I went crazy going in circles inside the dark room, trying to figure out what to grab first. What time it is?

-It’s 7! They came and….

– What??? 7? Only? They’re supposed to come for me at 8:30! I started to laugh, covering my eyes with one hand and leaning against the wall in relief.

The guy asked then three times if I permit him to enter in my room to check the phone. He stepped in very shy and saw it was actually unplugged.

In one hour I was ready to go. I met Josea again, my too early bird friend I met the day before, at my arrival. He and another guy drove me first to the centre of Nairobi, at the tour agency office. I recognised the narrow passages between the buildings, close to the place where the evening before I managed to change, with his help, 200 euro into Kenyan shillings. The whole operation seemed like a drug traffic scene in a thriller. The census that was taking place those days has been shutting down the whole city, closing all shops, banks and exchange offices very early. That evening, after asking around a few people with no success, Josea made me a discreet sign to wait where I was. He then approached two security officers, talked to them for a few seconds making sighs towards me. He followed one of them on a back street and made me a discreet sigh to follow them. I couldn’t see much because of the dark but enough to figure out that the place looked very grim and quite spooky, with dumpsters all around and trash spread on a dirty broken pavement between two old buildings with walls covered in old graffiti. It smelled like garbage. I was assessing how low was the level of my safety in those circumstances and it seemed what we were doing was illegal. The idea of being scammed came only second. Happily it all worked well, the “operation” was a success, I even got a good exchange rate and finally had Kenyan money in my pocket.

During the day it was different, except that garbage smell. We entered a building, got inside a small elevator, then passed through a corridor with a beauty salon where a few Kenyan ladies were doing their curly hair straight, and then a door opened to a small office:

– I’m Simon, welcome to Kenya!

Simon was the type of guy looking like those black male models that we see on fashion catwalks or Vogue magazines: tall, well build, killer sensual lips and a sexy smile on a very handsome face. That and his leather jacket brought that kind of smile on my face, the kind that attractive people can only bring, instinctively.

I payed all the expenses for the safari trip and stored my big luggage in their office till I was coming back. It felt so good that for the next days all was taken care of. All my safari outfits were in my polka dot backpack: the sunscreen, the hat and the 7 types of mosquito repellent. In my country Malarone, the prevention pills for malaria, was impossible to find, so my plan B strategy was to keep mosquitos away.

And off we were

One American couple from Carolina, one Spanish couple from Catalunya, two Chinese girls and myself. That was our group in the white old safari van with 8 seats, drove by Richard, our driver and guide, who’s grey hair and pronounced lines around his eyes were a guarantee for how much he saw and knew. Ohh, and how he exceeded all our expectations by the end of those 7 days and 6 nights! We were already set to become friends the moment we stepped in that van, as great experiences always create strong bonds between people that live them. I started off on the right foot and got the single seat in the front of the van. Well, again, the perks of traveling alone! Well, the downsides came later…

The van started to move, following the other 3 in the font, heading to Masai Mara. I kept staring outside, at the streets, the people, the buildings. I didn’t felt like talking, socialising, getting to know the other people in the van, blabla. At all! But when there’s a pure blood Spanish – Catalan around, this doesn’t last long. As soon the wheels started rolling, he started talking and by the time we left Nairobi we all got to know each other, our names (except the Chinese girls…), where do we came from, what we do for work, what languages do we speak and how our Kenyan holiday plan looked like. Hearing that the American couple was starting a 7 months long journey in Africa and Asia caused a loud awwww in the van. Then the Spanish couple was going to Serengeti, in Tanzania and after to Zanzibar. The Chinese girls and I only Kenya. Richard joined the conversation soon and the atmosphere became quite cheerful, and we talked until all of us got tired and some fell asleep. I continued watching Kenya revealing itself from my window seat.

market, Africa, Kenya trip
market in Kenya

As soon as we left the busy Nairobi and its concrete city vibe, the savannah started showing its patterns, one by one. First tree by tree, image by image, as if a video was loading, and then like an explosion of frames that turned all my previous imagination into reality: umbrella acacia trees, tall dry grass, vast horizons crossed by apparently endless roads passing through villages with the most colourful cottages I ever saw, built straight on that unbelievably red soil. The red continent was revealing its beauty rapidly, strong and tangible. Elegant women in beautiful and colourful dresses, wearing high heels and makeup on the dustiest roads I ever saw. These images were so contrasting. Later only I understood it was not a feminine statement as it is in the so called West. It was about being strong and fearless and elegant and feminine no matter what and where. Such power can only be profoundly admired and applauded.

