Since we started our trip we have been in contact with another South African couple Arno and Elise, who have been travelling up Africa, having left at roughly the same time as us. We had made tentative plans to meet somewhere, but as neither of us really have any deadlines other than finishing the trip around “Decemberish” we weren’t sure when or if it would happen. They thought we were still in Ethiopia, we thought they were still in Tanzania, and when we arrived for a stopover in Jungle Junction in Nairobi before heading on to the Masai Mara they had their tent set up, the braai was about to be lit, and Elize was making rusks. After greeting each other like long lost friends we settled down for a night of stories, ice-cold beer, boeries and taking it in turns to tell the Jungle Junction dogs to “Voetsek” when they came round to beg for food. There isn’t a dog in the world that does not understand that word. “Voetsek” does not mean “Good Dog”.
Arno and Elize were also heading to the Masai Mara, so we all agreed that 8 eyes are better than 4 when it comes to seeing if you can spot a wildebeest during the great migration and decided to go together.
Another couple from Namibia were also at the campsite with a spectacular Land Cruiser kitted out with everything you can imagine, including a vice welded onto the bull bar, internal air compressor with connections on the front and back bumpers, a device that monitors your tyres and warns you when one goes below a certain pressure, a shower with built-in heater and shower curtain… The tour of our “Really Useful Boxes” didn’t take quite as long. As Arno and Elize had made plans to meet up with him later to go through Turkana into Ethiopia, he kindly lent us some walkie talkies so that we could be in contact should one of us see one of the elusive wildebeest.
We have revolved all our plans around being able to be in Kenya or Tanzania to see the great migration. We have also held back on a number of other treats to be able to afford the park fees. Having watched plenty of documentaries by David Attenborough et al we had extremely high expectations. What the documentaries don’t show you is the state of the roads that the extremely high fees don’t maintain. They also don’t show you minibuses loaded with people racing through the park to tick each animal off – the more you see the bigger the tip for the driver. The one lion we saw was literally chased around the park by about 20 cars. We saw a long line of minibuses racing off later on, all trying to get to see a rhino. This is not “being on a safari”. It is a really expensive zoo without cages. Having said that, the Masai Mara is spectacular – the scenery is as we imaged with the endless skies you can only see in Africa. Yet again we have a bunch of photos in an incredible place that just don’t do it justice! We also got to see one or two wildebeest. No amount of documentaries could have prepared us for the sheer spectacle. It was definitely the gnicest work of gnature in the gname reserve.
At the Masai river we waited for a river crossing where the gnus swim through a gauntlet of crocs, strong currents and the risk of being trampled by other gnus. This wasn’t the first crossing, and there was carnage all along the river – carcasses wedged between rocks, or drifting down the river, completely ignored by the satisfied smiling crocs that had gorged themselves previously like the romans in Asterix in Switzerland, shouting “the stick the stick” as they dropped their gnu into the Massai fondue. The vultures and Maribou Storks had hit the jackpot, floating down the river with their prizes, almost too heavy to fly. You would think that after eating so much they would stop, but they just carrion.
Unfortunately we were parked next to a fleet of minibuses, as if in a taxi rank. Some of the tourists were having a snooze, others were playing on their phones, and I imagine some were sitting there bored out of their minds while tweeting “I’m at the Masai Mara in Kenya, going to get so wasted tonight LOL”. I hate people (close family and friends and all readers of this blog excluded of course).
So was the Masai Mara worth the expense and hordes of minibuses? Yes, although migration aside, go to any South African game reserve and you will see more, with less cars, and there will actually be some evidence that the money you pay is being used for something other than causing gout and obesity in officials and politicians.
After a roaring campfire and more stories with Arno and Elize we said our goodbyes and went on to the next stop, via miles and miles of tea estates. Kakamega forest – with a name like that how can you go to Kenya and skip it. Unfortunately after joking about the first thing I was going to do when I got there I ended up hopping from one foot to the next while I waited for a handwritten receipt where the numbers had to be written down in English as well as numerically and the description became “Two people visiting the Kakamega forest in a car or is that a 4×4 and let me write down some more stuff even though I can see you have something far more urgent to do.”
We had a great day walking through the forest with an extremely knowledgeable guide who taught us about the medicines, birds and animals from the forest, as well as showing us a tree that was hit with a stick, resonating like a drum and in the past used to call people from around the forest when there was important news.
I know a lot of people’s hearts will pump custard for me when I say that doing a trip like this can be exhausting and you need a break from it every now and then, but after a month of touring Kenya we spent a couple of days relaxing at a lodge called Neiberi River Lodge, a few kilometres outside of Eldoret, camping next to a river. The first thing we were told was that several years ago Bill Gates spent a night there. We were also shown the bungalow he stayed at with a plaque on the wall to confirm this. He was there for one night but his entourage and security were apparently there for about a month before he came to make sure everything was ok.
More impressive than seeing a plaque with the words “Bill Gates stayed here once upon a time” was meeting Freddie – the guy who manages the fire pit in the lodge’s restaurant. A sane person does not use his bare hands to pick up coals and burning logs to move them around the fire. Freddie does, and not by juggling the coals in the fumbling hot-potato style of an under 12 D-team cricket player. When he went home at the end of the night he kept repeating that he was going to have another one for the road and then laughing hysterically, so I think the question “How does he pick up fire with his hands without feeling any pain?” was answered.
Next stop Uganda.