Vacation in Maasai Mara during Covid
What you need to know:
During the game drive, I learn about Ol’ Kinyei’s Covid-19’s conservation programme called Adopt-an-Acre. Patrons are invited to adopt an acre for Kshs3,797, approximately $35 a year, redeemable for a safari. So far, the initiative has generated a huge sum of revenue. With tourism quite on the low, most workers at the community-owned conservancies have been temporarily laid off. Adopt an-Acre ensures communities are paid
My travelling shoes were accumulating dust. When the borders were reopened, nothing was going to stop me from going on a vacation in Maasai Mara.
In a normal year, international tourists would be flocking to see the Great Wildebeest Migration, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. However, with Covid-19, many are stuck home. But nature waits for no man. Millions of wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles, just as they do each year, are crossing over from Tanzania into Kenya, in search of new grazing grounds.
International flights to Kenya might have resumed, but arrivals are limited due to continued restrictions against coronavirus in a foreign country. It is August, the peak of the high season, where hotel bookings are made months or years in advance. But I am arriving in a less-crowded Maasai Mara, only teeming with wildlife.
Wednesday, 6.55am, the driver arrives five minutes early. I am impressed, but he cannot see my smile. I am all masked up and so is he. After a little chat, he checks my temperature and squeezes drops of sanitiser onto my hands, sprays my bag before loading it. We pick one more person and the journey begins.
Yesterday, the hotel had called to organise my pick-up and sent me a Covid-19 health and safety document, detailing what to expect during the visit.
At 8.54 am, I see six baboons strutting leisurely along the Mai Mahiu-Narok Road. To their right is Kenya’s smallest church: the Traveller’s Church. At the view point, I count six other tour vans. Clearly, I am not the only one escaping Nairobi.
By 9.45am, we are in Narok County. The weather is perfect for me, cows are grazing and maize is drying by the roadside. The green landscape and acres of golden-headed barley are a splendid sight to behold.
At 12.30pm, we arrive at Porini Mara Camp in Ol’ Kinyei Conservancy. The road is not as bad as expected. It is tarmacked all the way. Guess who is on the meet-and-greet team? A vervet monkey, a baboon, and two grant gazelles. Moments later, I am met by the Camp’s Maasai community host and his counterparts.
No taking chances
Everyone is masked. They keep a safe distance from me. When the infrared thermometer indicates I am safe, I am allowed in. Once again, my bag and hands are sanitised.
At 1.07pm, as I eat lunch, I watch nature TV channel. Two impalas run swiftly and a monkey crosses a stream. The only problem with the TV is that I have no remote control. I, therefore, savour the moment.
I tell the waiter about Nairobi’s Covid-19 situation. He is happy that I came, despite the virus jitters. I am later joined by a couple on a working vacation. Thankfully, the conversation is not all about the pandemic. I receive refreshing advice on how to know Mr Right.
At 4.30pm, nature is thriving without man. I see birds and numerous wild animals. I am keeping score,but eventually, I lose count. During the game drive, I learn about Ol’ Kinyei’s Covid-19’s conservation plan to keep the lights on, a programme called Adopt-an-Acre. Patrons are invited to adopt an acre for Kshs3,797, approximately $35 a year, redeemable for a Safari.
Covid-19 conservation plan
So far, that initiative has generated a huge sum of revenue. With tourism quite on the low, most workers at the community-owned conservancies have been temporarily laid off, and payouts have been reduced. Adopt an-Acre ensures communities are paid. So far, 6,725 acres have been adopted, with more than 33,973 acres still available.
In the evening, I look up and far ahead in amazement. The wildebeest look like irregular dots on gold-coloured paper. From the open 4x4 Land Cruiser, feeling courageous, I take a selfie with a well-fed lion.
Finally, it is my turn to eat. Tonight, we are 13 guests at the hotel and we are eating in shifts to social-distance. All meals are plated.
At 10pm, lights go off. My lullabies are characterised by sounds of crickets and the hippos, now that it is dark and cool.
Savouring game meals
Early Thursday morning, hot chocolate and scrumptious cookies are served in my tent. I totally could get used to this. I will have a full breakfast after my early morning game drive. Although the coldness is tempting me to go back to my hotel room, the bright morning quickly reminds me that I am here to experience nature and to forget about the dark Covid moments.
As we make our way to Porini Lion camp in Olare Motorogi, this time, a cheetah is on the reception team. Again, my bags and I are checked and thoroughly sanitised before entering.