For 8 long hours Kenya was showing itself to me as the rest of the group went quiet and asleep. I kept watching that movie playing on the screen of my window, with every town, village and markets we passed by, with every kid waving his hand, with every corner looking like a Pulitzer awarded photography.

trip to Kenya, Amazing
Kenya, Africa

Hell’s Gates, the door to Maasai Mara

After lunch in a restaurant where many other vans and safari jeeps were stopping in front, we made a short stop at Hell’s Gates, the point offering perfect views over Rift Valley, the vast savanna below, reaching far away as if it owned this world. Once here was a prehistoric lake that fed our human ancestors. We got sooo excited observing in the bushes some rodents looking like huge rats. Some Asian tourists started taking photos of them frenetically. We were all at the beginning of our journey and that seems to me now so funny, comparing to the photo opportunities that followed.

Maasai Mara starts here

The roads got dustier and bumpier and the landscape wilder. Richard announced that we were entering Maasai Mara. His voice came as a poke to reality to me: I was in Maasai Mara! Then the dust, the heat of the late afternoon and the constant same views of the savannah, still and quiet, made me sleepy. I was struggling not to close my eyes fearing that I will miss something great. What a premonition. And then I saw them, like two silhouettes from another world – tall, very slim, with unusual long legs and hands, with skin like black velvet and their bodies half covered with blood red rags, with high sharp swards in their hands and a fearless yet calm sight, with colourful large necklaces around their neck and long earrings hanging down their ears. I almost hurt my neck trying to gain one more second of this: two Maasai warriors watching us passing by in a cloud of dust, leaving them behind, vanishing into the immensity of Mara.

– Did you see that…??? I said seconds later, when I could again articulate.

No one did saw them but me and it was impossible to describe it in just words. Such a powerless instrument for such striking scenes. The image of those Maasai warriors was like a tattoo on the memory, two uncrowned gods of the wild who’s image is one of the strongest I have about Kenya.

This was how Maasai Mara, the land of Maasai tribes – in translation meaning the people that speak the language Maa, opened its doors to us. And I could feel that my moment – “I will go to Africa to see the lions. And when I’ll see them, I’ll cry.” was close….

Kenya, africa, Maasai Mara, Maasai tribe woman
Maasai woman in Kenya

I was watching ahead, with a far-off look, in silent, resting my chin against the front seat back next to Richard. For quite some time the sandy track we were following was just a pale yellow line crossing the dry fields. The afternoon heat was making the landscape blurry. Then I think I saw something… First I thought my eyes are wrong, then that it was because of the heat or maybe a piece of dry bush left there, in the middle of the road, by the wind. It was still there, right in the middle of the road, as the distance between us was reducing fast. I lift up my head and focused to that. It still wasn’t moving and a shape was slowly contouring now. The shape of a young impala was becoming a certainty. We were getting dangerously close and Richard didn’t seem to thing of slowing down. Before I could spell “Richard, watch out”, only when we got a few meters away, as if it was challenging its courage, the impala decided to jump away and instantly vanish. So Richard wasn’t risking to hit it, he just knew it will jump aside in the last moment. This time we all saw and got super excited. I saw a smile on Richard face in the mirror. How many people he must have drove like this, through their first safari experience, whitening their first reactions.

Now the wilderness around us was as cut off from the National Geo documentaries about Africa, those I used to watch sitting down, on the carpet, in our living-room, when I was a kid, so I could see better.

We didn’t even had the time to process what we just saw and finish all excitement exclamations when suddenly a large group of giraffes appeared out of nowhere. It happened so suddenly that it took us all by surprise and without phones or cameras at hand. In spite of all the promises and guarantees made on the tens of tours operators sites I checked while organising the trip, I never thought it could be quite like that: an abundance of wildlife in one place: about 20 giraffes, tens of zebras and even more wildebeests appeared out of no where. Richard stopped the car and the engine and let us wonder as the animals were just a few meters away from the road, doing what they do all day long: eating. They didn’t even blink seeing us. And there it happen. In front of a sight that no zoo could ever offer and no documentary can even get close to, in the middle of the savannah, my tears didn’t wait for that first lion. My eyes got wet. For feelings like that make days in our lives worth remembering there is no effort too big, no distance too long and no boundaries impossible to cross.

