Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Breakfast With The Hippos

Breakfast with Hippos

Masai Mara, June 15 2009

I fully intend including more posts from Rwanda including my whole gorillas in the mist experience but right now, sitting on a terrace above the Rift valley in the Masai Mara Preserve in Kenya, my mind is on nothing but what I’m experiencing now.

Arrived in Nairobi from Addis on Sunday morning. Met by a driver, David, from Nigel Archer Safaris and taken to our guesthouse in the Lancata/Karen (Karen Blixen, Out of Africa) suburbs. Immediate impressions of Nairobi were of infra structure in place, rows of shabby, English style council houses interspersed with tin roofed shantytowns and then the suburbs. Narrow, hedge lined, winding lanes. Massive walled estates, a very British order to everything. We passed the sanctuary for the endangered Reticulated Giraffes (will visit next week) and then through the gates to Maclusha – our guesthouse. Gorgeous, former private home built in the sprawling African style of a country house. Dark, polished wood floors, arched wooden ceilings, woven rugs, and the right amount of African artifacts – nothing overdone except for the service, which was extraordinary. Long lunch by the pool, followed by a trip to Nakomat, Africa’s answer to Target! Since there isn’t one in Addis, Ben was anxious to make a trip and stock up on essentials that included a pepper grinder – seemingly non existent in Ethiopia. A monsoon like rain and an early dinner completed a perfect day.

Tea in bed at 6:30 a.m.; full English breakfast and then to Wilson Airfield for our Air Kenya flight into the Masai Mara. Airfield reminded me of the R.A.F. stations of my youth. We boarded a Dash7 40 or so seater for our initial 40-minute flight. Took off over the Nairobi Game park and out over the Rift valley. Miles of nothing! A somewhat alarming touch down on a dirt strip and a hauling of bags from the aircraft hold and clamber onto a 15-seater “shuttle” flight. Masai in red plaid waved us off. 15 minutes later we touched (bumped) down onto the dirt Serena airfield – appeared to be staffed by water buffalo and a three elephants that wandered off as we landed. A very short open Land Rover drive brought us to our “bubble” (when we told the owner of Maclusha that we were staying at a Serena hotel rather than a tent camp – given a 21 month old child it was the only option- she had commented that Masai Mara Serena was a “bubble” - a hotel in the middle of the preserve. Maybe - but it is exceptionally well done and given the rigors of living in Addis, a luxurious “bubble” suites us just fine! Situated on a ridgeline in the trees it is totally invisible and blended into the surrounds. The only thing that stands out is one very tall artificial tree that hides the communication masts.

The hotel uses round Masai huts as inspiration and is tasteful, restrained and elegant. Simple rooms hug each side of the ridgeline with stone walkways between. Emergency buttons are located every 25 feet urging you to press if wild animals are present in the vicinity! Haven’t met anything on the paths but a baboon was insistent in trying to get into my room through the sliding doors. I look out over the valley onto the Masai Mara River – baboons, giraffe, impala, Masai ostrich and water buffalo all visible from my chair by the floor to ceiling window.
We are assigned a driver and Land Rover for our stay and at 4 p.m. yesterday took our first safari drive. This is Africa! Up close and personal doesn’t begin to describe the thrill of being within 5 foot of an enormous wild animal…make that animals. Within minutes we were surrounded by impala, water buffalo (the most dangerous animal in the preserve), topi, waterbucks, bushbucks, Coke’s Wildebeests. And then came the elephants, huge, majestic and so close. A young male trumpeted at us and Maxine (21 months) clapped her hands in delight. I did the same! We watched two cheetah’s contemplating supper and then the prize of the day – the sighting of a lion’s tail waving above the grass and a slow creep up onto three adult females and three cubs taking a pre-dinner nap! I cannot begin to describe the thrill of being so close to such magnificent creatures. Spotted hyenas, saddle backed storks and crested cranes rounded out the drive we headed back up the hill to our bubble as dusk was falling and night sounds began to break the silence.

Meals here are a tour de force … first class doesn’t begin to describe the variety and preparation. We sat in the open lobby with a fire blazing on the patio and were entertained by a young Kenyan in colorful outfit as he played the guitar and sang lullabies to Maxine, which he personalized with her name. She was entranced. Around us we could hear French, German and Japanese being spoken as the Kenyan staff, well trained in hospitality, anticipated every need.

Woken by sunrise we drank coffee before meeting up again with Julius, our driver, for an early morning safari drive. Our first “find” of the morning was a solitary giraffe quickly followed by two families of elephants, tiny chaco (fox like) and another cheetah. We spent some time in search of a leopard but it proved much too smart to allow itself to be seen. “Hippos?” asked Julius. And did we get hippos! We pulled into a clearing by the river where a solitary Masai was standing. “Follow the Masai” we were instructed. We wound through a narrow path between trees to be greeted by a Serena staff person holding a basket of hot scented towels – ah, more than hippos, we began to think. Round the next bush a glass of champagne was proffered and further through the trees to the river we came across a table set for breakfast. Bush breakfast with the hippos. So on the bank of the river whilst hippos snorted and crocs snoozed, we had freshly made omelets, crepes – you name it. Highlight for me as sighting a Fish Eagle catch a fish and realizing that the extra bulge next to a hippos head was an infant hippo – three weeks old I was told.
Think I’ll take a nap before lunch.

Tour arranged by Nigel Archer Safaris out of Nairobi. Two nights at the Maclusha Guesthouse (beginning and end of trip) 3 nights at the Masai Mara Serena Hotel, flights between Nairobi and the Masai Mara, driver, two safaris a day and all meals cost around $1,000.00 a person.

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