Ker & Downey President David Marek reflects on his African safari to Mara Expedition Camp and Mara Plains in Kenya with his wife Gana.
Why I Decided to go on an African Safari
In all my years in the travel business, I’ve been to Africa over 100 times. I never grow tired of taking an African safari. Each game drive is exciting and unique. For this particular safari, my wife and I traveled to Mara Expedition Camp (formerly Mara Toto) and Mara Plains in Kenya.
Mara Expedition Camp and Mara Plains are sister camps located just a five minute’s drive from one another on a bend in the Ntiakitiak River. They are intimate camps with just five and seven tents, respectively. Mara Expedition Camp is located just inside the border of the Masai Mara Reserve while Mara Plains is located within the 35,000-acre Olare Motorogi Conservancy which borders the Masai Mara Reserve to the north. The area is exclusive, far away from the properties that host lots of tourists. Therefore, we could get away from the crowds, which is especially important if your goal, like mine, was to see river crossings. Seeing the Mara River crossing is a spectacular sight. It’s one I didn’t want to share with tons of other people and vehicles. As you’ll see from the images, there weren’t any other vehicles around. We had a private safari in Kenya.
Another goal I had on this safari was to see big cats. Mara Plains is located in an area with a low density of vehicles and has access to 100,000 acres of exclusive land and the 375,000 acres of the Masai Mara Reserve. There is both an abundance of wildlife and a variety in the area, but it is particularly good for predators. You’ll have your choice between lions, cheetahs, hyenas, and leopards. On this particular African safari, I saw leopard, lion, and cheetah.
This is my personal African safari journal from my trip to Kenya in 2013.
Thursday, July 11 – Just back from first game drive at Great Plains Mara Toto. Saw leopard and cub on a kill and the female leopard make another kill. Got pics of her pulling it up a tree. Will upload them when connection is better.
Friday, July 12 – Amazing night and day at Mara Toto. I love tents in the bush. The sounds of lions, hyena, jackal, of a Bushbaby running on the canvas…and then the sounds of the wildebeest. Awesome. Saw lions and cheetah this morning with the cheetah attempting to make a kill. This evening we sat in the vehicle beside three lionesses just before sundown. Then one by one more lions, young and old surrounded us. Just at sunset we had 15 lions on three sides of us, all within 15 yards. Then the male called in the distance for the females and in unison the females answered. I swear we were so close the vehicle vibrated when the females answered. Incredible feeling. I’ll post pics later as wifi is a bit slow.
Saturday, July 13 – Lions and hyenas both made individual kills last night near camp. The sounds they make after a kill, especially the hyenas…sounded like high school boys at a beer party…fighting one minute and laughing the next.
Followed a huge male lion at first light today while he scent marked his territory. He was calling for his female “posse” but they were having none of it…so he kept looking. Had lunch in an area called “rhino ridge”. It’s an area that you can see for 10 miles! Beautiful rolling savannah in every direction…hundreds of zebra this direction, thousands of wildebeest that direction, elephants on top of that hill. Hemingway could do the site justice, not me.
On way in for lunch stopped at the river as wildebeest were starting to cross. A couple hundred crossed when out of no where a lioness grabbed one and took it down. The crossing crossed no more but started up again 500 yards down river. We sat and watched 10,000 wildebeest cross the river. Don’t really know how to describe it. Those that have been here know what I’m talking about. You truly must see it for yourself.
Gana stayed in camp this morning and was reading a book when a hippo walked in the river in front of her…15 yards away. A retreat into the tent was in order.
Watched 4 cheetah, one mom and three young ones, take down a Thompson Gazelle this evening. These guys are fast. So in 70 plus trips to Africa I had never seen a kill. Saw leopard kill yesterday and saw a lion kill AND a cheetah kill today. This place, Mara Plains camp is special!
Sunday, July 14 – Sitting on our deck at Mara Plains Camp and was having a sundowner in the form of a Tusker beer. In front of me lies the endless African savannah with wildebeest from east to west. When off to my right there is a gap in the wildebeest I pick up my bynos to see what caused it and see the four cheetahs looking for some African fast food. They make two attempts to kill but were not successful. The speed and grace of theses cats is something you must witness for yourself. Finished my beer. It’s a great day in Africa…
Tuesday, July 16 – Breakfast with Daniel in The Mara. Daniel’s greatest fear growing up was with Cape Buffalo. He told the story of taking his families cows to water at noon in a very dry period and all animals were using this spring. An old buffalo came and chased him up a tree. Eventually his cows made it home and his family just knew he was eaten by a lion. They set off to look for him. Daniel occasionally tried to climb down the tree but the buffalo kept chasing him back. He spent the night in that tree. The next morning the buffalo gave up and left so Daniel hurried home. His family had a party when they saw their oldest son was alive. Keep posted for news on how Daniel became a guide.
Pandemonium at the Mara river crossing today. Didn’t post the gore, but suffice to say it got ugly. My sweet wife could not bear to watch. This iPhone photo is not great, ill post a better image tomorrow when we have wifi.
Wednesday, July 17 – Went on a walk with Richard on my last morning at Mara Plains. Imagine setting off into a sea of animals and having them part at your arrival. Then you hear the hyenas as they finish their breakfast and then watch them lope off in that funny little lope they have. And then watch those same hyenas steal the kill of four lions. Off in the distance you see the retreating lions, you see a bull elephant having a morning drink, the Thompson’s and Grants gazelles are busy wagging their tails, and everything is as it should be. Our journey here is winding down. But I’ll be back. Africa does that.
Today’s Reflection on this African Safari
It’s been wonderful to walk down memory lane reflecting on this particular safari to Kenya. Our stays at Mara Expedition Camp and Mara Plains was exceptional. If I could go back (and I hope that I do), I would in a heartbeat. I would do the exact same itinerary with just one change, however. Next time I go, I am staying longer. Each day in the bush is exciting. Every game drive and bush walk offers a chance to see something new – an animal that’s on your bucket list, a kill, a river crossing, a baby taking its first steps. I rarely pass up a chance to head out on a game drive or bush walk. But there’s also exciting animal encounters in camp too! I don’t know what I would have done watching a hippo walk to the river just 15 yards in front of me like my wife witnessed.
Both Mara Expedition Camp and Mara Plains offer early morning balloon flights across the Masai Mara. We didn’t include this activity in our itinerary when we went in 2013, but when I make it back to Mara Plains or Mara Expedition Camp, I would definitely include one. Gliding silently over the plains as the sun rises – what an incredible way to take in the vastness of the Masai Mara!
Finally, a good guide can make or break a safari. Daniel at Mara Plains is one of the best guides. He was fantastic and was engaged 100% with what we wanted to do and see. His efforts were always geared towards pleasing us and he was confident in his knowledge of wildlife. He also provided us a “peek behind the curtain” of the Maasai way of life. So, I’d love to reconnect with him and make a visit to his family.
For more information about including Kenya or any other destination on your next journey, please contact a Ker & Downey designer.