Maasai Mara safari, Kenya, African safari, giraffes, wildlife, nature, photography
Kenya

The camp

At the end of a 9 hours ride we arrived in the camp. Our neighbours for the next days were the inhabitants of a Maasai village. We passed by their settlement, followed by a cloud of dust, as a few young men were directing the cattle inside their village walls build of clay and soil. A large group of barefoot kids dressed very colourful stop their game in front of the village to salute us and didn’t seem to be bothered at all by the dust that came after us, leaving them invisible.

A few Maasai men in front of the camp helped us with the luggages in change of a tip. I only had my blue-marine polka dot backpack. This is how tourists coming to see the lions bring a benefit to the local community, besides buying hand made souvenirs or sometimes making small donations.

A few rows of large tents built on the ground, closed with a zipper, housing two beds covered with mosquito nests and in the back, a bricked up, well, almost up, bathroom with a shower in the wall, a toilet and a sink. One tent was mine alone. It was basic but having all it needs and the bed was clean. Cleaner then in other places where running water is not as precious as it is in the middle of the savannah. The water pressure at the sink was very low, it took a lot of patience for a hand wash, but the shower was good, with warm water. Outside, a kitchen, a small bar and a large room with white plastic tables and chairs where guests could serve the food from the buffet. Electricity was available only during the night. That was our camp, simple but filled with excited people.

We had one hour to leave our luggages and get ready for the first safari. I sit on my porch a bit. In the tent on the right the Spanish couple was laughing loud of something only they knew, on the left Elaine, the American woman saw doing some stretching.

The afternoon: the first safari

We jumped back in our white old van and headed straight into the wild. Richard opened the roof and like this it looked more as a safari car. Well, still quite far from the jeeps we’ve seen around. The cool air of the afternoon smelled like vast fields and dry grass. A few minutes only after we left the camp, we started meeting the animals. Wildebeests were everywhere, zebras came after, impala in small or bigger herds with many calves among them, a few warthogs with their funny walk and constantly on the move, an ostrich female. With every distance covered, advancing into the dry depths of Mara, we were more and more mind-blown. Like a dream you have for so long and when it becomes reality you realise it has exceeded any scenarios your imagination could have crafted.

Maasai Mara, Kenya safari

I got my camera out of the bag in a general “woww” from my safari companions. My new lens, a telezoom, bought especially for the trip, was one of the best acquisitions I ever made. Even though is the cheapest available from Sony, it totally made the difference when it comes to taking photos during a safari. The phones, even the newest models, were quite useless so I promised the others to share my photos when back home.

We were talking about that when I instinctively turned my head away and looked far, to an area where the dry grass was even taller growing by some bushes. I just couldn’t take my eyes off that spot, without seeing something there, as if I felt it. And there it was, perfectly blending in, part of that far away field, a lonely gorgeous lioness.

– A lion!

Only after long minutes and using Richard binoculars all the others manage to see her. Laying in the grass, with her mouth opened, breathing relaxed and calm.

– Girl, you got eyes for lions! I couldn’t see her not even after pointing the exact spot!

The first of the big 5 was that lioness. The 2nd came fast after, was a Cape buffalo in a swamp we passed by, looking angry at us with his dark massive horns covering its upper head and curving around its head like a true threat. Called the Black Death, it is known to have killed more game hunters than any other animal in Africa. It’s a karma weapon after all.

Maasai Mara buffalo, safari, Kenya
Cape Buffalo in Maasai Mara

A cloud of dust raising up in the sky was the target Richard was aiming. The old white van was running wild on the bumpy track and five other jeeps were following us. We arrived to what it seemed to be at first a jeeps an vans gathering in a cloud of dust. But that was not it. We saw the reason of this madness: two male cheetah laying in the grass a few meters away, totally ignoring us silly humans making excited noises and using phones, cameras and even half meter long lens to get an image of them. The sun was setting and it was the most perfect golden hour that our home, planet Earth, can offer as another gift to us.

Next: 12h safari and the Great Migration

Kenya – Nairobi: start of journey

The sun had almost completed its journey for that day. Just another one for it and an unforgettable one for me. It had nothing but the seize of a palm left to shine light and as I looked around, towards the huge umbrella acacias, I thought: if only I could stay like this forever, with my zebra print bracelet made of camel bone on the left wrist and the red beaded one from mama Masai on the right, with the image of the three lionesses resting in the golden grass, by the palm trees near the swamp, the 24 elephants crossing the path in a cloud of dust, the sleeping hyenas and the hypos in the swamp of Amboseli….

