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Hello Friends, I am going on a photographic safari hosted by Jonathan and Angela Scott at Rekero Camp in the Masai Mara. The trip starts this weekend and lasts for 7nights 8 days. If you have any questions for the Big Cat People, please do let me know so that I can ask them in person. I will post an interview with them after coming back from the trip. Cheers Vikram
Anita posted a topic in KenyaThat last bit about the sand being kicked is purely in jest. I was not going to fall for Pault's whole Mara vs Serengeti thing. For one, as he rightly mentioned, it was a regular flyin itinerary spending 15 nights in the Masai Mara and its conservancies, and as itineraries go, would be apt to call it boring. Secondly I neither have his inimitable writing style nor stories of any Bibi, Cougars or Coyotes. No dog died in the making of this trip-either in my tent or to the best of my knowledge outside it. But then on second thoughts, figured it would be a fun way to write a TR. I am not much for online pocker, Pault but here you go: Will match you a Rock Hyrax And raise you a couple of Kori Bustards, (Mara vs Serengeti) Even though the itinerary was fairly simple, I had a fantastic time and was quite lucky with many many things. The timing turned out to be perfect and I can honestly say, that if I had to do it again, spending 2 weeks+ in Greater Mara, I would do it eagerly. Flights, itinerary, rain, guides and other sundry items I took the Kenyan Airways flight from Hong Kong to Nairobi – a 12-13 hour journey including an hour stopover in Bangkok (where I didn’t have to deplane on my way to Nairobi but had to get out on the way back). I find this the most convenient route as well as great timing, getting into Nairobi early a.m. and then getting back to HK around 5-6 pm, thereby ensuring I waste least amount of time on transit and can get a proper night sleep before going back to work. The business class is extremely good value for money –sometimes around the price of other airlines’ economy tickets and sometimes 200-500 USD more than economy tickets from Emirates, SAA etc. I have always found the service in KQ (in 2 trips since last year), quite good if a bit brisk. Even though my expectations of airline service have gone down over the last few years, there is not much if at all I can find fault with (and you should hear me talk about BA and Delta). The other good thing about this flight is its still not a busy route and hence quiet and often empty. Lastly, they are very accommodative of my 25 kgs of hand luggage and 10 kgs of checked in baggage combination and I have no interest in rocking that boat. The food ranges from average to quite good (for airline standards) with cheese platter and port and all other regular business class frills. Convenience, value for money and getting Dorman’s coffee while still in Asian airspace clinches the deal for me. Only thing of any interest was, while checking in at HKIA, there was this group of around 20-25 Kenyans with at least (and I swear am not exaggerating) 200-250 big cartons getting checked in- possibly traders going back from a supply procurement visit. All the counters except one were busy with this group and I wondered if this is in any way going to delay my checked in luggage. I would soon know! I do wish I had taken a picture of the sea of cartons but with cameras safely packed and no travelling companion to share the load, I usually play it extra safe with gear and luggage till I reach a camp. The itinerary was fairly straightforward- 5 nights at Naboisho camp, run by Asilia in the Naboisho Conservancy, followed by 7 nights at Mara Plains, owned by Great Plains Conservation in the Olare Orok Conservancy and ending with 3 nights in the main reserve at Rekero Camp –another Asilia Camp. I had stayed previously at 4 Asilia owned camps in Northern Tanzania, and choosing them again was a no brainer. Visiting Naboisho Conservancy was high on my list for a couple of reasons and Mara Plains came with so many superlatives from Bill Given (The Wild Source) on the quality of the camp, the guiding and the conservancy, that as he said, it was one of the easiest things to decide on. I booked the Mara Plains stay last year in November (after months of reading about Shingo and her 6 cubs and then immediately after Pault’s TR from 2011 October) and added the Asilia camps this February. Dates on safari ended up being from the 19th of Oct to the 3rd of Nov. I had originally planned to go after the first week of November but with Mara Plains deciding to close from 1st November (they have pushed this to Jan 2013 now), the dates were moved forward and I ended up getting a good deal from them as well as from Asilia as a repeat guest. My reason for choosing this time period was that the grass would be extremely short after the 1-2 million land mowers had done a rigorous job of consuming it for 3 months and that cats would still be active with the migration having recently left and that I would be able to avoid the migration crowd/busy time. In my research and reading a few blogs through 2010 to 2012, I thought that well into low season would not only mean longer grasses but also the lion prides often temporarily break up and disperse to cover wider food opportunities causing cheetahs to disperse even further away. This by no means is science or even true for season after season but in trying to incorporate various factors I felt that it had reasonable logic to it. When I was generously offered to choose any dates in October