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Travel

Vacation in Maasai Mara during Covid

An elephant at Maasai Mara
An elephant at Maasai Mara. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

My travelling shoes were accumulating dust. So when the borders were opened, nothing was stopping me from going on a vacation in Maasai Mara. In a normal year, international tourists would be flocking to see the Great Wildebeest Migration, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. With Covid-19 though, many are stuck home. But nature like time waits for no man. Millions of wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles, just as they do each year, are crossing over from Tanzania into Kenya, in search of new grazing grounds.

International flights to Kenya might have resumed, but arrivals are limited by continued restrictions or fear of getting coronavirus in a foreign country.

It is August, the peak of the high season where hotel bookings are made months or years in advance, but I’m arriving in a less-crowded Maasai Mara, only teeming with wildlife.

Wednesday, 06.55 am The driver arrives. Five minutes early! I’m impressed but he cannot see my smile. I’m masked and so is he. After a little chat, he checks my temperature and squeezes drops of sanitiser onto my hands, sprays my bag before loading it. We pick one more person and the journey begins. Yesterday, the hotel had called to organise my pick-up and sent me a Covid-19 Health and Safety Document detailing what to expect while visiting.

08.54 am I see six baboons strutting leisurely along the Mai Mahiu-Narok road. To their right is Kenya’s smallest church: the Traveller’s Church. At the View Point, I count six other tour vans. Clearly, I’m not the only one escaping Nairobi.

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09.45 am We’re in Narok County. The weather is perfect for me, cows are grazing and maize is drying by the roadside. The green landscape and acres of golden-headed barley are a splendid sight to behold.

A tented camp at Maasai Mara

A tented camp at Maasai Mara. PHOTO | PURITY WANJOHI

12.30 pm We arrive at Porini Mara Camp in Ol’ Kinyei Conservancy. The road was not as bad as expected. It is tarmacked all the way. Guess who is on the meet-and-greet team? A vervet monkey, a baboon, and two Grant Gazelles. Moments later, I’m met by the Camp’s Maasai community host and his counterparts. They’re all masked. Being from Nairobi, they keep a safe distance from me. When the infrared thermometer indicates I’m safe, I’m allowed in. Once again, my bag and I are sanitised.

01.07 pm As I eat lunch, I watch Nature TV. Two impalas running swiftly together and a monkey crossing a stream. The only problem with the TV is that I have no remote control. I, therefore, savour the moment. I tell the waiter about Nairobi’s Covid-19 situation. He is happy that I came despite the virus jitters. I’m later joined by a couple on a working vacation. Thankfully, the conversation isn’t all about the pandemic. I receive refreshing advice on how to know Mr. Right is Mr. Right for me!

04.30 pm Nature is thriving without man! I see birds and numerous wild animals. I was keeping score but eventually I lost count. During the game drive, I learn about Ol’ Kinyei’s Covid-19’s conservation plan to keep the lights on, a programme called Adopt-an-Acre. Patrons are invited to adopt an acre for $35 (Sh3,500) a year, redeemable for a safari. So far, that initiative has raised about Sh23.5 million. With tourism revenue quite low, most workers at the community-owned conservancies have been temporarily laid off, and payouts have been reduced. Adopt an-Acre ensures communities are paid. So far, 6,725 acres have been adopted, with more than 33,973 acres still available.

06.37 pm I look up and far ahead with amazement. The wildebeest look like irregular dots on gold-coloured paper! From the open 4x4 Land Cruiser, feeling courageous, I take a selfie with a well-fed lion.

08.00pm Finally, it’s my turn to eat. Tonight, we are 13 guests at the hotel so we are eating in shifts to social-distance. All meals are plated.

A tented camp at Maasai Mara

A tented camp at Maasai Mara. PHOTO | PURITY WANJOHI

10.00pm Lights out. My lullaby is the chirping sounds of the crickets, and the hippos, now that it is dark and cool.

Thursday, 05.45 am Hot chocolate and scrumptious cookies are served in my tent. I totally could get used to this. I will have a full breakfast after my early morning game drive. Though super cold, it’s a lovely morning to experience nature before I leave for Porini Lion Camp in Olare Motorogi Conservancy.

01.26 pm I arrive at Olare Motorogi Conservancy. This time, a cheetah is on the reception team. I kid you not! Again, my bags and I are checked and sanitised before entering. Lunch is served. Social distance is maintained. This makes us shout on top of our voices when conversing. I’m grateful that I’m naturally loud.

03.12 pm Normally, we’re told to resist temptations. However, the bed is too alluring. I can’t resist an afternoon nap, so under the duvet, I go. Who travels all the way from Nairobi to sleep in Maasai Mara? I wonder too!

04.42 pm I wake up for another game drive, hopeful to see a leopard specifically Furaha, a blue-eyed leopard. Someone mentioned her over lunch. But on getting to the open 4x4 Land Cruiser, I remember that I forgot my mask in the tented room, so and run back for it.

05.16 pm We see a pride of lions and a lone zebra. Suddenly and quietly, the lions get into position and without wasting time, pounce on the zebra. I witness my first live kill! I’m over the moon.

06.52 pm Right in the middle of the expansive conservancy, we enjoy a sundowner party. Many things would have made this moment perfect but it’s the laughter of two children in our company, having enjoyed the game drive, which captures my heart.

Friday, 06.45 am The search for Furaha is on again. Two hours later, no luck! I’m sad but at least I saw a baboon snacking on an impala.

10.13 am I start the journey back to Nairobi. But before I do, I have my temperature checked again. By the way, I washed my hands 47 times!

Epilogue: I’m already planning for my next trip. But for now, I’m charting my temperature levels daily. I’m on ‘Day 8.’

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