Entim Camp & Maasai Mara
Up early for a 7:00 am breakfast with David Lloyd and the other 4 members of our group. V and I had had gone for an early dinner the evening before and an early bed so we were in relatively good shape but the other 4 guys in our group had hijacked David in the bar and had made a night of it. Needless to say V and I were in much better nick than the others.
Flying a small chartered plane from Nairobi to a landing strip in the Maasai Mara where we were to be met by our cars for the 1 hour drive to our Entim Camp, our home for the next 7 days. Luggage restrictions very tight on the flight, 15k, so a Land Rover left our hotel at 8:00 am with everyone's luggage for the 9 hour drive to the camp, allowing us to carry only minimal luggage, essentially what we require for our first game drive at 4, since the luggage car will not have arrived by then.
Relatively easy flight for a small plane which is always going to be bumpy, of about 90 minutes in duration. After the previous night's partying there were one or two souls who were trying to be nonchalant about it but not easy when your complexion is the colour of the springtime landscape. Bumped and banged our way cross-country to the camp in one of our camp's Toyota Land Cruisers, our new reality for the next week, and I'm sore already. Small camp, only 10 guest tents and a larger main dining and lounge tent, all looking out over the Mara River. Nothing like our over-the-top accommodations of Tswalu or Rattray's in South Africa, but then neither is the cost.
Off at 4 on our first drive and we have come a working accommodation on the cars; there are six of us, three of whom are serious photographers and three interested and keen but less experienced, and there are 2 cars with three benches in each, so each photographer has a bench to him/herself which allows for unobstructed shooting on both sides of the vehicle. The three less experienced naturally gravitated to the car with David in the jump seat and three of us more serious to the other car with our Maasai tracker/driver. Feels as if this is a good working arrangement and will probably stay this way for the rest of the week.
There are a couple of lion prides with cubs in the area as well as a leopard with a cub in addition to all the usual run of antelopes, giraffes, zebras etc. Lions and leopard will definitely be at the centre of our activities and anything else we pick up will be a bonus. Came across a wonderful tableau in the early stage of our drive, a carcass of a cape buffalo guarded by a young male lion. He was in the open about 25 metres from a belt of trees and was being threatened by a pack of hyenas who wanted the carcass and beyond the hyenas a ring of jackals in it for what ever they could grab. The hyenas darted in growling and snapping with their fur standing on end but never came within more than 3 or 4 metres of the lion which surprised me very much as they certainly had the advantage of the situation and should have dealt with the lion and claimed the prize in fairly short order. Our Maasai tracker however said that the young lion was sent out by the rest of the pride to show ownership but if it came to a fight there were a number of others resting out of sight in the shade of the trees, available if required. I guess our young guy drew the short straw so there he lolled in the heat of the sun, covered in flies and looking very relaxed as the hyenas rushed and darted about him but never getting close enough to draw the rest of the pride away from their siesta. Internships are the same around the world.
As we bumped our way towards the area where the leopard was last seen the sky closed over and soon the rain began. We gave up for the day and wet and cold, slid our way home. Tomorrow is my 70'th birthday and we have arranged for a sunrise hot-air ballon ride over the Maasai Mara to celebrate, the one downside being that we need a 4:00 am wakeup call as our car will be picking us up at 4:45 for the 90 minute drive to the balloon launch site. Poured with rain all night, pounding off the canvas roof of the tent and my one abiding thought whenever I drifted up from sleep was that the flight could not go ahead and we would be allowed the luxury of sleeping until 5:30am, our game-drive wakeup time.
I was therefore less than thrilled when we heard someone outside our tent door at 4:00 telling us it was time to rise. Rain still falling and the ground slick with mud as we trudged up to the main tent and a hot cup of coffee. We were very pleased that two of our fellow photogs, the uncle A and his nephew S. of whom I spoke in my last post, had decided to join us and so the 4 of us piled into the Land Cruiser which was sealed up tightly against the continuing rain. It was a horrific drive; the rains had filled the rivers which therefore prevented us from driving across them so we churned our way in the dark over very slick and muddy tracks filled with rocks and holes, sliding at 90 degrees to the road for a good portion of the time and not able to slow down in case we became stuck in the mud. We took a longer route than usual as we had to get to the only bridge that was available for the crossing which would allow us to reach the balloon launch site. The inside of the vehicle was steamy and hot, we were continually pounded by the rough state of the track and no-one spoke for the entirety of the trip except for a continual low moan as we all called on our favourite higher powers for a safe release.
I still could not believe that we would be able to fly but as we arrived at our destination the rain let up and the clouds began to open showing the promise of a brilliant sunrise to come. There were 12 of us, 8 from other camps, in a balloon basket designed for 16 so we were our four plus a father and son who spoke no english in our half of the basket and 6 others in the other half. Beautiful sunrise and a tranquil float over the landscape. Animals difficult to see at 2 or 300 metres but we swooped down occasionally to take a quiet look at anything interesting and then rose swiftly again to see the whole of the Maasai Mara around us and on to the the Serengeti rising ahead of us. Quiet, peaceful and stunning.
Once landed we were picked up by a chase car and the 4 of us were driven by the balloon pilot to our breakfast site. Our pilot was a fascinating guy who had been a guide before he qualified to become a balloon pilot so was very knowledgable and in fact took us on a mini game drive as we chugged our way to breakfast, including 20 minutes watching a cheetah who had just made a kill. As a result we were very late getting to breakfast where the other occupants of the balloon had had a long head-start. Late as we were we got the best of it as the others had come directly and so missed seeing the cheetah as well as a martial eagle which we were also lucky enough to see.
Very pleasant breakfast, long table covered with a white tablecloth in the middle of the savannah, with a chef cooking omelettes and champagne and bloody marys being poured. One of our group of 4, S the nephew, was seated across from one of the wives of two early-60's couples from California who made up the rest of the balloon party. She was so heavily botoxed and face-lifted that she looked like an albino squirrel with cheeks full of nuts and was one of that type of person who immediately on introduction wants to share the most intimate details of their life in an indecently loud voice. In her case she claimed that the bulging roll of fat around her midriff was not in fact fat but muscle and resulted from the type of belt she was wearing. She kept telling S to "Touch it and see!". She then went on to express surprise when she learned that S and A were from India and kept asking where they had learned such good english. Finally she noisily rounded up S and A to pose for pictures because as she said she wanted to show her friends in Santa Barbara "her Indians". It was excruciatingly embarrassing but S and A behaved like troupers; they could have chosen to be on their dignity and suitably insulted but instead they were charming and gracious. A is the Managing Director of a group of companies with turnover in the hundreds of millions and is an Honorary Swedish Consul and S is an MBA from a US university who runs his family firm, has his own racing stable and races Formula 3 cars internationally, but in her eyes and those of her friends they were simply "cute Indians who were able to speak english". Chatting afterwards they were appalled and couldn't get over her behaviour or her manners but they chose to keep things light and pleasant. Hope that I could have been as gracious had the roles had been reversed.