Sometimes Africa whispers softly, revealing her secrets with slow subtlety. And sometimes she bellows and whacks you in the face with her wild bravado. We got a little of both when we stayed at Mara Expedition Camp in Kenya’s Maasai Mara.
At a river crossing, we found the stomach contents of a herbivore spilled on the sand – a clear sign there was a kill nearby. Since we were on conservancy land rather than in the Maasai Mara National Reserve itself, where driving off-road isn’t allowed, our guide Nick Ratia could go off road to find the kill, but not close enough to disturb the animals.
Two young male lions were chomping on the remains of a wildebeest, the sound of bones and tendons crunching. Resting nearby were a lioness and two one-year-old cubs. Nick thought there might be more, but we couldn’t see them snoozing among the bushes.
Live like an explorer
Mara Expedition Camp was more subtle, a gentle whisper of African charm. It’s an intimate little place with only five tents looking out over lush riverine vegetation and the muddy Ntiaktiak River. All around are forest mahogany, magic gwarrie and African green-heart trees, with orange-leaf croton bushes sparkling in the early morning and late afternoon sunlight. I felt like a child again, discovering a magic forest loud with the calls of birds.
Great Plains Conservation cares about things like the environment and conservation, so if this camp were removed tomorrow, the site would quickly return to its wild state. Touch-the-earth-lightly thinking means everything in the wood-and-canvas retreat is ‘green’ or recycled, and the energy comes from the sun.
The company’s name is a clue that its founding principle is conservation. Less obvious is its commitment to communities. Mara Expedition Camp and its sister, Mara Plains, stand on the 14 000-hectare Olare Motorogi Conservancy. The Maasai who own the land earn an income from lease fees that support some 1000 families and preserve the land for wildlife and tourism.
But of course it’s out on the plains where the magic happens for visitors. Whether it’s a small band of dwarf mongoose rippling across the veld, a colourful rock agama wooing his drab brown lady, a tiny dik-dik (one of Africa’s smallest antelope at just around 5kg) or one of the sought-after Big Cats, the sightings are always rousing.
Our reward was a cheetah with her four-month-old cub on the plains in the late afternoon sun. Mom was lying down resting, the cub wriggling before it settled to suckle. Sadly, Nick said its three siblings had been killed by lions or hyenas just a few weeks earlier.
Note: I was a guest of Great Plains Conservation’s Mara Expedition Camp for two nights, but I was given free rein to write what I chose. I paid for my flights to and around Kenya.
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