To the Real African Safari!!!
Rotating the globe, we picked Kenya to celebrate our first anniversary just for two basic reasons- Masai Mara had been on my bucket list forever & I had one of my closest friend settled in Nairobi making our stay more economical with her exemplary planning skills & warm hospitality. Amit didn’t even have a vague idea of where we were exactly heading to, while I religiously planned the entire trip. Completely oblivious to the fact that he was about to face his biggest fears- Injections & Animals, he nodded in agreement to travel wherever his sweetheart would take him.
The memories of that night are still vivid, when he jumped out of the bed & refused to go to this trip at any cost, even if that meant paying hefty cancellation charges. The next one week passed, coaxing him for his consent. Believe you me, it wasn’t at all an easy task convincing the man who agrees to stay sick but take an injection & who has been even chased by cows, but he had to give in to my puppy face & tear brimming eyes.
Tip 1: Make sure you take Polio Drops– Free of cost (Valid for a Year) & Yellow Fever Injection at Rs.300/-(Valid for 10yrs) at least a month before for your departure. These are easily available at any Government hospital, with prior online appointment.
Escaping the sultry summers, we flew down to the refreshing greenery & cool breeze of Nairobi via Mumbai & Addis Ababa. We hired a taxi to Tanu’s lavish apartment & had a perfect ending to a tiring journey with the most sumptuous home cooked dinner. We woke up to a pleasant drizzling morning, brick red roofs adorning vast green views & chatting over hot tea & breakfast. We were clearly warned to be extra careful with our phones & wallets while walking or even in car, since the crooks are always on prowl. She had an interesting tale regarding the ethical burglars who wouldn’t murder or rape, but would rather ask for permission to steal. Usually every home had a thief box, designated for the robbers who asked the owners to move out politely until they were done with their loot, which is then spent on their weekend carouse.
Tip 2: The city doesn’t have efficient public transport, thus the best way to go around is an Uber which is most economical & safe. Travelling takes time, especially during peak office hours & on Fridays.
After our hearty breakfast & caution list, we hired a cab to go to Giraffe Centre, almost an hour’s drive from Brookside Westland. The entry fees is $10 PP & one doesn’t need more than 45-60mins to spend in the centre, which protects the highly endangered Rothschild’s giraffe. There is an elevated wooden platform from where one can observe, kiss or hand-feed the tallest living terrestrial animals. These beautiful creatures were more than happy to oblige us with selfies, as long as we baited them with their nutritious supplements. There is also a Giraffe Manor, a luxurious hotel where one can stay or dine with giraffes provided you have deep pockets. Tanu & Yash took us out in the evening to their favourite hangout zone Gipsy Bar for amazing Chicken Wings followed by some dance at Brew Bistro Rooftop. Friday evening was well spent driving around prominent party places & merry making till wee hours of morning.
Tip 3: No online or advance booking is required for Giraffe Centre, the tickets can be purchased easily from their ticket widow.
Having friends definitely helps in satisfying all your shopping cravings from the best budget friendly markets. The famous Masaai Market is popular with tourists & expensive, contrary to it’s pocket friendly status. The Triangle Market near Westgate is a pure shopper’s delight, you can purchase wide range of masks, paintings, animal magnets, keyrings, bead jewelry, ceramic art, wooden crafts & unique wooden kitchen utensils at lucrative prices. There is no dearth of exquisite stuff in this market & you can haggle with the shopkeepers for the best price. The Village Market is another good destination with various food joints to satisfy your hungry taste buds with beautiful ambiance & live music adding delight to the environment.
Tip 4: Please carry power plug adapters, the Indian chargers will not fit their Type G sockets. The resorts usually charge a refundable amount for the adapters, but not all of them provide this facility. Also the resorts usually have Full Board packages with Break Fast+Lunch+Dinner, where the spread for morning & night are lavish compared to the moderate lunch.
The next day early morning 6:30am sharp we boarded our Safari Jeep (Magical Skies) for my dream tour to the real, wild African Jungles. It was a long 7hr drive which got really bumpy in the last 2 hrs, due to rough patch of road leading to the game reserve. The government has been working on the construction of the last leg to the reserve, to make the entire journey smooth for the tourists. We reached the luxurious Sarova Mara Camp situated inside the reserve, by noon & were more than pleased to be upgraded to the Deluxe Club Tents as our complimentary anniversary gift. It was a long walk, passing through the restaurants, swimming pool, tents & crossing over a fancy little bridge over a mini lake, until we made to our plush tent with a splendid view of vast jungle lands. The upgraded tents gave more authentic feel of the jungle since they were placed in seclusion at the end of the resort guarded with electric fences. While I couldn’t stop thanking my stars, my poor husband was petrified staying right in the middle of a jungle, in a desolated tent, with no intercom, facing the wild with electric fencing as the only mode of guard that had no power back up!! Basically in Africa that too in the wild, demanding too much luxury wasn’t allowed!! Electricity is scarce & necessity so the resort cuts the power supply when the tourists go on the game drive daily morning & evening.
Tip 5: Most convenient way to book Masai Mara trip is via local tour agency (Magical Skies) which will arrange the travel, the hotel bookings as per your choice, reserve fees & also game drives in the jungle. There is always an option of arranging all of it separately on your own.
