What an amazing day. It started with a fantastic buffet breakfast, followed by a quick time-killing tour of the hotel gardens with my camera, before the hotel’s driver, Steve, drove me to Wilson airport where I killed yet more time with a large fresh passion-fruit juice (15p) and a read of my new ebook guide to Kenya waiting for the rest of the group to arrive.
Thankfully they are all lovely – all female apart from David our photographic guide and tour leader. We are four. First there’s Judge Marian, who has been to the Pantanal on David’s tour three times before and is going straight from this trip to Rwanda to see the Gorillas along with the second member of our group, retired marketing and PR person, Sheila, who has also been on the same Pantanal trip four times now. Then there’s recently-retired Sandy who has a great sense of humour, is very down-to-earth and, like me, has not been to Kenya before. This is Sandy’s first tour with David, although she has attended a couple of his UK day courses in the past. And finally me; the youngest of the group, only one Pantanal trip under my belt, and the only Pentax user.
After introductions and anti-malaria drug discussions, we boarded the tiny 16-seater plane. The ride was a little bumpy, but the view was incredible. We were met at the other end by our guide, Daniel, in full Masai dress (the famous red ‘Shuka’ adorned with beads) complete with Tanzanian Yamaha sandals.
As soon as Sandy and I had finished peeing into a wasp-filled hole in a straw hut at the Mara Shukah airstrip we started the journey out to Kicheche’s Acacia camp where we will spend the next 5 nights. Daniel had word from the other guides at the camp that a Leopard had been spotted very close to our tents and so we all agreed (despite the lack of sleep or food) that we would go see if it was still there. It was! My first wild Leopard within an hour of arriving in the Mara! VERY happy bunny.
The tent itself is like a small bungalow with a flushing toilet, basin with cold running water and king-sized wooden bed. There are also two single beds one of which had monkey poo on it when I arrived. The monkeys had also been through my bathroom area and knocked over the jar of washing powder. (The masai do everyone’s laundry every day but understandably they don’t wash women’s undies.)
I barely had time to remove my boots when I realised it was time to make my way back to the mess tent for lunch followed by a photographic revision session covering metering, aperture and things to be aware of when shooting in the Mara and from the vehicle.
Before I knew it we were back in the truck and off again, shooting impala, buffalo, secretary birds and lions before settling on hyena cubs at a den just before sun down.
‘Sundownders’ are an old colonial custom which most white Kenyans continue with to this day. You basically find a nice spot on the open plains and set up a picnic table with bright red masai table-cloth before pouring everyone their drink of choice and handing round ‘bitings’ (crisps, nuts or finger food) to nibble on whilst watching the sun go down. I’m sure if we had the vast open plains, the wildlife to roam it, the enormous sky, and the evening warmth, we would do the same in the UK. But somehow standing out in your local park with freezing wind whipping your face and MacDonalds wrappers swirling round your ankles doesn’t quite have the same appeal.
As darkness descended, we packed up and headed back across the Mara to camp in time for a shower and a drink round the campfire before dinner. The food here is incredible, and all cooked on charcoal. Tonight’s dinner was fried fish with potatoes and mango followed by an attack from Siafu ants. Not nice. Funny looking back, but not nice at the time.