After our time in Nairobi, we took a (very) small plane to our next destination, which was the one that I was most looking forward to– the Maasai Mara National Reserve!
The moment I stepped off the plane upon arriving to the Mara, I was in awe. The vastness of the open space and the vegetation around me made it feel like I was transported to another planet. Several open air jeeps were parked to the side, from various lodges in the area to pick up their respective guests. Our guide from the lodge that we had booked with, Saruni Mara, came to greet us and took us to the jeep that awaited us. He introduced himself as Tinka, and told us that our safari would officially began at that point because even during our drive to the lodge, we would be seeing a ton of wildlife. We were super excited as our jeep started cruising away from the tiny airport.
Our first wildlife sighting included a tower of giraffes, and we were completely mesmerized by our proximity to these beautiful, giant animals in their own habitats. I mean, we’ve gotten close to giraffes before, but to see them freely living in their own habitat is a totally different thing! We then saw zebras, gazelles, and even warthogs (also affectionately known as Kenya Express because their tails shoot up like a flag when they run).
Like the Galapagos, there are truly no words to effectively describe the feeling of being so deeply immersed into God’s creations. As I stared out into the vastness of the Mara in front of me, I almost wanted to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t living in a dream.
The most exciting moment came when Tinka suddenly slowed our jeep down, and quietly told us that there was a lion right behind the bushes in front of us. We were excited, scared, and apprehensive at the same time. All we knew to do was to stay as quiet as possible, for the lion was literally less than 10 ft away from our jeep!
We watched the lion from our jeep for almost 30 minutes, and I nearly stopped breathing for fear that the lion would see us as his next prey. When we finally drove off, continuing our way to the lodge, Tinka reassured us that the animals out in the wild have no interest in attacking or eating humans, because their food supply in the wild is plentiful. Lions would much prefer their meals to be zebras and gazelles, rather than us! They would only attack if they felt that their babies were threatened in some way. This was very reassuring to hear, as prior to this trip, I had worried about our safety at night sleeping in tents amongst the wild animals.
Our arrival to the lodge couldn’t have been more welcoming. The Saruni team waved and greeted us warmly as we stepped off the jeep. Welcome drinks, amazing views, and delicious snacks awaited us in the main lodge. I tried to take it all in, but was truly overwhelmed with joy for such an unparalleled experience that we were blessed with.
Tourism was still nowhere near back to normal yet at the time, so our family had the entire lodge to ourselves for the first few days. To say the staff was very attentive to us was definitely an understatement! We stayed in a 2 bedroom family lodge, which was spacious and comfy for our group of 6, and we loved that our expansive balcony put us right by the wild animals! We would see zebras right outside our door, catch a glimpse of warthogs as we showered, and hear the stampede of buffalos charging through at night. It was all incredibly exciting and we always looked forward to the next animal we’d come across.
Meals were eaten in the main lodge, and the food was superb! The owner of the lodge is Italian, so there were a lot of pasta options on the menu, which we all loved. The cuisine was a mix of international dishes, satisfying all our different palettes. The GM, Cecilia, sat down with us for our first lunch at the lodge shortly after our arrival, and shared her life story with us which we found to be so inspiring! Growing up in a poor village in the Mara, she was destined to be an uneducated woman who would spend her days caring for her family and building houses made of cow dung just like previous generations. However, upon a chance encounter with a British tourist who saw the potential in her tenacity and dreams, Cecilia received an education that eventually led her to opportunities in the hospitality and tourism industry. With a mix of luck and hard work, she eventually moved up the ladder and became the GM that she is today, inspiring many young women behind her to pursue their own dreams.
The weather in the Mara reminded us of home in California. Temperatures were in the low-mid 70’s F with warm sunshine during the day, dropping to around the 50’s F in the mornings and evening. Because our lodge is partially a tent as well, it was not insulated and there was also no heating system in the wild, so we’d always get back at night feeling cold. The staff has thought of everything to ensure we had a comfortable stay though, and we were completely blown away that first night when we got in our beds and discovered hot water bags underneath the covers! It literally was the most thoughtful touch we’ve ever experienced on our travels.
Tinka remained our guide for our entire stay, and each morning after breakfast, he’d meet us at the jeep ready to embark on a day of adventures. Even though we saw a lot of the same animals day after day, we never got tired of it. It truly is the most humbling experience to be amongst these animals in the wild, observing their behaviors and witnessing things most people only get to see on tv.
More on our unbelievable time in the Mara in the next post, as there’s just too much to cover in one post!