Vacation review: David Lloyd's once in a lifetime Kenya safari
David Lloyd used Responsible Travel to find his African safari vacation in Kenya. With fantastic wildlife at every turn and some fascinating insights into the local Masai culture he gave it five stars upon return.
This is his independent, unedited review.
A busy township in the Maasai Mara. Market Day.
We explore the bustling streets, conspicuous by the paleness of our skin. No tourist stop this, but a community doing business. A man makes shoes from old car tyres. A farmer drags his unwilling goat to the slaughter house. Two brothers load three sheep into the boot of a Toyota Corolla Ė they have to take the spare tyre out first. Another man staggers down the main street, drunk on the proceeds of his livestock sale. He brandishes a Maasai sword and yells insults at passers by. Suddenly he hurls the sword across the street. Sparks fly, people scatter. Elijah, our guide, ushers us back into the Land Cruiser and we move on.
This is Kenya. Vibrant. Bustling. Alive. And we are going on safari.
That night we camp in the bush, next to a watering hole. From nowhere, a Maasai warrior, Jonathan, appears and invites us to his village. Itís half a mile away, a circle of mud huts squatting low, almost indistinguishable in the arid, dusty surroundings. Small children gather and sing us a song of greeting. They bow their heads and we touch them in the traditional way. ĎSopaí we say. ĎSopaí they reply. Welcome. We enter Jonathanís home and he tells us of his culture, of how the drought is hitting his people hard, that if it doesnít rain soon then he fears for the very way of life of the Maasai. I ask him if itís a difficult life. He shakes his head. ĎItís goodí, he says. ĎOnly the drought makes it difficult.
That night we sleep under the stars. In the night, elephants pass within yards of our tents. Lion arenít far away. Two Maasai stand watch, huddled round the camp fire, spears to hand, watching as the animals move to the watering hole. We only discover this next day.
In the morning, we trek into the bush, Jonathan and Elijah leading the way. Maasai herdsmen lead their emaciated cattle through the arid plains, searching for scraps of grass. A jackal tussles with an eagle for carrion. In the distance an ostrich stands large against the horizon. Trapdoor spiders lie in wait in tiny burrows for unsuspecting insects. A seemingly endless column of soldier ants march across the dry and dusty plains. We say goodbye to Jonathan, and wish him well. Silently we all pray for rain.
That night we camp on the very edge of the game reserve. An evening walk into the hills with another Maasai guide. His keen eyes pick out elephants in the bushes, down in the valley. We watch as they emerge slowly into the open. 15, of all ages. Something spooks the matriarch and she trumpets an alarm. The elephants huddle together, back in the bushes. Maybe they can smell us. We move on, not wanting to disturb them, ever-mindful of their power and strength.
Day three and we head into the game reserve. Zebra, impala, giraffe, Thompsonís gazelle, topi, hartebeest, eland. More elephants. The first wildebeest we see is dead. A lion feeds hungrily on his carcass as we watch from the safety of our vehicle, just yards away. Hyenas and vultures lurk nearby, waiting to squabble for scraps. A mother cheetah and her two cubs lope gracefully across the vast, grassy plains. A black rhino and her baby stand marooned in the long grass, looking for an opportunity to break for the bushes and cover.
Thousands of wildebeest gather on the cliffs above the Mara river, looking for a safe crossing. The southern grass lands call them for their annual migration, but they canít decide where to cross. Down river, enormous crocodiles wait patiently, waiting for them to take the plunge. Hippos bask on the shore, steaming in the fierce afternoon sun.
This is Kenya. Full of drama and passion: rituals of man and beast which reach back through aeons.
Six thirty the next morning, and we are back in the reserve. Five lions fan out in the long grass, stalking a cluster of wildebeest who graze upwind of them, oblivious of the silent, powerful death with creeps ever closer. We sit on raised ground, watching the drama unfold, holding our breath, barely able to believe what we are seeing. Another driver gets too close and spooks the wildebeest. The lions give chase but their cover is blown and their prey escapes. Duncan, our driver, bangs the wheel in frustration. The radio crackles into life as the airways teem with abuse.
We drive on, over the Mau Hills. Verdant pasture, at odds with the dust bowl of the plains. Healthy cattle. Fields of wheat, maize and potatoes stop the water from reaching the plains. The Government want to return this pasture to forest to make sure more water gets to where it is desperately needed. The hill farmers arenít keen.
That night we see why the water is needed as we pitch up at Lake Elementaita, a vast salt lake, home to thousands of flamingos, but shrunk to less than half its usual size. Our lodge was built next to the waterís edge, just a few years ago. Now it takes us half an hourís walk before we reach the shore.
We circle the lake in the baking heat. The flamingos peck in the shallows, pelicans glide gracefully overhead, a pied kingfisher dives for food. We paddle self-consciously in hot springs, while men wash themselves and women clean clothes. A farmer brings his cattle to drink from this, one of the increasingly rare supplies of fresh water. We sip water from our plastic bottles and leave, not wanting to intrude.
An afternoon visit to a local school. Like everyone else they need money. To employ new teachers - one class has 85 children. To buy a school bus - hardly any of their 500 plus pupils have been more than a few kilometres from where they live. To level out the football pitch Ė they have a good team who play on a hillside. Our gift of football kit and pens are rapturously received. They dance and sing for us, and make us feel very special, and very aware of how much we have and how much they need. £150 will put a child through secondary school for a year. £1500 will pay a teacherís annual wages. The average Kenyan earns £2 a day. The average in the UK is £85. The average life expectancy for a Kenyan is 53. In 1990 it was 60. Things arenít getting any better.
In the late afternoon we are made welcome by George, a local farmer. His wife gives us fruit, pancakes and tea while George tells us more tales of the drought and shows us the impact it has had on his farm. A failed maize crop. Tomatoes dying for lack of water. His grandson, George junior looks on solemnly. George wonders what future his family has if the rains donít come this year. Itís August and it hasnít rained since June.
Day six and we visit Lake Nakuru National Park. More flamingos. A lion feeds off a buffalo stranded in the mud by the shore. A rhino grazes on the beach. Baboons watch us carefully as we drive past, raising huge clouds of orange dust.
The final day and we take a boat on whatís left of Lake Naivasha. The boat starts a kilometre away from where it did three years ago, such has been the decrease in the level of the lake. No-one can remember it being this low before. There are 1,500 hippos in the lake and several swim close to our small boat. A fish eagle swoops just yards away, plucking a fish from the water. Then back to Nairobi, where the six of us thank Elijah, Duncan and our chef Demetrius and go our separate ways.
Our trip was the Kenya Explorer, organised by a company who specialise in Fair Traded trips in Kenya and Tanzania. We have been superbly well looked after, and treated with great courtesy and generosity. An amazing range of experiences: exciting, exhilarating and thought-provoking. Itís a trip that will stay with me forever.