from Mara Plains for the price of their November rates, I preferred to not focus on the migration but take the last 10 days, reasoning that most people who would pay high season prices to visit Mara, would do so when the chances of seeing the migration, the crossings and the crocodile drama are much higher- thereby making the last few days in October possibly even quieter than the 1st 2 weeks of low season prices starting 1st November. Not sure if I should infer that I had my cause and effect perfectly figured out, but I did find the reserve quiet and many sightings exclusive to myself or at worst few vehicles. That the wildebeasts would come back in hundreds of thousands, for the third time this season, or I would see 5 crossings and the largest herd of Zebras I could have possibly imagined was purely safari luck and why I said – it is possible to believe anything can happen anytime in the Mara. The only flipside to choosing this period was the rains- with Kenya announcing much more than normal rains through August to December, and having heard a few accounts of people who were “rained out” for 2 straight weeks, I was edgy to say the least and in the weeks preceding the trip, checked Mara weather far more often than I have ever (in total) checked weather while living 2 years in London and 2 years in Hong Kong (I can never remember to carry an umbrella anyway). In the end a double miracle happened - It didn’t rain at all from the 19th to the 27th Oct and then there was 1 big stormy afternoon, 1 full day of rain and maybe bits and pieces for 2 drives. But no cancelled drives and with my African safari luck still firmly with me, no breakdowns or getting stuck but yes a bit of an adventure crossing 2 rivers, 2 different times, with Ping and Jackson being egged on by my ‘I need some adventure, lets do it!’ But wait – I did say, this was a double miracle- The second and bigger miracle was discovering how much enjoyable it was to be out in this huge storm and how everything was so beautiful, beyond any words can describe. Breaking all rules of light, the photographic opportunities were immense. I can safely say that the weather sealing of my camera equipment was tested to full potential. It was amazing how much you can enjoy the rains, getting completely soaked in open vehicles or atleast half drenched as your face and arms poke out of the plastic covers to take pictures. It was wonderful looking out at cheetahs cleaning each other and playing with water for over 2 hours in the biggest storm I have been out in. And watching huddled wildebeests with horns sticking out of a brown mass of wilde backsides. Or how the hair stands out on Zebra necks. Lion cubs slipping and skidding, or just how the rain sweeps over the ground in this white haze. Or glistening rain drops over a Giant Eagle Owl’s eyes and seeing Notch nonchalantly shake a few drops from his lustrous mane. And then there is this beautiful gun metal color to the sky as the storm approaches from one end and the sun shines from the other. I could go on and on but I think you guys get a picture . I have never had a safari where it hasn’t rained but I have never enjoyed the rain as much as I did this time in Mara. On guides, Bill Given was clear that booking so early, I should ask for and will get Ping at Mara Plains. I have immense respect for when Bill says a particular guide is excellent or gushes over someone’s guiding – He is normally a very calm person, definitely not a gusher and not into sales superlatives; usually will provide his preferences but also a balanced picture. So when he raved so much about Ping, I had to sit up and listen. And agree. For Rekero I requested for Jackson Looseiya (who needs no introduction and was every bit as much and more of a legend as I thought but also for very different reasons than his star like status would make one assume) and since he was unavailable for the Naboisho leg, asked for his recommendation – a guide called Dickson. Well, a month before the safari, Dickson left Naboisho and in the end I got Benjamin –another very good guide with a lot of enthusiasm and dedication- needs a bit of retouch on the birding but I cannot find fault with his degree of commitment and like all Asilia guides, his instinct is to stay away from the crowd and find our own wildlife. (Benjamin from Asilia Naboisho Camp) (Ping from Mara Plains Camp- photo courtesy Kunal Shah, a Kicheche guest) I was quite daft to forget taking a picture of/with Jackson but maybe I can ask Mags if I can borrow hers here. A big thank you to Bill Given at The Wild Source (and Shannon Gore his operations manager) for another perfectly planned itinerary. There wasn’t much in terms of actual logistics but I can get ‘quite concerned’ about things like will I get my guide requests, full day drives, early starts, coordinating pick ups etc and Bill kept in touch with Ping over the year to ensure there was no hitch on his availability and keeping on track with Asilia too. But most importantly big thanks for his recommendations and positive feedback on the 3 camps and the guides and for getting through my many special requests. Somehow I managed to have the camps at the most half full (except 2 days in Mara Plains) and often with just 1-2 other guests-another Mara luck for me. Into Nairobi and flying over herds of brown, beige and white For the 2nd time in 13 months, KQ landed me into Nairobi and for the 2nd time, half an hour before schedule. Bill had arranged for pick up right at the gate through a local ground handler called Safari Trails. Owned