Experience: Wild weekend safari in Kenya – Keen adventure traveller Marisa Marsden tells us about her action-packed safari weekend in Kenya…
Kenya – land of the endless African sky, home of safari and location where many childhood dreams are realised. Promises of desert and jungle, ocean and rugged mountain peaks pervade this magical country and, as it’s only a direct, overnight flight before your feet touch Kenyan soil, it’s an ideal location for a long, adventurous weekend.
Soaring high into the ever-expanding sky in our six seater Cessna, we left our Kenya Airways aircraft (now tiny in comparison) far below on the grey tarmac of Nairobi International Airport. The arid East African plains stretched wide below until they reached the Indian Ocean on one side and the ominous grey slopes of Mount Kenya on the other. Seated in the passenger seat next to the pilot with the oncoming banks of clouds towering ahead like impenetrable brick walls, I squeezed my eyes tightly shut as the plane soared fearlessly towards them. Instead of colliding with the white fluffy mass, we glided effortlessly into it and following a moment of dazzling whiteness, we were through the other side and soaring smoothly towards the mighty peak of Mount Kenya, peeping through its white blanket of cloud.
As we descended, wobbling lightly over the air pockets, our first herd of elephants ambled into view, oblivious of our prying eyes high above. With fingers firmly in position over our camera shutters, we glided on to the grassy Meru airstrip and were greeted by traditional-dress Masai guides. Winding our way through the dense, jungle-like bush, every muscle tense with excitement, we finally arrived at our home for the night, deep in the heart of one of Kenya’s most unexplored national parks. High on the hit list for any well-respected traveller, the Masai Mara fulfils every childhood dream of game watching in the wilds of Africa. However, on arriving in Meru National Park (one of 57 other national reserves in Kenya), the lack of tourists and sheer abundance of wildlife immediately proves that this is one of the country’s best-kept secrets. After exploring the camp and receiving a lesson in the “bush shower”, we were keen to jump back into the vehicles for our first safari experience.
As the sun decided to head toward the horizon and our sleepy eyes were looking for home, we rounded a corner to be greeted by the gasp-inducing view of a young bull elephant resting watchfully, flanked by two giraffes and a herd of 50 or so antelope. As quick as my hand leapt for my camera, my heart jumped into my throat and tears pricked in my eyes – a childhood dream fulfilled. As we savoured the first of several “sundowners”, comprising of an appropriately chosen Tusker Beer and homemade crisps, we looked back on our eventful first day and couldn’t have felt further from home.
Day two began with being woken by the jungle noises around my tent. Bursting with inquisitiveness and excitement, I unzipped the front and peeped out. Gingerly stepping out, a small lizard greeted me along with the magical sounds and exotic smells of the dewsoaked forest. As I settled into the canvas chair in the porch area, my attentive Masai watchman or “askari” warmly greeted me with tea and warm cookies and prepared my shower before heading off to wake the others. After our second game drive, we headed back to the lodge for a sumptuous breakfast with our host and his friendly, attentive team before heading back to the airfield for the short flight to the next and very different game reserve – Laikipia.
Laikipia consists of a collection of privately-owned ranches, with a dramatically different landscape to the dense, jungle-like conditions of Meru. As our plane spluttered to a stop on the grass, we were welcomed by our generous hosts and driven to the lodge house. Accommodation on safari varies between elegant tented camps to exquisite country lodges. Far from memories of family camping holidays in damp, drafty tents that are prone to collapsing at the slightest puff of wind, these luxury tents are the height of comfort, with built in bathrooms, elegant four poster beds, handmade rugs and authentic furnishings. Lodges, on the other hand, are made up of a central ranch house with separate rooms or cottages to houseguests, each featuring beautiful bathrooms, solid wooden beds and all uniquely decorated in the traditional Kenyan chic style.
Our lodge was no exception. As we relaxed on oversized wicker chairs, mesmerised by the view, our host dashed in to announce that a pack of wild dog – one of Kenya’s rarest sightings – had been spotted on a nearby hillside. Filled with anticipation, we leapt into the safari truck and headed for the hills. Sure enough, as we nervously slinked through the bracken, trying to dumb down the noise of our heavy western footing, we glimpsed a shot of these remarkable animals trotting through the undergrowth. Sundowners that evening were held at the edge of a marshy pond as crested cranes stretched their legs in the cool air and kingfishers danced across the water’s surface.
Our final stop on the way back to Nairobi was the deep blue stretches of Lake Nakuru. Known across the world as a haven for pink flamingos, the lake magically comes into view after the green, rocky outcrops of the Great Rift Valley drop away. A lake of deepest navy, brushed with a gentle wash of contrasting pink feathers, growing to shocking cerise at the edges where the number of bird intensifies, is a magnificent sight to behold.
As the sun set on our time in Kenya, our truck headed for the teeming streets of Nairobi and our flight home. Our long weekend had fuelled my passion for the wilds of Africa and had drummed up a determination to return with as many of my friends and family as possible in order to bestow on them this wonderful gift – the safari bug.