Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Rolls Royce of safari destinations

An impressive yawn by a lion on the Maasai Mara

I re-visited four different areas of Kenya (the coast, the Rift Valley, the Maasai Mara and Samburu) earlier this month and yes, Kenya is still the Rolls Royce of safari destinations. It is a vintage model with 150,000+ miles on the clock, in need of a new paint job, with worn, dusty floor mats and slightly fraying leather here and there. But the quality is still there: the engine is sound and it will get you where you want to go safely and in style.

Kenya has many problems such as a rapidly burgeoning population, tribalism, a faltering economy, corruption, congestion, lack of infrastructure, poverty and several others. Yet at its core it is still a warm and friendly and amazingly beautiful country which offers visitors an astonishing array of attractions and places to visit. Nowhere else in the world will you see as much wildlife and so many different species, in such a relatively small area. Nowhere else will you be exposed to such cultural diversity in a setting where 'culture' is interwoven with the safari experience: you don't have to take a side-trip to meet with the Maasai or the Samburu. They are where the wildlife is and continue to co-exist harmoniously. Nowhere else can you experience such a dizzying variety of habitats ranging from the Mara's sea of grass to the semi-arid woodland and scrub of Samburu, the mountains of the Laikipia region, the alkaline and fresh water lakes of the Rift Valley, the fantastic beaches in the Tana Delta or elsewhere on the coast, the true forests of the west and many others which I have not yet had the opportunity to visit.

And then there's the people. Kenya's best kept secret. Go ahead and learn a few Swahili phrases and see for yourself just how friendly Kenyans can be. On this trip I had people everywhere spontaneously taking an interest in where I was from & where I had been, and they were genuinely pleased to be able to interact with a visitor on a personal level. These were not people anticipating a gratuity or some other award: just ordinary people wanting what we all seek: the warmth that flows when one human being connects with another.

I will deal with the various parts of the trip - including the superb flights on Emirates (upgraded to Business Class all the way!) via Dubai - in separate posts to follow over the next couple of weeks or so. For now, a few of my favorite photographs of the trip.

Elephant mother and child approaching - Maasai Mara

Elephant mother and child departing...

Reedbuck on the edge of a lugga - Maasai Mara

Wildebeest with the Ololoolo Escarpment in the background. We saw several thousands of these mammals on the Mara in early October.

Close-up of Shakira, one of the 'famous' cheetahs in the northern Mara. The fame is due to her starring role (with her 3 now sub-adult cubs) in several wildlife documentaries.

A particularly handsome lion on the Maasai Mara

Maybe he was auditioning for a role in a documentary

An Orma woman and child at a village in the Tana Delta on the Indian Ocean Coast

Sheena having fun dancing with the Orma women

One of my new hobbies: birds in flight. This is an African Skimmer.

An as yet unidentified species of gull, on the freshwater Tana River.

This African Fish Eagle was so close when it took off, I needed something less than a 200mm lens to get all of it in the frame.

The most handsome of Giraffe species? I think so. A Reticulated Giraffe in the Samburu area.

We saw several large groups of Reticulated Giraffes, including this party of nearly 30, at sunset.

Samburu is very much 'big sky' country; here some clouds were building for what turned out to be a good soaking later that night.

'Out of Africa' scenery in the Samburu area.

Breakfast in the garden at Loldia Hills overlooking Lake Naivasha, Rift Valley

Flamingoes in Lake Nakuru, in the Rift Valley

A large adult white rhino on the edge of Lake Nakuru

A small young white rhino also at Lake Nakuru

Sunset on the Maasai Mara.

Two young lions drinking in the Talek River, Maasai Mara

A few members of the Marsh Pride in the Governor's Camp area, Maasai Mara

A Schalow's Turaco, at a birdbath in Governor's Camp

The first time I saw this bird was through the lens, at the birdbath in Governor's Camp. It is a Double-Toothed Barbet.

A Ross' Turaco, in the same birdbath.

This leopard kept many photographers waiting for hours, in anticipation of it descending from the tree.

Three more members of the Marsh Pride, Maasai Mara, Kenya