and run by an Indian origin couple, they are very strong on logistics and being in time etc. A couple of their Nairobi drivers are ex guides who have guided even some famous photographers but gave up that life for a less volatile income around the 2008-2009 period. It might seem I am a pampered little thing for having a gate pick up but this was actually quite helpful as the pick up person takes you through a separate visa counter with no queues at all and stays with you till baggage comes before handing you off to the driver. I would have been out on the road before the official KQ landing time, except that my checked in baggage did manage to get lost in the sea of those 200-250 cartons. So KQ decided to send the baggage from Bangkok from my flight and then for an hour the same belt was spewing baggage from Korea and London from different flights. I feared the worst and thankful that I hadn’t kept any charging thing in the checked in baggage. Anyway after an hour or so, I spotted my beige safari duffel and off we went to the car and onwards to Wilson. If this was the only spot of bad luck I was to have, then I had no complaints. Wilson, as I had expected, was remarkably unremarkable- much bigger than Arusha and better coffee for sure. I reached early and the driver had to leave, so I spent my time talking to an old Pakistani gentleman who had settled in Kenya with his family a couple of decades back. His son runs the balloon rides from Sarova so he quickly called him up to get me the very positive updates on the migration. For a couple of hours we sat and talked about this and that- about politics in Kenya, India and Pakistan, about seeing Kenya by road and basically this and that and nothing in particular but it was all fun and very engaging. The bush flight was a 40 seater and much to my dismay choc a bloc full. Had all these people thought the same about last 2 weeks high season? Or was my theory getting shot before it got a breathing chance? Thankfully almost all of these people got out at Mara North and there was a much smaller aircraft with only 2 other people that picked us from Mara North for the Ol Seki airstrip in Naboisho. Flying across Mara North, I did the usual thing –face pressed to the window looking for wildlife – Oh there is a giraffe, some elephants, is that a herd of Elands? Hmmm… which herd has animals that are brown or beige or white or black in color and they all stick together……? For a second I was seriously trying hard to run all the antelope species in my mind before going- Ofcourse duh!! That’s cattle!! And that’s how my initiation into Masai cattle started – I must have seen many herds of hundreds through the flying trip over Mara North and many bomas. I have to say it wasn’t a shock at all since lounging here on ST and reading things, kind of gets you used to things you haven’t yet experienced yourself. In the end, I saw them much less than I feared through the 16 days and it seemed atleast one cat had learnt to consider the cows as lesser of the evils surrounding her and her cubs. Other than the cows and a very green Mara, the only other thing worth reporting was that I managed to break my sunglasses and then managed to put it back together which was completely useless as 2 days later I sat on it while taking some photos and this time it was a complete write off. Naboisho Camp – 19th Oct-24th Oct 2012 Ol Seki is the designated landing airstrip for Naboisho Conservancy- a 40 minute drive to Asilia’s Naboisho camp. Benjamin was there waiting for us and after brief introductions, came the question from him- So how did you hear about me and request for me? I had faced this question before in Hwange and so went on with the usual bit about reading many rave reviews on the revered TripAdvisor site. Somehow mentioning that I read something about someone on TA, always pleases them in Africa and since it was true and since I was going to keep my opinion on the site to myself, I quickly changed the subject to what was most important and top of my mind – So Benjamin where is Shingo and where are her boys? Benjamin turned back and said unfortunately there are now only 2 of Shingo’s boys left as the 3rd was killed by lions. I asked other cheetah questions as I mulled over his answer. And then a little later –So Benjamin, when you said one brother has been killed by lions, did you by any chance mean the much older Honey’s Boys? A wave of relief washed over me as he acknowledged he had confused the 2 coalitions for a minute which quickly evaporated when he said he didn’t have any updates from the younger coalition. The other young coalition of 3 (from the Naboisho Cheetah) who Hari and others saw earlier in the year had passed through the Naboisho conservancy a couple of days back and moved South East to the Ol Kinyei Conservancy. Well that’s that, it’s just been half an hour into a 15 night visit and so I sat back to enjoy the drive and not worry too much about the cheetahs whose lives I had tried my best to follow for the last one year. The drive was fairly uneventful except for a few zebras, an elephant and a fleeting look of a leopard that shot from under a bush to deeper into another bush. It was very far off on the side of a hill and not even on a tree at any time so with this bit of brilliant spotting, Benjamin proved that there was some sense in the TA reviews that I usually took with a big pinch of salt. He is an out and out Leopard guide- when he is not guiding, he goes and finds this mother leopard with 2 subadults and sits with them for hours. Ah well, I