Enjoying a sumptuous lunch spread, we finally headed to the wild at 4pm in the search of big five. Masai Mara terrain is primarily open grassland with high concentration of wildlife due to swampy ground & easy access to water. The reserve offers diverse resident species, we came across several impalas, topis, giraffes, elephants, zebras, buffalos, warthogs and other grazing herbivores. With so many prey animals, Masai Mara doesn’t fail to live up its status of veritable bonanza with large predators, such as lions, cheetahs, leopards, crocodiles and other stealthy, powerful hunters. The abundance of terrestrial animals is enhanced by the presence of more than 450 winged species, including 57 birds of prey.
During our 3 day stay at the reserve we daily went for morning-evening game drives & witnessed the most spectacular sunrise & sunset on the jungle lands. Amit gradually let go of his fears in the lap of nature, with a carefree feeling as we drove around the animal kingdom with cool breeze hitting our faces & gazing at nature’s wonderful creatures at such close proximity. Our proficient guide cum driver kept us captivated with his jungle tales & encounters, only making us realize that survival wasn’t easy in the wild. The harmonious co-existence was a façade to the ruthless hunting game, showcasing the survival of the fittest in the land of wild as in the land of man.
Tip 6: The weather gets chilly during game drives thus it is advisable to carry warm jackets. Also extremely important to follow & respect jungle rules unless you want to pay a heavy fine or interested in becoming feast to the beasts.
We received extremely warm hospitality during our stay at Sarova, the rooms had fantastic Wifi connection with friendly staff. There were guards strolling on duty who had strictly warned us against opening the door at night irrespective of any knock on the door, until we saw a man with lantern on his face. The idea of any knock in the dead of night while asleep, even with light on dark face, itself, gave us goosebumps. The only time we encountered eerie feeling, was at night walking that long path in pitch dark up to the restaurant with a torch even with guards always escorting us. Their stories about enthusiastic tourists gave us jitters, who had broken the jungle rules & sneaked out alone in dark or otherwise, outside the resort periphery to explore the wild, capture pictures & indeed got framed themselves. They were also inquisitive regarding our sleep, since guests usually experienced roaring sounds at night from the bachelor male lion residing in it’s territory in close vicinity of our rooms. The more I wanted to avoid these discussions, the more enthusiastically they narrated them as Amit kept clutching my hands tighter than before. Well our last morning breakfast was specially arranged for our anniversary on the deck overlooking the lion’s territory with cake & champagne & Amit couldn’t be happier raising the toast of his freedom.
Tip 7: Make sure to inform your resort about any special day you are celebrating, they usually go out of their way to make it special for you. The best time to go to Masai Mara is during migration Jul-Nov, when the bookings have to be done much in advance.
We drove back to Nairobi & were invited over for dinner at Tanu’s aunt’s place. I was in awe of her exemplary taste & eye for details & if given an opportunity would take home décor lessons from her. We had mouthwatering home cooked authentic Bengali cuisine for dinner over endless chats & hearty laughs. The next morning we flew down to Mombasa to soak in the sun & bathe in pristine blue waters of Diani Beach. It was a short 40mins flight to Ukunda Air Strip & hardly 10 minute drive to Swahili Beach Resort, a unique amalgamation of African & Asian architecture with cascading pools going straight down to the beach. We were again lucky to get upgraded to luxury suites with fantastic beach view, which also had several vendors selling exquisite wooden crafts & scarfs. We got names carved on cute wooden keyrings for souvenirs, a big name plate for us with big five & few scarves as gifts at a good bargain.
Tip 8: If you want to stay at Diani Beach at Mombasa, book flights to Ukunda which is closer to the beach resorts, with free pick & drop from most resorts. While, Mombasa airport to Diani beach you end up paying more than INR 10000/- one side by cab. Jambo jet is the best low cost domestic flight in Kenya.
Our 2 day beach stay was more to just unwind & relax before we headed back to our daily chores in Delhi. We spent most of our time in the beautiful resort chilling in the pool or at the beach & would usually walk down to Forty Thieves Beach Bar for a perfect sunset & yummy pizzas. We also explored the sea a little farther on a glass bottom boat that picked us from our beach at around 10:30 am. There are guys on every beach offering best deals on boat rides with snorkeling & complimentary coconuts. They charged around $10 PP after our exemplary bargaining skills, which wasn’t at all a bad deal for 2 hours in the sea. Sitting on the deck engulfed in the magnificent seascape while heading to our snorkeling location, the captain kept us enthralled with a view of diverse marine life through the glass bottom & also gave us an experience of real starfish & sea urchins.
Tip 9: Beware of crooks on the beach trying to sell/exchange Dollars at lucrative rates, the notes are fake. Also never show reluctance in asking for less than half the price quoted for any stuff, bargaining skills will always get you best deals.
The hotel had arranged for a cake on our wedding night & decorated the room with towel art & flowers, setting the perfect mood. Back to Nairobi next morning, we went out for lunch at popular Art Café & had a perfect wrap up with desi dinner at Curry in Hurry ( you can do a Karoga here) with Tanu & Yash. We giggled, chatted, gossiped all night before flying back to India next day early morning with bundle of memories & appreciation for being blessed with best bunch of friends.