The savannah was like this: complete.

I wrote these lines a year ago, watching the sunset in Amboseli, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro with its white peak of snow, at the end of a 7 days safari in Kenya because I wanted to be able to read it after and feel what I felt then: completeness. 

27 days before

A safari in Africa was always a dream that seemed to big. Or should I say too expensive. After I came back from Puglia, Italy, in August, I was wandering online, looking for my second trip of last summer. It was when I found out about an event I did heard before, one of nature’s great wonders, The Great Migration, how it’s called the world’s largest migration of wildlife. Over two million animals migrate from Serengeti, in Tanzania, to the greener pastures of Maasai Mara, in Kenya. It’s the wildebeest who set the start, followed of course by other animals. I remembered my reaction when I read on a website the animals that was guaranteed to see in each park. Lions were called abundant and guaranteed to see in Mara. It seemed a marketing line at that moment…

I bought the tickets 20 days before the departure and what followed was a marathon of emails and messages to a significant number of tour operators. Some didn’t answer, some were starting the conversation from 4000 euro for 3 days of safari, others had packages of 10-25K. I soon found out Kenia is not a cheap destinations when it comes to safari, but absolutely doable if you work enough to plan the trip. So I meet Rachel, the one that at the end of 37 emails in a week had me as her customer. I started from a 2 days safari and she got me sent the advance for a 7 days safari: Masai Mara, Amboseli, Nakuru.

The plan was done, the reservations made, my safari wardrobe bought, plus a telephoto lens for my camera, the vaccine for yellow fever checked, the visa obtained. After the 7 days safari, I planned a few days on the coast, in Diani beach, close to Mombasa, for some relaxing beach time. Kenia was already giving me butterflies like no other destination before. 

Arriving

After a few hours stop in a hot like hell Doha, I arrived in Nairobi at midday. The airport seemed a lot smaller than others I’ve been before in Europe or Asia. My name written on a sheet of paper at the entrance was what I was looking for. Josea was my driver from the airport to my hotel. I was so excited and talkative and we became friends very quickly and by the time I reached the hotel we had the plan for that day. He needed extra money for his girl that needed a heart surgery in India and I needed to see Nairobi with a local.

A 3m high concrete wall and an iron gate opened when we arrived. Three men with riffles came out and check the car, only after we were allowed to enter. I was going to find out that this is common in Kenia for places destinated to tourists. 

– Hello sister, was the salute that made me smile so many times in Kenya. Welcome to Nairobi! First time here?

Kibera – o glimpse on life in the largest urban slum in Africa

I felt immediately as I landed in Nairobi what it feels like to feel different because of the color of your skin. As soon as I left the airport, I saw no other white people on the streets, in the cars, in the shops, in the markets. It felt strange. 

Josea and I we drove on the streets in Nairobi center that looked as if it could be placed in any other country: tall buildings of offices, large boulevards, parks, fountains, busy crossroads. Then we left the central area and continue until a sea of rusty roofs appeared out of nowhere.

Kibera slum, Nairobi, Kenya,
Top view over Kibera, Nairobi

I was curious to see it the moment I read that there were walking tours organized there. Tours for white people in clean clothes to see the black in extreme poverty. As if we all don’t have our poors in our own cities in every single country on this earth. But as a friend who came back from Mumbai once said, their poverty is more of a poverty then ours. 

Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world and the largest in Africa is home to, some say 1M, others 1.4M, Josea said almost 2M  Actually, a look from the above tells the truth: only God can know. 

Kibera slum, Nairobi, Kenya
Street in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya

A fact is that 60% of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, 4.4 million people, live in low income settlements, meaning slums. They occupy occupying 6% of the land. So 60% on 6%. There’s no need of Communist ideology to see this gap is too deep and too dark. And so was the life in Kibera the day I was there and all the others that followed. Poverty can’t be described and I won’t even dare to try it. It can be seen but will continue to be never understood by those who were offered more simply by birth. Because one with a full belly will never understood the one who’s starving. 

I left ashamed towards the people in Kibera we drove by that day. Ashamed because it’s not fair. I didn’t leave the car and took no photos except thiese on the street we first entered the area. 