have had Deo and a couple of other guides who loved Cheetahs, so I could live with the fact that Benjamin thought leopards were cooler. At Camp, I met Roelof and Helen the managers. They managed Old Mondoro at one point of time before moving to Kenya and are one of those people who you instantaneously warm up to. Roelof is soft spoken but with very clear views and well thought opinions and it is commendable to see such a purist living in the Mara. Helen is very warm and friendly and the whole set up is so informal and casual- very different from the more formal interactions I had in Botswana. Helen quickly ran through the normal initiation thing and introduced the activities available which include visiting a Masai village, the guiding school, interactions with the lion research people, walks with Roelof and fly camping. The fly camping just started a month or so back so I did not book it but with Roelof taking you out for the walk and the camping, I highly recommend it. I expressed an interest in the walking bit for one morning and with that Helen came with me to show me my tent. I had requested for Tent 7 which along with 8 are a 4-5 minute, slightly uphill trek but with beautiful views of the plains dotted with trees and bushes. There are solar lamps in the rooms and charging facility is available only in the lounge but with more plug points than Roelof has ever seen being used at one time. There are 8 tents and each of them very similar to Olakira and Dunia with a Verandah with a coffee table, chairs and a settee. The main area has a bed, bedside tables, a writing tables with chair and lamp and another trunk like thing on one corner. Showers are bucket ones and loos have flush. Lots of shelf space, toiletries, and jugs of hot and cold water to wash your face/hands etc in a brass basin. (Naboisho camp- Tent 7) (View from Tent 7) (View from Tent 7) The first game drive in the afternoon started at around 3-3:30 pm. Benjamin wanted to look for a Leopard with two 8 month cubs and we slowly made our way, exploring the conservancy. Naboisho is very different from the endless plains dotted with lone trees look of the Mara or the plains, small hills and some woodland landscape of the OOC. There is more bush here and small riverines, woodlands mixed with some plains. However, it has been very good for cheetahs with Jackson telling me that he believes Naboisho has the highest number of cheetahs (inspite of us not seeing any there) and Roelof has seen 9 individual leopards while almost 19 have been accounted for within the conservancy. There are 2 large lion prides here. The lions we found are quite relaxed and 2 of the 4 leopards we saw were also relaxed. The mother of the 2 cubs is still not too friendly but Benjamin finds the two 8 month cubs themselves at ease and playful around vehicles. My own thoughts are that it was an excellent choice to be able to see a different Mara and sightings were very good and in another year as the leopards are more habituated, it might be the best place for them in Greater Mara ( though leopards are doing very well everywhere in Mara-MT, Mara North, main reserve, OOC). We came across the only hippo pool in the conservancy with 2 almost submerged hippos. The light was quite harsh and they werent doing much ( surprise) so we continued with the slow meandering. Very close to the hippo pool, we came across a family of Hyraxes who were suffering from a bit of identity crisis as they posed and posed for us like leopards on fallen trees and on rocks. We spent some time with them and then moved on. Benjamin spotted a subadult male lion under a tree, well hidden in the grass around it. We had to park quite close to him in order to see him properly but he was non-chalant (except for a brief moment when he growled at some movement in the vehicle). He seemed to have been recently kicked out of his pride as had a few fresh wounds and we settled for the evening with him. The sundown wasnt one of the best with too many clouds fast forwarding the whole drama of normal African sunsets. We had our sundowner and started our way back to the camp slowly. There was another Naboisho vehicle with a spotter and red spotlight that had found a leopard. Benjamin explained that two spotters had recently gone on leave and hence we didnt have one but we agreed we will get one for a couple of drives. The leopard was a female- a different one, Benjamin said to the one we fleetingly saw on our way from the airstrip and was looking to hunt. We spent some time with her as she tried in vain to dig out some mongooses. Not a bad first game drive and with 29 more to go. On our way back, we must have seen atleast 10-12 lesser bushbabies - impossible to photograph as they darted furtively through the trees but it was extremely exciting, especially after 2-3 spots, I started looking for them and they were seriously everywhere. Later Helen told me that there were a couple in the tree just outside of the outside shower and I made a mental note to try to see them. Dinner was a special one as with the camp not even half full, a number of Asilia guys and other friends of Roelof and Helen had come over- everyone working either as managing a camp or logistics etc. Met Gerard Beaton who was there with his wife and kids and wish could have spent more time after dinner. But with the long haul, the excitement of the Mara, some red wine, food and scintillating conversation at dinner, it was time for me to go to bed and hear the first lion roar of the trip.
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