“I think I’m going to Africa,” my younger sister declared to me a year ago. “Well wait, I wanna go to Africa too!” was my whiny big sister response. And that’s how it started. I turned to Chris with my eyebrows raised and he shrugged, “sure, go!” A week or two later it was confirmed. It’s been years since I traveled just to travel and I knew this trip would feed my soul. And Kenya did just that.
I’ll spare you the details of our major delay in getting to Nairobi. Let’s just say that door to door it took us 62 hours with 24 of those unexpected hours being in Istanbul. The four of us (my sister and two girlfriends) powered through lots of frustration and little sleep. We landed in Kenya at 4:30am and by 7:00am we were in our safari 4 runner, on our way to Masai Mara National Reserve. Many people fly from Nairobi to the Mara but we chose to drive for two reasons. 1) price! 2) to see more of Kenya. You get to see a lot on the 7 hour drive; I’m so glad we got a thorough introduction to such a gorgeous country.
We booked a 5 day safari, planned for 3 nights in Maasai Mara and 1 night in Lake Nakuru, about a 6 hour drive from the Mara. Even though some of this was cut into due to our delay, it still felt like a good amount of time. Our days were long and it felt full.
We definitely saw the most wildlife in the Mara. Game drives were typically in the early morning (out before 6:30am) and in the evening. And on the way to wherever else you might be going. There are literally animals everywhere, just like you would imagine. Our guide, Sammy, who we fell in love with of course, would laugh every time we wanted to stop and take pictures of the giraffes. Like really, they’re everywhere, get over it ladies.
Our accommodations were more than comfortable. A luxury tented camp in the Mara and a room with a view in Lake Nakuru. And the food – amazing. Fresh vegetables and meat and sometimes with a little Indian-flair. But it was all about the people. The staff at the resorts were so special. We didn’t stay long but it was long enough to exchange life stories and promises to stay in touch. The people made us feel so comfortable. I remember saying to my sister on only the 2nd night: “I can’t believe I haven’t been here before. It feels so familiar and easy.”
All the Animals
Lions were at the top of all of our lists of must-see animals. Funny, we’re all Leos, go figure. I knew that if I saw a Lion up close, I would be content. On our first game drive, we came across a couple of lions in the first 20 minutes. I was more than content. Blown away by just the air about them, so regal and majestic. It was so moving. We saw a total of 7 lions on our drives and each time it was breathtaking. We even caught two “in action” if you know what I mean. I caught it on tape, pretty incredible!
Other highlights included the elephants (especially the babies), giraffes, the elusive rhinos and rare-to-spot cheetahs. Anything baby was adorable, even the hyenas. I loved the zebras too, their perfectly painted bodies were so gorgeous. We saw a million water buffalo, impalas and thompsons. The monkeys in the Lake Nakuru area were pretty cute too.
There was one close call with a herd of elephants. We were driving through close quarters where one apparently had been separated from the others. Right as we were passing, Sammy told us to beware of warning signs that they might charge. The wiggling of the ears (we saw it), the stomping of the feet (we saw it) and then the LOUD as hell trumpeting, which we heard just as we pulled through. Later Sammy admitted he was “scared to death!!!” at that moment. We were laughing about it but it was pretty crazy. A 4 ton animal could do some damage…
The safari was everything I hoped it would be. I felt at peace, surrounded by such natural beauty and LIFE. I was present, I was curious, I was so content just being there.
Maasai Tribe: Initially disgusted
Beyond the animals, the most impactful part of our safari was the visit to the Maasai tribe. This was something we all really looked forward to, and prepared for. We brought water filtration kits and art supplies for the kids, even though we weren’t sure what their needs were, if any.
We pulled up and quickly noticed that we weren’t the only group to be visiting that day. There was another large group of about 20 people from Spain, and they were loud, annoying and in my opinion, disrespectful. The tribe greeted us with a traditional welcome song and dance and it immediately struck me to be a moment to respectfully put the camera down and just BE there with them. By the fourth time members of the other group had Interrupted the dance by standing in the middle and taking selfies, I lost it.
I was most affected by the fact that the tribe members didn’t seem to mind. Like they were used to this kind of obnoxious display by westerners. This is who we are to them? I was disgusted. So I cried. A lot. Everything felt wrong. I was hoping for some meaningful interaction and all of a sudden I felt silly. Like how selfish. I had watched a documentary on the Masai people and was super intrigued and excited to meet them and learn more. But here we were, another group of tourists, only here for the selfies.
The Maasai People
To their credit, they figured out pretty quickly that we were different. We took our time, got to know them and had some pretty special interactions. The warriors are boys in their late teens, early 20s, not yet MEN. They were who brought us around, showing us the traditional homes and teaching us about their daily routines. I was surprised by their English and sense of humor as well. One of them playfully said that he wanted to marry me, asking what my dowry was. He kept coming around with a sweet smile, part innocent, part flirtatious in his own way. I joked that I was much too old for him. When he asked, I started to tell him that I was 30-… (didn’t get to finish before his friends playfully laughed). He was 23. He joked “Ok, ok, I am 30 and you are 23. See, ok?”
Song and dance are an integral part or their culture. The women asked us to dance with them as they sang a traditional lullaby. The warriors demonstrated their jumping dance, taking turns, looking very serious and like they’re having fun at the same time. THey’ve been practicing this skill since they were young boys. Our warrior guide said that if the boys jump high enough, their families may not have to pay the dowry for a wife.
The Maasai women spend most of their days making jewelry, their beadwork is beautiful and everyone is adorned in it.
Water Filter Surprise
In planning our trip, we had been looking for various ways to volunteer or “give back” and weren’t having much luck, though you would think it would be easy! So I jumped at the opportunity to coordinate bringing these emergency water filter systems from Water Works. Still, we weren’t sure how they would connect: would we find the right people who actually needed them? How many should we bring? Did most people have access to clean water by now so they wouldn’t need something like this? Would we find an area remote enough? Would people even find them useful?
All questions were answered and it was an incredible experience giving the gift of these filters. The Maasai village, who sees tourists daily, had “never seen such a thing.” Sammy told us hours after our visit in the car that we had “blessed their lives, blessed their hearts” with such a thoughtful, useful gift. “How did you think of something like that?” he asked. Then he told us to make sure to tell our friends to come visit and to bring some with them. And next time we come, forget the boxes and bring many more. 😉
The Kids and Tears
And the kids….oh man, the kids. I’m convinced kids in Kenya are the cutest freaking kids in the world. Their perfect round little faces, white smiles, enthusiastic screams when they see you – they are beyond lovable!
We brought some art supplies with us to the village. I highly recommend doing this if you are traveling to Kenya and will be visiting a tribe or kids anywhere. When we walked in with our “gifts” all the kids came running over and sat themselves in a little receiving line. Happily sitting in dirt and cow dung, with dirty ripped clothes and bare feet, they were the cutest. And we immediately wished we brought another 10 suitcases of clothes and things for these people.
The perspective gained in our 3 hour visit was monumental. Are our problems really problems? These people live on wood slats, 6 people to a tiny room. They don’t have clean water or privacy to take a shower or go to the bathroom. And yet they are content. So why do we “need” so much to be happy? It really shouldn’t be that complicated. It’s simple for them. The crayons and tiny coloring books brought joy to their day in a way that we didn’t expect. And we were blessed to be a part of that.
When we left, all four of us were in tears. No one talked for 3 or 4 hours. I only hope they know what an impact they made on our lives. I wish I could share more, I hope to have a video edited at some point. Or just go and see for yourself! Yes, go to Kenya. Maybe I’ll come with you!