Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Masai Mara – Africa’s Ultimate Wildlife Destination



 The anticipation is building, my bags are packed, stacked next to the door and as I pack them into the boot of the car I can feel the slight tension building – those hesitant little butterflies start flitting and my palms are slightly damp. I hit the road north, its a long journey from Rorke’s Drift to the Masai Mara and has several stops along the way. First stop Pretoria and one more sleep, then to the infamous O R Tambo where a shock awaits! Flight Cancelled is blazoned above the check in counter. However, as all worldly travellers must do, you simply stand in line and wait. Then the news, bumped onto another flight so a long wait ensues in the hallowed halls of O R Tambo. Many cups of cuppacino later and I am sitting on a Kenya Airways flight heading for Nairobi. At Nairobi the hot air hits as I alight from the plane. Of course, none of the modern conveniences are really working and so I have to carry/drag my increasingly heavy camera gear behind me. Through customs and then, thankfully, some familiar faces. Isak Pretorius and Shem Compion of C4 Images are there to meet us. Introductions to the rest of the group and we are all unceremoniously bundled into two taxis to transfer to the very comfortable Serena Hotel for a good night’s sleep. Dinner is arranged at a local restaurant. The next morning early we head for Wilson Airport and the flight to the Mara. Luckily no big problems with luggage weights as C4 Images has thoughtfully organised a dedicated road transfer for our luggage bags. Cameras are safely stowed along with us.


 As we take off and hit the air we can immediately see the lines of wildebeest dotting the landscape. The aerial view affords one a unique perspective of a massive ant colony moving ever forward. I spend almost the whole time on the plane staring transfixed through the window at this awe inspiring spectacle.  The plane dips onto a dusty airstrip, we recover our camera bags and are greeted by our driver/guides resplendent in their Masai traditional dress. A contradiction within itself, tartan like fabrics draped in a Romanesque fashion. The mind boggles. We are whisked away in our game drive vehicles to our camp, Entim, tucked inamongst some bushes on the banks of the Mara River, in time for a quick lunch. Preparations ensue to get camera gear ready for our first foray onto the plains of the Mara.

 
As we drive out of the Camp no amount of information has prepared me for the spectacle I am about to witness. As we are there to see the greatest migration of animals in the world the first priority is a river crossing. But on the way one stumbles over other animals and the shutters start their furious symphony.

 
On our first drive we saw more wildebeest than we could count, a tawny eagle perched deliciously close for a shot or two, a lonely elephant on the horizon and while taking this shot the realisation hits that the light and contrasts in colour make a magical combination to produce photographs that you will never get anywhere else in the world. Next in line is a cheetah whose soft creamy colours compliment the golden shades in the grass followed in quick succession by two sub adult lions perched atop a termite mound surveying the land. Then the light starts fading fast and we catch a breathtaking chocolate box sunset that only the Mara can produce. This short drive sets the scene for the next six manic days where we race from pillar to post chasing the next sighting. It all happens in such quick succession so that not a day goes past without the frenzied downloading of flashcards being a constant après safari occupation. In camp the single source of power is overloaded with chargers and laptops and soon the lounge becomes the meeting place where we all compare notes and socialise incessantly. Rest and relaxation is not on the agenda. 

 
It is an almost surreal situation. Far removed from any form of civilisation you can immerse yourself in the task at hand, lose yourself in the moment and simply be absorbed into the landscape of Africa. Food becomes an insignificant irritant and sleep however interrupted fades into ignonimity as an essential life support. The anticipation each day of something new to see, something exceptional to photograph takes over all thoughts and one becomes obsessive in thought and deed.


There are too many photographs to post so here is a small selection. They need no descriptions to enhance their enjoyment. You are invited to feast your eyes, hopefully enjoy what you see and proactively further the causes to preserve each and every inch of Africa’s wilderness so that your children, your grandchildren and your grandchildren's children will be able to enjoy what is the essence of Africa.





Every day on the Mara proved to be better than the one before. We got to see four river crossings where the manic behaviour of the wildebeest was a thing of beauty to behold. The photographic opportunities just went on and on. Predators were having a field day and they were well fed and fat. The light each day seemed to be better than the previous day. We could stay out in the rain and still get shots. We were never bored.



This is one destination that I can fully understand becomes addictive. It is also a destination that should be on everyone’s bucket list to do before they die. Never mind 1000 things to do before you die. JUST VISIT THE MARA! 


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