March 06, 2016
March 06, 2016
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
My husband recently whisked me away to Africa on a surprise holiday for our anniversary. Whatever notions I had about Africa so far had been derived from watching the Lion King and boy was the experience a real Hakuna Matata, an extraordinary and unforgettable adventure.
We spent all our time at Kenya, in the plains of the Masai Mara, exploring its rolling grasslands through every sunrise and sunset. The safaris, the weather, the people and the surreal surroundings were never something I would have dreamed of witnessing.
The adventurous plane ride:-
To get from Nairobi to Mara, we hopped on a short flight, aboard a small 15 seater Kenyan Airways non pressurised air cabin, where one can look down and see the giraffes, zebras and antelopes frolicking around in the plains! It is the most spectacular ride one can take, and this is an introduction into the cheeky african sense of humour, where our security announcement was "there are 4 exits on the plane, 2 up ahead at the cockpit and 2 behind. So if you see us jump, you know what to do!"
The Lodge -
The earthy, friendly, welcoming and luxurious lodge of Sir Richard Branson - the Mahali Mzuri was where we were at home for a week.
It is a rather intense jeep ride from the bamboo shed airport at North Mara to the campsite, but we were welcomed by all the staff at the entrance enthusiastically waving and greeting us to welcome drinks of champagne. One step into the campsite and one cannot help but gasp at the site. It overlooks a valley with a river down below, a watering hole for all creatures of the forest, in plain view, while one has breakfast.
It has happened, that a majestic lions and a herd of elephants quietly came to have a drink and went along on their way, while we were having our morning tea. The glamorous tents are right in the midst of nature, where we heard lions grunting all night, not very far away, on many of our nights there.
I will never forget the people who took care of us at the lodge. The managers Anja and Rosie left no stone unturned to fulfil our every whim. Everything on the resort was on the house, including the alcohol, with every bottle of wine explained in detail by Anja who is also a sommelier and a chef! We had a driver and a beast of a jeep personally allotted to us at our service 24/7. The driver was a character straight out of a fairytale. A Masai tribal elderly, who had binoculars for eyes. For e.g., he spotted a leopard in a tree 5 km away without binoculars, whereas we took a few min with binoculars to find it as a small silhouette far far away on another hillock! He could hear the sounds of the dragonflies and the flutter of the birds and tell the position of the animals in the 15000 acres of forest that the resort had leased, and he was never wrong. Each safari was more rewarding than the next. My husband and I each had bodyguards day and night, Masai tribesmen dressed in their majestic Shukas, so silent in their demeanor, always around us, but never in our way. In fact, what we didn't know, was that this camp employs 50 people for their 12 tents, and you see and hear no one, such is the privacy they allow you.
I could go on, but I would never be able to describe in words the experience of this campsite, where every imaginable detail was tended to, in the midst of nowhere. So remote is its destination, and so eager they are to please, that on occasion, when a certain product (a certain requested bottle of whiskey perhaps) is unavailable on order, they charter a flight from Nairobi to bring it to them!
Oh the safaris. One cannot expect in their wildest dreams how exhilarating the experience is to be out there in the wild open plains, under the equatorial blue skies, watching the sunrise, the thundering rainclouds and the miles of rolling hills. The animals, are a hefty bonus to this already surreal atmosphere.
The first animals to welcome you are the hordes of curious zebra, with their rather bountiful posteriors greeting you with a quiet nod of their head before they resume the business of further fatting of their behinds.
At this time of year, the grass was plentiful, the animals well fattened, with a contentment on their faces one cannot miss being amused at.
The giraffes had to be my favourites, as they just stand there and stare and you, and if it can be believed - even smile at you. Eating berries off treetops, they look like goofy overgrown babies who are so happy to see you!
The hippos - smelly fellows look adorably cute, but are in-fact the most dangerous creatures of the Mara. Stand in their path to the water, and they readily trample you, as their skin is extremely sensitive to the sun, and they need to be submerged at all times of the day.
The cats - something one has to experience in their lifetime to witness what it is to be human and a part of nature. To be in front of a wild spirit like that, some of them deigning to look at you, some of them curious about you, is thrilling and humbling. To be at the mercy of another creature more powerful than you, one cannot help but be in awe of their grace.
The cheetahs, an extremely endangered species (with only 70 left in the Mara) are an acquiescent lot, agile, lithe and exquisite. Their cubs are in so much danger from their immediate surroundings, where only 1 out of 20 survive past their first year.
The Lions, the majestic magnificent czars and aptly named so - as such is the pride in their swagger and poise in their stance that one cannot be but in admiration and fear of their presence. The cubs however, are the cutest things one can see, curious little cherubs who come prancing around you with their deep blue eyes and twitching whiskers and ears. On the last day, we were gifted an experience one would never believe to be true. I opened my eyes and looked out the window, to see this enormous male lion walking down in the valley outside my tent, and watched him climb up to the resort, cross through the camp 2 tents away, and onward to his family of a pride of 17 lions eating breakfast - a topi they had recently hunted!
The others - the topi, the antelopes, the thompson gazelles, the wildebeest and the buffalos - aka food for the predators, abound the plains, frolicking, playing, grazing and fattening up, ahead of the rutting season. There are miniature deer fully grown to become the size of rabbits - and families of gazelles skipping along everywhere one looks.
The hyenas, and foxes - while made out to be mean looking nasty characters in fairytales, are actually cute little fellows, hanging around the lions on the periphery, waiting to get the scraps.
This little fellow - a silverback fox fearlessly followed the aforementioned male lion, who was on his morning walk outside my room.
As time progressed through the holiday we realized how our perception of the environment changed too. On the first day, we were trying to spot animals only with our eyes, but by the 5th day, we unconciously using all our senses - hearing for the chattering of the monkeys to see if the lions were nearby, smelling the sulphur in the air to know that there was a hippo pool in the vicinity. The eyes adapt to further vision, and small flicks of the tail from the tall grass suddenly seem visible. And this is how they say, that through nature, one learns to be more aware, and connect with oneself.
While it is always a bit gloomy when its time for a holiday to end, we actually shed a few tears when it was time for us to leave this time. At the risk of sounding soppy, I'm going to say that we had unknowingly fallen in love this valentines day, and I mean not just more in love with my husband, to have shared something so special, but also with Africa. The people, the plains and the animals. I hope to go back some day, and be able to witness more of the magnificent unspoiled nature that lies there, which one could easily term as paradise - but its not, its better than that, its our marvellous mother earth, in its unadulterated form.