The Covid-19 pandemic has ensured that most of the world has been under “lockdown” for the last several months. Thoughts of holidays, while enticing, have also had an element of fear. Thus, getting away from the four walls during such dire times needs to be to somewhere extra special. Especially considering that international travel still means the uncomfortable test just before the journeys to and fro and once more on our return home. It also means finding a destination that is connected to us by a direct flight, that does not impose quarantine-on-arrival restrictions, that does not need a visa or offers a visa on arrival. This restricted our options significantly. We chose the obvious (for us) destination – Kenya.
Kenyan Airways lived up to their superb hospitality standards by ensuring that they were technologically sound with respect to sanitizing their aircraft. The air being circulated is filtered once in two minutes as per the new international standards. The staff are masked, gowned and gloved throughout the flight. Food and beverage are served if you want them. The washrooms are sparkling. We did our bit by being masked through the flight and using the face shield as additional protection in the airport.
Nairobi airport has always been friendly and efficient. These factors have gone up several notches! Prior to departure, they had requested us to upload our pre-travel test results onto their website and allotted each passenger a registration and QR code. On disembarkation, the medical certificates were duly scanned, the visa was issued with minimal loss of time and within minutes we were collecting our bags. We saw these floor stickers at various queuing points.
Hotels were again adhering to international standards and protocols. Buffet meals have been replaced with a la carte menus. Some hotels offer a “scan on your phone” code in their restaurants which gives you drop-down menus to choose from. The only contact with staff is when the food is placed on the table. Notices are clearly displayed asking guests to cooperate with the new housekeeping and room-service measures that have been implemented. Rooms come equipped with disposable masks and travel size bottles of sanitizers.
Shopping malls and stores are taking necessary precautions for social distancing, mandating the wearing of masks and are going about their regular business with no apparent discomfort. Sanitisers are offered extensively. Many stores and pop-up booths sell masks made of colourful local and traditional cotton fabric at affordable prices.
Most of all – very few people on the roads were without a mask. Almost everyone also wore their mask as it should be worn! Not under their nose or chin!
In fact, travelling to Kenya feels SAFE!
As usual, we had booked with Gamewatchers Safaris. One of the reasons we repeatedly return to this company is that they organise everything for us from the moment of pick up from the airport till they drop us back for our flight home. Normally this includes hotel bookings for any layover we do in Nairobi, transfers to and fro to the domestic airport and our entire safari – including everything except tips. This time they provided us with one additional service – the Covid19 test that was required of us before the flight home. They organised for the test to be conducted at their office premises (you can opt for the tests to be done at any of the camps!) and reports were sent to us on the phone, email and as hard copies within 24 hours. Since we had this additional day, we requested them also for a car and driver to go around our favourite spots in the city. The importance of this cannot be emphasized enough since we knew with total certainty that their chauffeurs are healthy, wear masks and are absolutely trustworthy.
We flew to the Mara on a SafariLink flight. They too had all the required additional safety measures in place. It felt immensely luxurious given that we were the only passengers on this minuscule aircraft, a Cessna 208 Caravan.
For the safari, we chose to do three nights at the Porini Mara Camp on the Ol Kinyei Conservancy and five nights at the Porini Lion Camp on the Olare Motorogi Conservancy. Both camps also were completely equipped with regard to the pandemic protocols. Prominently displayed notices,
camp-style non-contact hand washing stations,
sanitisers in all common spaces and vehicles, social distancing during meals, wearing of masks in and around camps, staff being masked even during game drives – though clients had the choice to take them off and breathe in the fresh and clean air at least for a few hours a day.
Now that we have given you a glimpse of what the country offered us officially and physically with respect to the pandemic precautions, we can share with you what Maasai Mara offered us with respect to rejuvenating our soul!
The Mara welcomed us with a glimpse of its smaller residents.
The female Agama lizard …
and her colourful partner!
After a flying start (the tawny eagle),
we had an encounter with the tallest mammal species on earth!
This huge Cape buffalo seemed to have an itchy nose which he could reach …
and if you think that’s gross, other parts of him needed some help from this Yellow-billed ox-pecker who did not seem too fussy where HIS food came from!
The Mara always offers spectacular landscapes. Whether these are dramatic skies filled with tumultuous rain clouds …
or rocky river beds,
… they are often juxtaposed with animals, hot air balloons and other such points of interest which are merely routine here.
