Traveler interview: Shifa Rahman's Kenyan explorer safari

Kenya safari
Kenya safari
The first day of our Kenya Explorer trip involved a drive from Nairobi to the town of Ewaso Ngiro for lunch and then a stop on route to a colourful Maasai market place in Narok, where we were escorted by our guides safely around the market and got reasonable deals on our purchases (mine included a Bob Marley tape for 2 - but the more interesting items inlcuded custom designed tyre sandals and rice and Maasai shawls in distinctive red).

We were then escorted onto a the Maasai homestead where our trip came to life with the presence of wonderful landscapes and the insight into how the native local Maasai live - what livestock they have, the houses they constructed from cow dung, gaining valuable knowledge from our Into Africa guides William and Joseph, such as how the women Maasai build and design the houses from scratch, how many wives the Maasai were allowed to have and over a cup of a traditional cocktail of tea we were allowed to ask the tribe members questions and allowed to take photographs.

We were lucky to have such amazing hosts and there was a great sense of privilege in us tourists being allowed such an intimate visit to one of the more remote Maasai villages which happened to belong to one of our Maasai guides - Jonathan (who later guarded our camp on our first night from lions and other dangers!). By chance, we happened to be visiting on the day of a blessing for Jonathan's child, so we witnessed the blessing from the father of the Maasai tribe and we as visitors were then instructed how to bless the child, by touching its head and saying the appropriate phrase... which unfortunately escapes me now.

This part of our trip immediately puts the whole of Kenya in a cultural context, making it a vivid acknowledgement of who the land belongs to, how they live and how this relates to the busier and more modern aspects of Nairobi.

The first night ended with us returning to our camp, after buying the beautiful, brightly coloured jewellery that was handmade by the Maasai tribe - really striking and intricately crafted, no one in our camp could resist a buy. Returning to our camps by moonlight really made the enchantment of our surroundings come alive, the natural beauty of our surroundings, the strange distant noises of wildlife that we had never heard before, the warmth of the fireplace amidst the encroaching cold of the night. It was very magical! We had dinner back at the campsite and talked and told stories til well into the night, looked over protectingly by our two Maasai guides who watched our camp diligently through the night.

The Western lack of telling stories soon became obvious when our Kenyan guides, William and Joseph outshone us with their brilliant and often bizarre fables and stories which seemed an intrinsic part of being Kenyan I think- a lot of talking and musing.

The next morning, very early we embarked on a two and a half hour walk with our Maasai guide Jonathan. His knowledge of the land was unwaveringly good. We stopped amongst some incredible vegetation, where our guide William (who has a degree in conservation) demonstrated to us how the Maasai utilise the land resourcefully- nothing it seems goes to waste by ingenuity of the Maasai. In particular, we stopped by a type of plant where the leaves are used as sand paper to carve Maasai spears. We were shown how various animal droppings marked out terrority to the wildlife, we were shown how the sap of certain trees was used as a type of glue for the Maasai to make their weapons to hunt their animals with. The more studious of those in our camp noted the names of the various plants and if you are seriously into conservation, there is a lot of scope. Jonathan led us through plains inhabited by zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, male and female impala.

We trekked through fairly dense bush also, which was challenging physically, but not for the Maasai obviously - it was a brief insight in how they cover immense distances daily.

The next part of our trip was to go to the Masai Mara game reserve, to stay in a camp called the Olanganaiyo camp. It was lovely as our fairly luxurious tents, in contrast to the first night (ie: they had beds in them), were named after animals. My leopard tent was surrounded by vervet monkeys, dangling and playing in amongst the camp, and I was able to sneak a few photographs close up. After a well earned rest and shower, we then went for our first game drive in the rolling plains of the Masai Mara Reserve. It was not disapointing, as the magic of the place is really in the expanse of it. Although many people later remarked that it wasn't as naturalised as the Samburu Game Reserve,the abundance of wildlife is still amazing. During the drive, we saw giraffe, herds of elephant, cheetahs, all varieties of antelope, wildebeest and birds of prey.

Nothing really compares however to our first gasps of seeing a pride of lions. If you have, like myself, never experienced the combination of the beautiful layers of colours as the fading sun reflects onto the plains of gold and green fields of the Masai Mara, combined with your first sighting of lions nestling in the grass, occasionally stretching and expanding their huge jaws, it will stun you. They have quite a presence!

That made our first game drive special as it was the end of a three-hour drive and the lions had a really majestic presence. The second day of game viewing in the Masai Mara gave us a great close up of elephants, more cheetah sightings and also more zebra, close up viewing of giraffe munching on acacia trees. On the same day we headed for one of the lakes on the Rift valley, Lake Naivasha, where there was the promise of hippo sightings. Staying in our little bungalow huts seconds away from the lake, provided the opportunity to see the birdlife which inhabits the place and most importantly hippos - the biggest killers in Africa.

Our fishing expedition the next morning included sightings of kingfishers, hippos and waterbucks on land where we stopped. However, personally our visit to Lake Nakuru, another lake in the Rift Valley which took us to our fourth day on the Kenya Explorer trip, topped the bill, with the sighting of a rare black rhino. The vast amount of pink flamingo which line the lake in millions is quite a sight of beauty as is the woodiness of the game reserve - a contrast from the Masai Mara. Our camps were wonderfully embedded in the surrounding wildlife. On the first night we had lions come and visit our camp which was exciting but meant we probably slept a little lightly than usual, although our camp was guarded.

On that night, in an excited flurry we got into our truck, driven by Joseph and searched for the lions, in order to observe them at a safe distance. After a game of charades back at the camp we retired after a satisfying day. Day five took us to Thompson's Fall - an immense and incredible waterfall, which is quite a climb to reach the bottom, physically taxing if you attempt to do it. The five girls on the trip decided to embark on this, even with our warnings that we may be tired from our guides, was tiring but the fall is immense and beautiful close up. With a pleasant lunch outside, the next leg of our journey took us to Mount Kenya, where we experienced the traditional Maasai tribe.

The last leg of our seven-day tour took us to Mount Kenya. On our first night there we took part in traditional tribal dancing with the Maasai. Believe me, our attempts at dancing were very amusing! After a disco at our very luxurious hotel - compared to roughing it on a campsite - we spent the following day on a two-hour trek in the Mount Kenya region, followed by a trip to the local Kikuyu school. The tour company we travelled with, whose slogan is "Fair traded safaris", supports the local communities in Kenya which involves a number of self help projects which help the local community in sustaining a self-generating income, and importantly allows the local people to get a slice of the benefits of tourism.

The tour primarily gives you a cultural look at people who live in Kenya with the objective that it will be a responsible eco-tour, ie: won't damage the local environment and most rewardingly you will also be helping local projects.The visit to the school was a nice way to round off our trip. We also visited a local women's self-help project, who utilised weaving as a way of generating an income - their skill and dexterity in the arduous process of making rugs and shawls was amazing.

The cultural and ethical part of our seven days in Kenya was genuinely rewarding - for example, to hear from the patron of the school that our trip financially supports them, as well as the visit providing a fascinating look at how the schools are run, funded through farming, seeing how the children love playing with their one football and also they thoroughly charmed us with a dramatic performance which they presented to us - all made our trip worthwhile.

On the way back from Mount Kenya, on our quiet and bit teary journey back - so sad to leave - the following morning we also stopped at the point at which the north and south halves of the equator meet, which was great for more photo opportunities and with the chance of signing our rather endearingly naff certificates, to certify we have visited the equator! It was a great trip, no one could deny it and although our official trip had ended, we couldn't resist all meeting up with our guides for a night out in Nairobi... It was the best vacation yet.

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