Packing & safari etiquette? Insider tips on Masai Mara-the wild residence of the big 5
To begin with:
Kenya Airways takes you on a direct flight from Mumbai to Nairobi, and from Nairobi Wilson to Keekorok airstrip in Masai Mara in about 10 hours of time.
For all those who are scared about flying on a small aircraft (dash 7 /twin otter) this was a 48 seater (very safe and not bumpy as I had imagined) hopping from one airstrip to the other in Mara. Luckily this one had a bathroom on board.
It is like a small little waiting room.
Check in is with long hand outs given in place of boarding cards which have to be returned back on boarding the aircraft.
Food is very expensive with no choices at all at the airport.
Two security people walk on the airstrip shooing the animals away.
There is no security, no weighing bags and no boarding cards. If your name is on the list with the air hostess / purser, you fly.
You just walk out of your jeep with your bag in hand and walk towards the aircraft.
I wonder whether the locals feel the tourists to be so trustworthy and honest or are we paranoid living in a world full of guns?
What to pack ? Its an identical list for a man & a lady.
1. Two pairs of cotton khaki brown and /or khakhi green colour long pants and long sleeve shirts for day wear (earthy colours) Or
2. Two pairs of jeans and long sleeve
3. A fleece jacket/ hoodie for early morning game drive
4. Sneakers & socks
5. 1 pair of Shorts
6. 2 pairs of tracks as a sleep wear/comfort wear
7. A smart denim jacket / quilted windbreaker jacket
8. Evening smart casual cotton two full sleeve shirts /t shirts with a pair of one /leggings/bottoms/jeans
9. Slip on leather shoes
11. Pair of good binoculars
12. Safari Hat 13. Scarf / muffler as dust cover on a game drive.
14. Great camera, extra battery, extra disk to capture unforgettable sights
15. Covered zip bag to carry your belongings 16. Medicines, especially an anti allergy tablet and your everyday tablets too
17. Toiletries including sun block and a torch.
18. Swim suit & thermals (optional)
19. Inner wear
DO NOT ...
Carry plastic bags. There is a heavy fine if found on you. Wear bling, Suede or leathers in an outfit. Wear bright coloured clothes. Wear black, dark blue, charcoal grey colours.( because tsetse fly is attracted to these colours)
Wear thin or flimsy clothes (to avoid tse tse fly bites) Wear high heels of any kind or leather boots. Wear Jewellery or heavy makeup. It does not go with the setup and cakes will form by dust sitting on your foundation.
Carry leather handbags/briefcase Carry Hard luggage. It is not allowed on small air crafts.
Most important info that everyone should read about:
A- The Wildebeest
We around the world believe that the best time to go to Kenya is in July/August during the time of wildebeest migration.
What I would like to share is that, the wildebeest are in Kenya through out the year and in great numbers. In fact the months of January and February are as good to see animals as now.
Only difference is that the wildebeest in huge numbers cross the river to go to the other side of Mara-called the Greater Mara during the months of July –August. But in any case, you cannot see the wildebeest actually jumping into the river because the vehicles are not allowed too close to the river and we are not allowed to get out of the vehicle!
So all those who are planning to go only from migration point of view,
I hope the above info helps!
B- The five Cheetah brothers - the highlight of our trip !
Something unheard of and unseen any place else in the world.
These are the five cheetahs that move around in the lands of Masai Mara.
They hunt together, eat together and even sleep together.
Cheetahs as such are solitary animals who hunt and live by their own rule book.
We had the good luck of seeing them 3 times in 4 days.
Some useful info before you go:
· Yellow fever vaccine and polio shot to be taken within a span of 24 hours or after a gap of 28 days between them.
· “Lodges” is a misunderstood word in India. These are 4/5 star properties right in the middle of the reserves/parks.
· Many or rather most of the top lodges in Mara are owned by Indians.
· You cannot move out of your property at any given time so choose the property well.
· No TVs or music in the rooms. So you are completely in sync with nature.
· Do not get shocked if your bedrooms have no locks. Ours didn’t.
· WiFi connection is such were whats app messaging is possible but not calling. (Do check. Maybe it was just at our lodge)
· Plenty of vegetarian options in food. It just might not be to your taste.
· Alcohol is very cheap. A bottle of beer and water is the same price.
· Most lodges have laundry services at a very affordable rate and not the five star hotel rates.
· Very humble and very helpful Masai tribe and people.
· Carry cash in USD currency. You get better rates than in India for Kenyan shillings even at the lodges.
· Forex cards are of no use except payments at lodges if any. There are no stores, banks or ATMs in the reserves of Mara.
· No Tse Tse fly found in the lodge or even on the game drive in Mara in the month of August.(I was dreading the part)
· People with bad back and neck injuries should definitely not opt for the safari rides. Enthusiastic guide/ driver is a must.
· Do not try to cut cost by sharing your vehicle. What you want to see and wait for may be completely different from what the others want.
· This safari is not for small children under the age of 10. Unlike the zoo, animal sighting is for people with lot of patience and interest. Children tend to be impatient. Also here silence is important and bathroom is not an option on the safari.
·Hot air balloon is something that people go for. It is not as fantastic as is in other places in the world I feel.
·Trip to Mara village is how the locals live together (surviving on blood and cow meat) and not about local stores or wares to see or shop.
Silence is golden. Do not talk loudly.
Do not ask others for binoculars unless he is your guide.
Do not eat on game drive.
Do not tell your driver to go off the road for a picture shoot.
Do not climb on seats with shoes on for a view.
Do not litter or throw food out of the window.
Do not lure animals or tease them. They seem tame but are really wild.
Do not try to get out of the car. You do not know who is hiding behind you.
Do tip the driver at the end of the trip and write a review if possible.
Who are the Big 5 that we go all the way to see? Leopard
All of the above are easily spotted and you come back home feeling like a cat who has just lapped up the cream!
You will see the Ugly 5 too.
Wildebeest - really a dumb one
Vulture - scavenger like a hawk
Hyena - even cheetahs get scared of them
Warthog - silly one running with a tail up
Marabou stork – the one who shits on its legs
A must –see place for animal lovers everywhere in the world.
Now that I have visited , I realized that I should have put it at number one on my bucket list of places to see. Even though it is one of the many expansive places in the world, it is worth every penny you spend out there amidst the untouched, wild yet serene surroundings reminding you of Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest” that I witnessed first hand.
God willing, I will go again!!