In the meantime, lunch is served. Social distancing is maintained. This makes us shout on top of our voices when conversing.
At 3.12 pm, the bed is too alluring that I can’t resist an afternoon nap, so under the duvet, I go. Who travels all the way from Nairobi to sleep in Maasai Mara? I wonder too.
Another game drive
A hour later, I wake up for another game drive, hoping to see a leopard, specifically Furaha, a blue-eyed leopard. As we board the Land Cruiser, I remember that I forgot my mask in the room, so, I run back for it.
In the evening, we see a pride of lions and a lone zebra. Suddenly and quietly, the lions get into position and without wasting time, pounce on the zebra. I witness my first live kill. I am over the moon.
Journey back home
Right in the middle of the expansive conservancy, we enjoy a sundowner party. Many things would have made this moment perfect but the laughter of two children in our company, having enjoyed the game drive, captures my heart.
The next day, the search for Furaha is on again. Two hours later, no luck! I am sad, but at least I saw a baboon snacking on an impala.
I start the journey back to Nairobi. But before I do, I have my temperature checked again. By the way, I have washed my hands 47 times.
I am already planning for my next trip. But for now, I am charting my temperature levels daily.
About Masai Mara
In southwestern Kenya, in the Kenya Rift Valley Province, lies 583 square miles of protected land known as the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
Established in 1961, Masai Mara is a popular safari destination, renowned for its wildlife population, according to a 2019 study about the park published in the journal Land Use Policy.
The wildlife roam freely across the boundaries of the reserve into areas with several villages, where animals and humans coexist.
Also known as Masai Mara, Maasai Mara or simply the Mara, the reserve lies at between 4,875 and 7,052 feet in elevation and extends south to Serengeti National Park.
The name comes from the local Maasai people, who called this expanse of land “Mara,” or spotted in their native language of Maa, because of the way the acacia trees and wildlife dotted the plains.
A diverse group of animals call the Maasai Mara home, including Africa’s “big five” (the African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, African lion and African black rhino).
Cheetahs, wildebeests, gazelles, zebras, hyenas, giraffes, crocodiles, hippos, more than 500 bird species and many more residents are habitants in the reserve.
The most popular time to visit the reserve is between July and October. The peak of the wildebeest migration, usually in October, is a particularly popular time in the park, as visitors come to see the more than two million animals travel up to 800 km from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara National Reserve, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Threats to wildlife
During their migration, wildebeest and several hundred thousand other migratory mammals, including gazelles and zebras, must cross the Mara River, while avoiding crocodiles and other predators such as large cats and hyenas.
An estimated 250,000 wildebeest never make it to their destination, as they fall prey to carnivores, die of hunger, thirst or exhaustion, or drown in the Mara River, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The fallen animals, however, provide a wealth of food and nutrients for the ecosystem.
The great migration occurs during the main dry season, which lasts from June through October. The two wet seasons, a short one and a long one, occur between November and December and March and May, respectively.
Due to Kenya’s location at the equator, temperatures there remain fairly constant throughout the year, with daytime temperatures of about 73 degrees Fahrenheit during the wet season.
During the dry season, many of the temporary lakes and rivers dry up, leaving the one permanent body of water in the region, the Mara River, to provide for both the Maasai Mara and Serengeti regions.
Flooding is common during the wet season and can displace wildlife and increase the risk of diseases such as Rift Valley fever and anthrax, both of which can infect domesticated and wild animals and human beings. The flooding also affects livestock and agriculture in the surrounding areas.
Known for their fierce warriors and bright red robes, the Maasai people were once one of the dominating native tribes in Kenya. They are one of the few who have retained much of their traditions and lifestyles, according to the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust.
The Maasai moved into the highlands of what is now Kenya in the early 17th Century and spread across what became Kenya and south into what is now Tanzania soon after, according to an article from the nonprofit Cultural Survival.
They were seminomadic, moving with their prized cattle herds to different areas during the wet and dry seasons to prevent any one area from becoming overgrazed.
Agriculture and tourism
As with most other African tribes, however, the Maasai lost much of their fertile lands and parts of their culture when European settlers moved into the territory. The Maasai people are no longer nomadic and are now settled in a single location and they depend on agriculture and tourism as their main sources of livelihood. Humans and beasts compete for natural resources and millions of animals have been forced to migrate.
Sources: businessdailyafrica.com and livescience.com