I couldn´t believe we were already on the last day of our visit to one of the biggest and most famous national reserves of the world. I anticipated my time in Masai Mara so much that I felt time there passed by at the speed of a cheetah. I was determined to enjoy this finale as much as I could, even though I wasn´t expecting much. After all, the first two days had already been so intense, and we had already seen so much, I couldn´t imagine much else that could surprise us.
Though while on a safari you hope to experience new things every day, I was actually glad that something repeated itself in our third and last day in Masai Mara: the mind blowing vision of balloons going up in the horizon, mixing it´s yellow and orange colors with the aurora´s. Since we left even earlier than on the last days, we also got a sight of many balloons still getting prepared to leave, as we cruised by in our safari car. The strong early morning wind made the excited conversations of the tourists about to be in the air only audible through their smiles. The sound of the wind furiously blowing was only interrupted by the balloon flames that poetically sang every now and then, lifting the balloon delicately towards the sky. That harmonious symphony welcomed us to the reserve on that early Sunday morning.
We had a quiet drive seeing elons and hyenas. I have to say that, in the beginning of the trip, my thought was that if I hadn´t seen any hyenas on a safari, I wouldn´t have minded at all. But these messy haired “dogs” grew a lot on me. Have you ever thought that many times the tv feeds us with misconceptions that are hard to logically recognize? I realized that my ignorance in relation to hyenas was totally built on the Disney movie “The Lion King” and also some other tv safari documentaries that painted this animal as “the bad guy”. I mean, everybody loves lions, right? Who kills lions? Hyenas. So, we all hate hyenas. And, of course, that laughing sound that the laughing hyenas do, do not help their case. At all.
Nevertheless, once you are there and you experience the hyenas for the first time without a screen separating you two, it´s quite different. Their deep round black eyes are very hypnotizing, you kind of loose yourself in it. You will pass by some animals that won´t mind you at all, they will barely acknowledge that you are there (it was our case with the lionesses, for example). But the hyenas always notice. They always look back. You know that street dog from your neighborhood that never ignores the presence of a human because it has been mistreated in the past? That´s kind of the impression I had with hyenas – the underdog that nobody ever cheers for, and she knows it. When we were too close, I could see that the mistrust I had in their behaviour, they had in ours.
One of our morning highlights was definitely observing a leopard for a while. What a beautiful creature. He would appear and disappear in the bushes, but also had no problem in lying down for a rest in an open field. He also could not ignore the balloons flying above Masai Mara, and spent quite a while looking at them. At first I thought he was admiring the sight of it too, but one could see it also left him a bit concerned. One of the many moments in this safari trip that made me question the laws inside these parks.
We went on to find a safe spot to have our bush breakfast in an open field. Exciting! (my mom would so not agree). We found the perfect spot under a lonely tree, where we also had a good sight of anything that could approach us. Our breakfast boxes were arranged by the hotel and we were so surprised by it! There was coffee, tea, fresh fruits, juice, a cheese sandwich, sausages, pancakes….almost as good as having breakfast at the hotel. We stayed out in the shadow enjoying the food and our surroundings for about one hour. At some point, I could see a huge group of wildebeest appear in the horizon and march towards us. I asked our guide, Tony, if it was safe to stay, and he assured us that it was totally fine. The wildebeest passed by behind us, really not concerned about our presence. We also saw two pumbas (warthogs) with their tiny babies from a distance. It´s quite amazing to experience nature from outside of the car as well. (make sure you keep your eyes open though and follow your guide´s instructions)
After breakfast we went up to check the Mara River out, specifically the point where the wildebeest cross during the great migration. I could imagine the struggle of the animals very well to go down the river, cross it, and go up on the other side. The way looks so steep! The water is also infested with huge crocodiles and hippos. By the way, we saw one hippo yawning and, let me tell you, you never saw a mouth open that wide, lol. There are also some beautiful birds roaming around this area, like the crowned crane.
On the way back from the river, we saw the most adorable scene ever: a mom and dad warthogs with six small babies!! The parents were super suspicious about our car, so they would run and from time to time just stand still to look at us. The babies would mimic all their actions, stopping at the parents´cue. Then they would continue running in a line, with a parent in front and one in the back, in a protective manner. One of my favorite things to look at during our whole safari trip.
Before reaching the hotel for lunch, we also ran into a group of elephants having fun in a little mud pond. Man, were they happy! The small ones would just lie down inside the mud while the bigger ones would throw mud upwards with their trunk making it a fun mud party – the kind I wish I could attend!