Kibera, Nairobi, Africa
Kibera, Nairobi

After I went quiet, as the street got more and more narrow and I saw the cobweb of streets that were only accessible by foot and that went deep into the heart of Kibera, from which I stole images of faces and little fragments of life scenes. I was just a passing view of a car with a white woman that day. But for me it was a thousand of perspective changing images. The start of a lesson offered by Africa, a place it’s impossible to come back from the same as you left.

Nairobi for tourists

The Giraffe Centre, established to protect the endangered giraffe that is found only in the grasslands of East Africa, a place where you can feed the giraffes, was just closing. As we left, a warthog was crossing the little alley to the parking lot. This was my first encounter with the African wild life and got me head over flip-flops excited. Josea was amused by my reactions. Next, he had to stop the car by the road for the second encounter: a tree filled with marabou storks. I crossed a heavy circulated road just to get closer to a gate where I could see them better. It started to look like the Africa I was dreaming about.

Giraffe Manor

My phantasy of visiting this place and see the giraffes sneaking their heads on the windows and chewing bites on the plates on the beautifully arranged table, stayed a phantasy. The place was accessible only for guests, which in perfectly understandable when you pay between 500-1000 $ for a room. Maybe some other time. As Josea started telling me about the fields of Mara packed with wild life, I instantly forgot about it. He took me after to a shop selling Maasai art. Those masks and mahogany sculptures were fantastic but all was very expensive. A great sculpture piece could cost up to 15k $. I bought my zebra bracelet made of camel bone there, for about 12$. The one I wore after in every single day of that trip.

Carnivore is the most famous restaurant in town. Opened since 1980 and included on the list of the best 50 restaurants in the world, the place is a heaven for meat eaters, with its all you can eat buffet and the huge round barbecue in the middle and a hell on earth for vegetarians. It used to be very exotic in terms of menu, in the past, until Kenia imposed a ban on game meat. 

It was packed with white tourists wearing safari outfits  and the gates kept opening and the armed guards kept checking on the jeeps bringing the guests for that night. It was nice but too Westerner for the taste of someone like me, too hungry for the Kenyan culture.

Dinner in Nairobi

Josea fulfilled my wish: we went for dinner in a local restaurant, “where he would go for good local food”. We entered a large covered terrace with white plastic tables and chairs. Nothing posh. All eyes turned to the entrance, to us. The clientele was entirely formed by locals. We stopped at the counter where a refrigerated display case was full with pieces of raw meat. I let Josea made the choice but as I saw him picking a piece of ribs with more bones then meat and not looking good at all, I started thinking that the biscuits I bought with me from home, for emergency reasons only, might be my dinner that evening. The meat was taken to the barbecue. I was so hungry… A lady came for the order and stayed for a conversation. She looked at me smiling as I was exposing all my excitement for finally being in Kenia, “to see the lions”.-

– When I see you people flying here from the other side of the world to see the lions, and I see them every day from my kitchen window! she laughed and made a move in the air with her hand while my jaw just dropped.

We talk and talk and my dinner was no where to be seen. I started reaching my eyes for it every 5 minutes. When a tall men carrying a large plate approached our table, with a big piece of meat on it that was so hot it was still frying, spreading a steam of barbecue all around, I fixed my eyes on it. He cuts it into pieces and the lady brings a few bowls with cabbage salad, tomato, pepper and onion salad and a plate with the African polenta as I named it, only their ugali is white not yellow. It didn’t look fabulous. The first bite totally changed my philosophy about food: it was the best, sweetest, juiciest, crunchiest barbecue I ever had. It absolutely confirmed all the rumours I have heard before about Africans the masters of barbecue. Those goat ribs in that evening in Nairobi were so much praised in all the stories I’ve told my gourmand friends after. We ate and talk and laughed and I knew that Carnivore couldn’t offer me that. It was the perfect start of a week long safari in Kenya.

Next: 3 days safari in Masai Mara

Sri Lanka: safari & wildlife in Udawalawe

It was dark for hours already when we finally arrived in Udawalawe, home of 500 wild elephants living in this natural reserve park that covers 308 km2. A few of them I was hoping to meet during the safari, next morning.

As the car stopped, I jumped out and stretched my hands above my head, had a deep breath of that warm but fresh air. I felt the scent of field, of dry grass and dusty ground. We have left the lush greenery behind is, in Ella and here I was surprised to find a totally different landscape, of savanna, with less green and more yellow.

