If there was anything that could come between my mom and the trip to the Maasai Mara, it would only be those small planes that fly out of Wilson Airport. The JamboJets from Eldoret are bad enough, but the Safarilink that was going to take us from Nairobi to Ol Seki Hemingways needed a special prayer book to pass the time. For people who hate “air pockets”, that could easily be the longest 40 minutes ever.
The pilot was a bit impatient, you know like “kwani you don’t know where the luggage goes in these small planes? Kosh.” Ok, he didn’t say that but it was implied. More importantly though, after pointing a few awesome cloud formations here and there, he got us there safe and sound – landing the plane smack in the middle of a herd of Wildebeest and some Impala.
The Maasai Mara…it never gets old. And Ol Seki Hemingways was intended to be a lap of luxury to make it all the more special.
In my mind, I just wanted my mom to have an amazing time. So I willed the universe to deposit as many animals around us as possible. She has always wanted to go to the Mara but with 11 children growing up and liking it, she had to put that plan on hold. And finally, at age 72, there we were.
Raphael, our driver, picked us up in an airy Land Cruiser, giving us a mini tour as we headed to the lodge, which took about 30 minutes longer than the regular 15. The Thomson Gazelles, Wildebeest and Black Face Monkeys nervously ran from the car. But it’s ok, cause we already knew what we wanted to see – lions and leopards.
As Raphael drove up the winding path into the camp, he stopped to tell us that Ol Seki is the name of a tree. The Sandpaper tree. He gave us leaves to feel and told us the Maasai would use the leaves to smooth out their canes.
“Is this where we are sleeping?”
My mom was not 100% convinced that the tents would successfully keep out the animals but she was willing to go along with it. Also, David, the Manager, said that if by chance we happened upon a hyena sleeping on the bed – we should just press a red switch in the room that produces a horrible noise and we’d get help.
First impressions of the tent’s interior at the camp put a little damper on my spirits. For the rangi za thao I had spent, the luxury aspect of our tent seemed a little pale. Like luxury, but not in HD, you know? David explained to me later that since it was the dry season, and the dust easily settles into the tent when the flaps are left open. But it later became apparent to me that the entire lodge was more rugged luxury than glossy. Expensive, but not shiny.
Our twin tent had a chest, a desk where we could write stories about our safari, a cooler box in typical camping style and a wooden plank floor that extended to the loo and bathroom concealed behind our beds. It was spacious, and that afternoon we were exhausted from anticipation. Lunch and a nap later – it was game-drive time.
Mike and Nixon were our chaperones for that drive. In under two hours we had seen wildebeest, warthogs, elephants, hippos, crocs, a kingfisher bird, baboons, eland, two jackals bleeding out a gazelle before eating it, and just as the sun came down – two lionesses with five young cubs.
They were deep asleep. Nixon parked the car and Mike made us a sundowner. I don’t know why but it felt really nice having a drink so close to these beautiful big cats. Looking into the eyes of a curious lioness as I take a sip of whiskey…
Needless to say we slept well. Apart from the hyraxes jumping on our tent roof, hyenas having a chat somewhere nearby and very early morning conversations as mom and I bonded.
The next morning, loaded with coffee, Kenyan chai and cookies, we set out to look for more wildlife. The sunrise was spectacular and so was the drive. We saw two of the four male lions resident to the conservancy. They are huge! It’s always easy to forget how powerful, majestic and massive lions are. Looking at it, it’s all you could do to convince yourself that it will NOT jump into the car.
The evening drive brought it’s own special. Stinky hippos, a tower of lanky giraffes (you seriously need to see them climb up a hill), leaping eland, more lions and a line of wildebeest against the sunset were part of the animal blockbuster.
Even if you’ve been there countless times, there was something special about this trip. Its as if the staff at Ol Seki knew what everyone wanted and provided it for them. My mom was taking in every experience as richly as she could.
Even the animals colluded; we saw the largest of the male lions before breakfast on our last day, interrupted a hunting lesson for young lions with a warthog as the target, and drove off to see a lioness and cubs when our flight delayed. It doesn’t get better than that.
My mom, for the first time, asked me to share all the pictures I had taken with her.