We were back at the hotel feeling like we had experienced already so much for one morning! I feel like Masai Mara is a park where you could stay for weeks and still see different things every day. We took our time relaxing at the lobby, assuring our families we had not yet been eaten by any wild animal (funny how this is a real concern among the families, right?), and enjoying Basecamp Mara´s soothing restaurant deck. The food on that day was even more delicious than on previous days: carrot soup as starter and penne carbonara as main dish. We even repeated the latter because it was out of this world. Tip: they have a recipe book for sale with the hotel´s food secrets in the Masai store 😉
We had until 4pm to rest. Then we would go on yet another adventure within the adventure: a sundowner! In my every African day dream there was a sundowner, which is basically a happy hour offered by the hotel, but with a mobile bar in the middle of a national reserve, during the sunset. Doesn´t it sound amazing?
Though we were supposed to have the sundowner in Masai Mara, where we were staying, our guide organized with the hotel something very special that just changed our entire perspective of the trip. We headed to Olare Motorogi Conservancy, which is basically a conservation area inside the Masai Mara National Reserve. So, it´s like a park, inside a park. Masai Mara actually has 15 conservancies, and if you are wondering why you never heard about that, there are indeed a few reasons for it.
First, you have to pay extra (and it´s not cheap) to get inside the conservancies as well. Therefore, tourism agencies usually don´t take you to conservancies, because apart from paying the entrance fee to get inside Masai Mara, you have to pay the fee to get inside the conservancy, even though the latter is located inside the former. Second, the fees you pay as a tourist to go to Masai Mara go to the federal government, whereas the conservancies are taken care by the Masai community. Thus, Masai Mara gets more support because the government has the connections and money to do so.
The consequences are basically that, going to a conservancy, you are not only helping the local community, but you are also endorsing nature and wildlife, because the conservancy has very strict rules. For example, no more than 3 cars are allowed to approach an animal. There´s also a certain distance between car and animals that has to be respected. No chasing animals, no getting off-road looking for animals, not getting in between a chase. This is the kind of tourism I want to support. I will definitely write a post about this later because there´s a lot more to tell on this…but, for now, I want you to day dream while I reminisce about that sundowner…
Because of the reasons explained above, our safari at Olare Motorogi Conservancy was crazy enjoyable. We barely saw other cars and animals were everywhere to be seen…wildebeest, giraffes, zebras, jackals, impalas, lions…you name it, the conservancy has it too. It was a lot more peaceful than Masai Mara, and with the twilight colors, it became even more magical…
When we reached our sundowner spot, we understood why they took us to the conservancy instead of staying in the big reserve. This protected land is located very high, overlooking Masai Mara, with unbelievable views to the sun going down in the horizon. By the time we arrived, there was already a table with food and South African wine, along with two chairs, waiting for us! I just couldn´t believe we were sitting in the middle of a wild park, with wild animals wandering free, under this stunning changing-colors sky. The clouds also played their part in it: they joined in to soften the strong twilight palette, forming the most beautiful degradé portrait of a nightfall in the savannah. Easiest, one of the most memorable moments I have experienced. If you are planning a safari trip to Africa right now, do yourself a favor, and do not skip the sundowner!
I thought that the darker it would get, the less interesting it would be, but it was quite the opposite. Though there was still light in the horizon, the shadows were forming all around us in the bush. I looked back at some point and I saw the silhouete of a giraffe very close to us enjoying her greeneries. The Masai guide that joined us for our sundowner explained that that was the ultimate Masai experience: being together with animals, respecting each other.
We did not want to leave, but…oh well, we had to at some point. We jumped in the car back to the hotel while two Masai were left behind to organize the table and chairs back into a van. Though you cannot see much at night, I do enjoy the mystery of the dark inside a national park, hearing the sounds of the animals and recognizing a silhouete now and then.
Back at Basecamp Mara, we were surprised that they arranged a dinner in the bush for us, putting our table beyond the restaurant deck, under a tree. This day didn´t stop getting better and better…oh my! We had a delicious candlelight bush dinner that we were so not expecting – it was the perfect ending to our stay at this amazing hotel and park.
If I could, this is a day that I would like to press the “repeat” button and relive it! Actually, I made a video so I can kinda do so! I´m happy to share with you the video of this incredible experience, hoping to inspire you in the organization of your trip to Kenya!