Our hosts from the B&B were waiting for us, Deesa, my driver during the trip in Sri Lanka and myself. Was such a warm welcome, as if I was visiting some long time friends. The lady of the house, her husband and their young boy were kind and friendly. The house looked lovely and had a nice garden around where they’ve showed me papaya and mango trees, with fruits hanging down, and many more other plants and flowers. They spoke little English but we found ways to communicate even without Deesa’s help. My room, also, was just perfect. We were the only guests of the property for that time so we were spoilt. I still can’t believe all this was less than 8 euro a night. But something else had brought me there, and was nor the house or the garden. Was the food, praised by many other previous guests who were calling the dinner there as the most authentic and fingers licking good they had in all Sri Lanka. So there I was!

And the most important thing for a starving foodie like I was, who saved her appetite for the best to come: dinner was ready: home cooked rice and curry. I kept hearing “rice and curry” from Deesa all day long and I thought was just that, rice cooked with some curry. I was hoping will be served with something else, though… So when the lady brought a large plate with simple hot rice, put it in the middle of the table, in the yard outside, and then started a come and go back series at the end of which the entire table was full of smaller plates with… everything: chicken, sauces, vegetables of all kind, all with curry, all yellow, I finally understood what the famous Sri Lankan curry and rice actually means: a feast!

The host didn’t forgot to bring me a spoon and a fork. But I was decided to have my amazing Sri Lankan dinner the Sri Lankan way: by hands. They all seemed happy to see me embracing the local customs. Deesa showed me how it’s done: he first used a big spoon to take some rice, puts it in the middle of its plate and then surrounds it with little portions from all the dishes on the table, ads sauces on the rice, then mixes it a bit with 3 fingers from one hand and with the same 3 fingers starts to eat from all at once. Eating with hands, indeed makes food taste better. For dessert we had pineapple, the best I had so far, sweet and with a delicious flavour. I also brought on the table rambutan and langsa, from Malaysia, and invited everyone to have as much as they wanted.

An interesting thing happened: while we were eating, our hosts joined us with their presence, standing nearby but without taking a seat at the same table, even after I invited them repeatedly. This was only for the guests and so a gesture of deep respect. We talked, laugh and I ate so much I couldn’t even move in the end.

It was a perfect dinner in a perfect company. At almost midnight they left, leaving the house to us only. Deesa and I were having a last Lion beer when I started hearing something outside, over the gate, not far from where we were. Something was moving in the dry vegetation, seemed like something big.

– Shhhh, hear that? I said

Deesa, who was in a very good mood at that moment, said was nothing, just my imagination. He continued his story about Singiyria and the king who build a kingdom there, up on that 200m high rock. Then again I heard it, even closer and louder.

– Do you hear it now? I interrupted him. See, it’s not my imagination. Maybe it’s a leopard, I joked. The noises continued until we heard some barking, like 4-5 dogs maybe but very aggressive.

– Ha, ha, it’s just dogs, you see… No lion, only Lion beer here, Deesa said.

We started laughing and the very next second we stopped suddenly and looked to one another with both surprise and uncertainty.

It sounded like a fight, a wild animal attacking, just a few meters outside the gate surrounding the yard where we were sitting. Roars followed by other noises, a clash and after, once again, those dogs barking. It lasted for maybe a couple of minutes during which non of us even blinked. We heard a few more barking noises and then suddenly it was silence.

– This was no dog, Deesa, I said, a bit worried. This was something wild. And pretty big!

– No, this was no dog, true.

– What was it then? I looked over my shoulder, checking the length of gate with my eyes. Is this gate safe enough?

– Don’t worry, it is safe here. Leopards sometimes come closer, they have started to eat dogs, that’s why.

I have no idea if that was indeed a leopard, I have never heard one before, in real life and either way not like this, attacking. But it was certainly a wild animal. After this episode, the silence that surrounded us was interrupted by nothing else but the joyful crickets. I went to bed soon after, around midnight.

6am

I thought I was dreaming but after a few more seconds I realised that terrible noise coming from the door was real. First I thought it was Deesa, who went nuts to hit the door like that, as if he wanted to tear it apart. Then I heard something that sounded like some squawks. So this was not Deesa!

Are monkeys hitting the door like that? I thought. It can’t be! I was in a natural reserve, true, but still… I heard a rush outside and for a couple of seconds was quiet. But right before I started to feel relief and happy I’ll have a few more minutes of sleep, the noise transfered quickly to the window, which happily was shuttered.