Every sunrise and sunset is filled with brilliant colour and magic. The grass flowers seem to wait for the sunrise.
A lioness awaits the end of the day so she can begin her hunt for the evening meal!
The elephant unconcernedly continues his march across the grasslands from dawn to dusk!
The giraffe, as befits his grace, poses for us against the brilliant orange sky.
Since there are so few tourists this year, the “sightings” were a challenge, since there was little communication between vehicles. On the other hand, the animals and birds were far more relaxed since they have been largely undisturbed for the better part of the year. Driving along we spent a short while with this huge male ostrich sitting on his nest – right next to the track. Normally these birds are extremely skittish.
We were also privileged to spend as much time as we liked with the new members of families
Some small, like this young silver-backed jackal …
some larger and more playful …
and some it was difficult to believe are still babies. This one is a JUVENILE Martial Eagle!
Some were just a few weeks old
and a few less than a day old! This little one was left alone in the bushes for safety when Mom went foraging for her meal, though she kept her eye on us while eating.
This mom hurriedly herded her chick into the grass, not trusting us one bit!
In tune with the pandemic, the Mara has an absolutely foolproof, natural, non-invasive and instant test for Covid19. Anyone who cannot detect the stink in this hippo pool from 100’s of meters away almost certainly is likely to show positive in a more conventional test!
The Porini Camps are always warm and welcoming. While we enjoyed the comforts offered,
the food and the incredible views …
other visitors too enjoyed similar privileges! The Scops Owl took a snooze on his perch next to the human lounge
The red-fronted barbet had his feast of the wild dates – fruit from a tree that is not a palm at all!
The grounds of the camp revealed many beautiful wildflowers at this time of the year.
The Abutilon Mauritianum
The Ipomea Cicoricosa
The highlight of all our trips to the Mara has always been our encounters with the big cats.
Of course, we met lions aplenty.
Playing peekaboo …
resting in the shade of our vehicle …
a young boy cuddling up with mom …
and another young boy walking away with his trophy – a warthog’s head!
This time we met a lesser-known feline – the small but lovely Serval cat. It is very shy and hard to spot. So getting to spend a morning with this beauty was truly special.
We had multiple encounters with Cheetahs, some strolling along …
and this one losing his prey to a hyena!
We were also fortunate to meet the now famous, but still elusive leopards. The Kaboso female or Pretty Girl as she’s been named …
Figlet posing regally on a tree – whom we first met as a playful newborn cub, now grown to adulthood and new motherhood …
… and on our last two game drives of the trip, we were granted an audience with her mother, Queen Fig! She spent a few wary moments toying with a lion kill, aware that they were very close by.
Then she decided the meal was not worth the risk and chose instead to rest high up in the branches, choosing to watch out for those lions as well as keep her eyes on us!
After 8 glorious days, as usual with regret, we left the Kenyan bush for the trappings of civilization.
We spent a day spent in Nairobi awaiting the results of our Covid19 tests. That morning we awoke to a very different view from our balcony – a noisy cityscape. Yet this hoarding caught our eyes and seemed to speak of our feelings! Kenya, her people and her wilderness do offer triple distilled beauty and twice the character of anywhere else on the planet!
We hope you have enjoyed this safari with us and are enthused enough to dream and plan a trip of your own. Indeed, with the exchange rates as well as the “special offers”, you could not pick a better year to come visit. Before we bid adieu, we have a request to make. Kenya is a country whose economy runs primarily on tourism. Every tourist cent makes a difference to preserving its wilderness for generations to come – or eating today. Without visitors, the latter choice comes at a direct cost to the former. To help alleviate this issue at least until the world returns to some semblance of normalcy, concerned organisations have got together and created the Adopt-an-Acre scheme. Please read about it here. For as little as 35 US$ an year, you would be doing a huge bit to conserving the land and the wonderful flora and fauna. Please do consider doing this even if you cannot yet take your dream holiday here. But, if you are ready to travel, go to Kenya. We assure you that it is probably much safer than any city or village that you live in! We had made the same appeal a while ago – before our trip. You can read the story here. If you need further proof that this land is worth saving for future generations, please browse through our account of our earlier trip here.
Thank-you for being a part of our holiday! Kwaheri!