Never one to be patient and do things properly at 29 I decided I was due a mid-life crisis and resultantly handed in my notice as one of Tucan Travel’s destination managers. I then booked myself onto an Overland Tour from Nairobi to Cape Town to erm just gather my thoughts….
Head still slightly fuzzy from the leaving do and an arm that feels somewhat numb from all the jabs. I’ve filled the corner of our living room with all my gear which will never fit into my back pack, I’ve got my US$, multiple cash cards and some Kenyan Shillings I found in an office drawer – SQUEAK!!
Upon landing in Nairobi the first thing that hits me (after the heat) is that everyone is very very friendly, as anyone having lived in London for a short while will know this can be somewhat disconcerting. So it is with growing paranoia I get my visa and pass through the happy immigration staff. I’ve pre-booked an arrival transfer so apparently I am looking for a man named ‘Smiley’ with a sign saying my name. Smiley’s name is clearly no attempt at irony as I am welcomed by a beaming gentleman who is already laughing as I walk up to him. As we set off Smiley gives me the low down on Nairobi past and present and tells me what things are as and when I ask. He also points out some Zebra just casually hanging around the airport fence and after seeing my excitement he then points out every animal we pass after that, including a squirrel and various goatson the roadside…
After a pre-departure meeting, first group meal, tour of the truck and mandatory health and safety information (sponsored by Dettol) and a couple of tuskers (beer) we were sent off to our dorms to pack our bags for the Masai Mara excursion departing early the next morning. Following a cooked breakfast (made and cleaned up after by ourselves) we meet our guides for the excursion and were separated into two’ matatus’ (minibuses with a pop up roof) and we set off via the Great Rift Valley which is sadly covered in cloud. After a few hours, a couple of stops and some quite impressive bumps in the road we arrive at our camp in time for a short game drive. Everyone is very excited about this prospect but having not known each other very long we decide to make some rules for game viewing which mainly consist of speaking up if someone gets in your way and being aware that everyone wants to get a shot. First up we have the Gazelle, Impala and dic dic (stifled giggle) which were told sadly start to get overlooked and even dismissed after a couple of safaris and once ‘Big 5 fever’ gets its claws in. I’m sad to hear this and resolve always to be impressed when I see a Bambi type creature. These are quickly followed by Water Buffalo, Zebra, Ostrich flanked by its babies, a Jakal following the babies, Giraffe, Elephant, a Lioness with cubs, a lone Hippo mooching by a river and a Cheetah sat randomly in the open. After having barely had our fingers off of our cameras the entire group can’t quite believe our luck. No one was quite sure what to expect but so many animals in two-three hours was so much more than we could ever have hoped for. Our driver Gibson is doing a proud shuffle in his seat as we tell him what an amazing time we’ve just had. On the way back we’re like a parrot house chirping away and comparing photos. Upon our return to camp there is just enough time to get reacquainted with the permanent tents, including loo and shower and freshen up for dinner. The lights go out at around 10pm as this is when the generator stops but no matter as the next morning we’re up bright and early to take advantage of a full days game viewing. At 06.30 we’ve been fed and had our pre safari wee’s and were clambering into our matatus. We’ve also decided that we should rotate seats in the vehicle so that we all get different shots and viewing opportunities, although once we see something all squish ourselves into one corner and all courtesy goes out of the window, its ok though we have an understanding.
Today is equally as rewarding and almost straight away we’re treated to a Lioness with a kill, it looks to be a Zebra, or part of. She’s ripped the poor animals guts open and so the smell its quite over powering and the trees close by are slowing becoming inhabited by vulture’s, and other scavenging birds. We also see Black Rhino with her baby from a distance, warthogs and hundreds of zebra and wildebeest. We stop for lunch under a tree with clear views all around so that we cant be crept up on by any sandwich eating lions or elephant. It is here that we are invaded by flies, and straight away a distinct difference is notable between African and European flies which is that African flies don’t wander around quietly on an arm, a leg or a shoulder like European flies. No no no, they go straight for any open orifice, no messing about, straight up your nose, in ears, eyes and mouths in between chews. Before setting off for our afternoon game drive I’m acutely aware that I need a wee, no one else does but I can’t hold it (especially where potholes are concerned) so I ask Gibson where I can go, he laughs and points to a somewhat spindly bush. A nice Australian girl volunteers to accompany me and quite literally watch my back so nothing creeps up on me. Afterwards I text my mum to tell her that I just had a bush wee whilst in the middle of the Masai Mara, and a very proud parent she was to.
If we thought the day couldn’t get any better we were mistaken as Gibson gets a call through on his radio telling him to head to the river ASAP. He does just this but is careful not to tell us why (in case we are disappointed) and we see the iconic sight from all of the Africa documentaries of the wildebeest crossing the river in sheer panic as the crocs lie in wait in the water. We don’t see a kill as the crocs look quite full but we have seen part of the great migration from the Mara to the Serengeti. It’s a very quiet ride home.
Things I’ve learnt so far:
· The Lion King named its characters after the Swahili word for the animals, so therefore you already know some of the language before you arrive!! Zimba = Lion, Pumba =warthog
· Zebra like to cuddle (well its a defence strategy but it looks like a cuddle)
· Take water and snacks on game drives but you don’t necessarily need to drink all the water
· Put the camera down and use your eyes from time to time
Zoe spent 53 exciting days on Tucan Travel’s Classic Africa Tour.