And so the show started! Squawks and scratches and miaowing and yawing and the conclusion was only one to made: was a pack of crazy monkeys who decided that no human was there to sleep at 6am. The thought that I should never complain again about the birds at home, making too much noise in summer early mornings, just crossed my mind. I had an itch to see what exactly was outside but I was a chicken, I admit. I just thought I would be quite outnumbered…

When they finally decided to leave I went outside, checking the area first from the door. Was almost 7am and and the jeeps for the safari were going to arrive soon. Deesa was just up and the moment I see him in the yard, I started:

– You won’t believe this! A large group of monkeys woke me up, they scratched and hit the door and then the window…

He just sits there with that look. But anyway I continue my description of the noises.

– Monkeys here, noooo, they don’t come here. You must have dreamt.

I didn’t got the time to insist on the authenticity of the happening and I hear him:

– Where are my sandals? I left them….. here….. Was nobody but us here last night.

– Now you still believe that I was dreaming???

As he looks around the yard and sees his sandals among other shoes threw out everywhere, we both start laughing.

– Hmmm! Those monkeys… I hear him mumbling as he starts picking up his sandals from all over the place.

Our hosts were just entering the yard. We kept all the stories, from midnight and the one in the morning, for us. Breakfast was soon ready and it looked like an Instagram post: fresh made appa, some local curved crunchy pancakes made of rice flour and fruits and honey, so again I ended up being too full.

The safari 

The jeeps arrived, we jumped in and headed to the entrance of the park. It was a very early morning and the red ground smelled fresh and life giving.

Sri Lanka, safari in Udawalawe, beautiful places

I knew I wasn’t in a zoo but I somehow had big expectations. After about 2 hours riding on very bumpy alleys in the reserve, all I got to see were a peacock, an eagle, a heard of buffaloes and 2-3 crocodiles. I wasn’t disappointed but I was dreaming of seeing the lake and the elephants bathing there….                                                                                                     It seems they had other plans for that morning…. like hiding in the bushes.

We still got to see a few of them, a large male, a young one and then another one in some bushes. They were all eating for as long as we were observing them and seem to have no problem with us around. In the end, by a lake, another lonely male was putting on his natural sunscreen: the mud.

Sri Lanka, safari in Udawalawe, beautiful places

So my first ever safari was fantastic, no doubt. I did saw the elephants in the wild, happy and free and nothing compares with the pure happiness of seeing a wonderful “beast” like this in his natural habitat, in his home. Even if this means waiting for long minutes in the sun, in front of a large bush where something moves, waiting for it to come out so you can get a glimpse. Yes, us, humans, are intrusive, with our jeeps and cameras. We probably look so silly to the animals. But if in places like this they can be free and safe, it’s still an acceptable compromise.

Sri Lanka, safari in Udawalawe, beautiful places

After having a bite of this wonderful wildlife sanctuary in Udawalawe, we headed south, on the Indian Ocean coast, to Mirissa, Unawatuna and Galle. Few places in this world can bring the peace through beauty as these purely exotic beaches can. With high coconut trees with swings hanging down, stretching above the sand on long sandy beaches where high waves bring surfers on and on to the shore, il looks like wallpapers. Those we get to see while at work, closed in glass and steel offices and doing tasks we force ourselves to believe are “motivating”, those we lie ourselves that are just Photoshop. But they are so real, out there.

Sri Lanka, Mirssa beach, beautiful places

We then continued our way back to Colombo, driving by that wonderful lush vegetation, by the rubber trees plantations, by the banana trees full of green bananas, by lakes surrounded by coconut trees, covered in water lilies and lotus flowers, by the greenest rice paddies or huge trees turned black by hundreds of big black bats sleeping on their branches. In Galle I watched the stilt fishermen on the costs, keeping alive this ancient tradition, one of the so many in this country, called the tear of India.

Sri Lanka, beautiful places, beautiful destinations

In the end, Sri Lanka was more then I can ever say, it touched my heart in a special way, through beauty, warmth and that charming simplicity that few places still keep. And it became one of my favourite beautiful places, where I just can’t wait to go back, for more.

P.S. It’s been almost a year since my trip there and I still keep in touch with Deesa. Last time we talked, a few days ago, he said business is going bad now. The tragedy that took place there on Easter makes people avoiding Sri Lanka and this means no customers. He doesn’t complain, he just hopes for better times.

If I had the time and money, I would go right this second back to Sri Lanka and stay there for a month, at least. I dream to go back one day, soon.