Maasai men, sporting their traditional orangey- red clothing lounge around individually and in small groups while in the distance a splash of red denotes cow herders and 6 or 7 year old goat herders tending their animals.
Opposite the shanty town a school has been built to serve the increasing number of youngsters in the area. Among the buildings are two with blue roofs and an aeroplane painted on the front. These have been donated by Richard Branson to house young girls running away from arranged marriages and circumcision. Sir Richard, I am told, has been seen in the area several times this year and rumour has it that there will soon be a Virgin safari camp.
Two elephants have just wandered into my line of vision, stripping leaves from thorny branches. Impala, topi and warthog have joined the zebra and are gently grazing. Hyena were in the area yesterday and took a prized Maasai cow.
The Maasai will now hunt the Hyena to stop it killing any more cows. They may corner it and attack it with spears. On the other hand, they may put down some poisoned meat and wait for the Hyena to eat it. Unfortunately, this has the effect of not only killing the Hyena, but also all the scavengers that feast of the Hyena carcass.
I am now on the lounge deck enjoying some Kenyan coffee. There is a swimming pool to my left and a huge expanse of Maasai land in front. Abigail takes our barely used ashtray and replaces it with a fresh one and Stephen wanders over to point out the elephants we saw earlier. All the African staff are given or adopt English forenames, probably because the tourists are too mjinga (stupid) to remember or pronounce their native names.
Nevertheless, they are all very attentive and obliging, helping Mara Bushtops live up to its 5-star billing. Food is plentiful, varied and exquisitely presented by Chef Alex, and the accommodation is airy, spacious and comfortable.
A tawny eagle with a massive wingspan has just demonstrated his flying skills and landed in a nearby tree. We are on the 5th day of the 2nd stage of our safari break. The 1st stage was in Samburu at the Larsens camp. Larsens is another tented camp in an idyllic riverside location. However, rain has been in short supply this year so the river is little more than a stream and the savannah is dry and brown. Having said that, the game drives were fruitful and we enjoyed seeing Gerenuk, Kudu and Oryx not seen elsewhere.
The ability to talk at length may well be a requirement in camp managers, as this trait is present at both Larsens and Bushtops. Mr Gilbert at Bushtops is entertaining but so wrapped up in his own stories he frequently fails to notice a guest’s comments and on several occasions entirely missed requests for more wine! One the other hand, the Larsens manager, whose name I have already forgotten, spent most of his time recounting tales of his life in Kenya, reminiscing about the colonial days. He displayed a rather ‘white supremacy’ attitude and still calls Kenya, Keeenya and the African help, boys. The camp was comfortable and we enjoyed feeding a wide range of birds, marmot monkeys and ground squirrels with the scraps from our table. The questionnaire we were asked to complete at the end of our stay in Larsens contained the question “Did the staff smile at all times?” and I’m afraid this rather underlined a general level of insincerity we had already begun to suspect. We won’t be returning to Larsens.
It may be the lack of rain or just the time of year (June), but our game drives have yielded mile after mile of savannah devoid of animals. Our previous visit to the Mara had been in September and the migration had covered the landscape with wilderbeast, zebra and antelope, and with them came the big cats! This year cats have been very hard to find. However, we have been thoroughly entertained by huge grasshoppers jumping into the vehicle as we drive through the long grass.
At both camps, at least for some of the time, we have been the only guests. No doubt due to the politically inspired troubles Kenya experienced earlier in the year. In one respect the lack of other tourists has worked to our advantage in having the undivided attention of the staff and a safari vehicle all to ourselves. On the downside, we dine alone and miss hearing about other guests’ safari experiences.
David (I forget his real name – mjinga), our accomplished driver and guide has been telling us all about Kenya ’s new parliament and the latest budget. Kenya has 40 overpaid cabinet ministers, VAT and rising energy prices. Sound familiar? A few days ago there was a bi-election in a nearby town in the Rift Valley and there has been some concern that there may be more conflict when the result is declared.
Today we took a full day game drive and by mid morning we were following a pride of lions made up of 4 females and 7 cubs, who had recently fed on a kill. Hyena and vultures were left to fight over the remains as the pride sought a quite spot for what lions do best, sleep. On the horizon, smoke rose from Tanzania ’s Serengeti as they try to tempt the herds of gnu and zebra from migrating and to stay on their side of the border by burning off the old grass and encouraging fresh new growth.
Back at the ranch, the wind is still howling round the tents. The stone barn-like structure that houses the lounge and dining areas boasts a vaulted and beamed roof. Unfortunately, this was timber tiled and the wind finds every opportunity to enter the building. Even the doors do not fit. A blanket over the knees at mealtimes has become the norm. Mr Gilbert says the roof will be re-covered by a local tradesman soon and that he will earn £5 a day for doing it!
All in all, of course, we have had a great time, and will certainly be visiting Kenya ’s Maasai Mara again. If you are thinking of safari-ing in Kenya , here’s a couple of recommendations – a good lipsalve and, if you’re female with a bust of more than an A cup, a sportsbra!