Brrraap Brrraap Brrraap! The familiar sound of my alarm function woke me at the ungodly hour of 6:00am. I found myself in a basic hotel room at the Hotel Boulevard in Nairobi, Kenya. Today was the day I’d been waiting nearly 14months for. Today I would be commencing my 38-day tour with Nomad Adventure Tours from Nairobi, Kenya into Uganda and back, then all the way down to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The next 14 days I was to be on the Nomad Adventure Tours Masai Mara and Gorillas Tour where I would get to travel into Kenya’s famous Masai Mara National Park and track the mountain gorillas in Uganda!
After breakfast, I walked over to the easily recognizable Nomad truck, emblazoned with the name “Junior” on the side, and saw a familiar face as I turned the corner. Sandile, my driver from my Cape Town to Victoria Falls overlanding tour with Nomad Adventure Tours in May 2012, stood there ready to help me with my bags. I put my 85L backpack in the overhead storage area, and made my way back off the truck eager to meet some of my fellow tour goers.
I was shortly joined by 3 Aussies, 3 Germans, 2 Belgians, 2 Danish, 1 Portuguese, 1 Swedish, 1 Czech, and 1 Norwegian. These would be my Nomad Adventure Tours family members for the following 14 days as we visited the Masai Mara and trekked through the Ugandan rainforest in search of the elusive and endangered mountain gorillas.
We split ourselves into smaller groups of 5 or 6 and loaded ourselves into 3 4×4 mini-busses that we would be taking to the Masai Mara for the next day and a half. Before long, we were on the dusty traffic-filled roads en route to our first pit stop- a lookout over the Great Rift Valley.
I walked to the fence on the edge of the lookout and was absolutely astonished at the vast expanse below. It went on forever- until it faded into the blue sky on the horizon. After dealing with a few souvenir sales people – and insisting that “NO I did not want to buy the ashtray that he had hand-carved displaying a map of the valley”, it was back into the 4×4 until we reached the Lena Community Curio Shop, roughly 2.5hrs from the Masai Mara. Here we had the opportunity to have a toilet stop and lunch. It was also the first opportunity to get to know my fellow tour-goers.
After the quick sandwich lunch, we were back on the road for the remaining 2.5 hours before we hit the traditional Maasai Village where we were going to be given a performance and cultural tour. The roads to the village were absolutely horrendous. We bounced and bobbed along the rough gravel roads – dust being spewed in our faces through the open windows as vehicles zipped by us. I had experienced this famous “African Massage” during the week I spent travelling through Namibia in 2012, but nothing truly prepares your body for the attack. Thank god for seatbelts.
As we pulled over off the dusty gravel road, we were greeted by a group of about 12 Masai men, all dressed in their traditional red and purple robes. This was about the time when we noticed that we were missing one of the 4x4s. We waited for about 15minutes, and then found out the news that not too far from where we were, the third vehicle had lost a tire. Apparently it had fallen right off! Without another word, the driver from Kenia Tours jumped in the vehicle I had been in – and sped off in the direction we had just come from. A few people were unnerved with the fact that they simply took off –with many of our belongings still in the truck, but once they safely returned with the other Nomad guests, everyone felt a lot better.
The Masai people are a herding tribe, who live in small, close-knit communities. The Masai men then treated the Nomad Adventure Tours group to a wonderful performance. They explained to us that they performed these dances and jumping competitions to both attract females from the village as well as to see who would have the first pick of a wife. They taught us about many of the traditions that remain amongst the tribe – such as both female and male circumcision, and the male circumcision ritual includes groups of boys heading out into the wild – to an area where animals are not protected – and this is where they are to spear a lion. (Cue angry Mel.) The boy who spears the lion gets to keep the mane and skin of the lion’s head and gets the ultimate respect amongst the tribe, as well as the first pick of a wife. Once inside the village – a circular area fenced off by a high wall of tree branches and sticks – this is where they keep the adult cattle, sheep and goats at night to avoid them being killed by various predators in the area – such a lions, leopards and hyenas. Scattered on the inside perimeter are many houses, made by the females of the village out of sticks and cow dung – which apparently last 9 years before needing to be rebuilt, and the cow dung provides the house with waterproofing.
After chatting, purchasing some jewelry, and watching a performance by the women of the tribe, we continued on into the Masai Mara National Park for an evening game drive. As we entered the park, I immediately felt back at home. Game drives are my absolute favorite thing to do in Africa – it’s amazing to get to drive around and witness so many beautiful animals in their natural habitat. We immediately drove by herds of zebra, various antelope, and a few wildebeest.
Without warning, Peter – our driver from Kenia Tours- stepped on the gas. We bounded along the uneven terrain and soon joined a group of about 20 safari trucks and 4×4 minibuses. To our left, perched on a clearing in the long grass, lay a majestic male lion – surveying his kingdom. After snapping a few photos and trying to get a decent viewing position amongst the vehicles, Peter asked if we would like to see lion cubs. He had heard over the radio that a few minutes away was a pride with many cubs and two kills.
We sped off, and as we turned a corner, we witnessed no less than 10 lion cubs, many of whom were scattered about, sleeping, but a few were feasting on two dead wildebeest. A larger lioness lay asleep on a hill overlooking the area where the 10month old cubs slept in their food comas. The pungent smell of decay and animal stomach contents, a familiar one from my days of cleaning up enclosures while being a lion conservation volunteer, wafted in our direction with the breeze. Many of the Nomad Adventure Tour guests in my 4×4 minibus were gagging as their cameras clicked away.
Once we were happy with the number of photographs we had, and finished reveling in watching the cubs enjoy their feast, we decided to turn back towards the main gate – as the park has a strict policy of closing the gates at 7pm, anyone after that will incur a fine. Seeing as it was 6:45pm, we had a good drive ahead of us to make it to the gate on time. As we rounded the corner where we had seen the male lion, we noticed a male and female lion lounging 5 feet away from the road – seemingly relishing in the attention they were getting from the cluster of vehicles parked all around them. For the next fifteen minutes we snapped away as the male lion posed in perfect regal form.
Realizing that we were now pushing the limits of closing time, Peter sped off in the direction of the main gate. We made one more fantastic animal sighting – a small herd of female elephants with babies – some very small, likely only a few months old. We eventually did make it to the main gate- about twenty minutes past closing time. Thankfully Peter was able to talk the guard out of fining us.
We proceeded on to camp – which was now fully enveloped in the blackness of night. The solo travellers were instructed to buddy up, so I joined forces with Lisa – an Aussie girl whom I had been chatting with the entire day – and we settled into our permanent tent – setting it up with a lit mosquito coil to rid us of any potentially-malaria infested pests. We were called to dinner at 8:30pm, where Nyika – our lead Nomad Adventure Tours guide- had prepared a delicious chicken stew with rice. After filling our bellies, many tour goers retired to their tents for the evening. Lisa and I grabbed ourselves a cup of tea and made ourselves comfortable at the fire until we realized it was far too late for our 5:30am wakeup time.
It was an exciting, action-packed day, complete with multiple lion sightings –my personal highlight– and it was only the first day of my Nomad Adventure Tours East African Adventure.
Click HERE to read the next chapter of my adventure on my Masai Mara & Gorillas Tour with Nomad Adventure Tours.
**DISCLAIMER: While Nomad Adventure Tours asked me to partake in this tour and did provide me with a discounted tour price, all expressed thoughts, opinions and experiences remain my own.**
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