By Diane Bédat
Fleece jacket? Check. Binoculars? Check. Maasai shuka? Check. Masai Mara, I am ready for you!
I am fortunate enough to have discovered several countries in Southern Africa since my first trip to South Africa in 2002, but Eastern Africa has remained uncharted territory for all that time. As one of the leading destinations for spectacular game viewing and wildlife diversity, Masai Mara has been on my bucket list for countless years, and I couldn’t wait to finally experience the magic of this land.
Wilson, my colleague and driver for the day, starts the engine of the Land Rover early in the afternoon as we embark on our journey on the busy roads, leading us out of Nairobi. I am relieved to have such an experienced driver who is manoeuvring perfectly in between the heavy trucks and I am even more relieved when a few hours later, we finally get off the main highway onto a dirt road. The petrol stations and city building are now far behind us and have been replaced by nyama choma (grilled meat) sales booths and traditional Maasai boma. “Almost there” says Wilson “about 20 min to go”.
Shortly after, I see the familiar white stone with the Saruni label at the side of the road, the same indicator I had seen a few weeks prior, on my first trip to Saruni Samburu. “Home, sweet home” I tell myself. The lodge appears behind the lush green bushes, an aftermath of the heavy rains in April and May, also known as Mara’s green season. As we stop at the welcoming area, I can see a big smile appear on Wilson’s face. Mission accomplished. He turns the engine off and waves to his fellow staff friends approaching the car to greet us.
Once again, I am being warmly greeted and offered help to carry my heavy luggage, packed with reference books and warm clothes. Chris, the assistant manager of Saruni Mara, is also present for my arrival and shows me to my cottage, overlooking the dense grass and granting a wonderful view on the sunset. I take a few moments to realise that I have finally arrived at one of my dream destinations.
The first night is characterized by the songs of Montane nightjars, the baboons’ alarm calls to the roaming leopard and the clicking sound of the resident eland’s hooves on the pathway. The hot water bottle provided during the turndown service insures I get cosily through the frisky night.
In the morning, I discover the lodge for the first time in daylight. The five main cottages and the family villa, all themed individually, are situated along the hill facing the Mara North Conservancy and positioned on each side of Kuro, the main house. Each cottage has its own porch equipped with a deck chair on which one can comfortably lie and observe the plain game and even the occasional cat. The private Nyati House lies slightly further away from the main lodge, assuring the ultimate exclusive experience for families and bigger groups.
At Kuro, the big dinner table, salon and fireplace see to it that a comfy and intimate atmosphere prevails. It is the perfect place to enjoy an aperitif and discuss the astounding sightings of the day. As an open parlour, conversations held there are accompanied by the sound of nocturnal birds and insects, which will also sing the guests to sleep later at night.
My personal favourite is the fireplace located beneath Kuru. A few steps, illuminated by romantic lanterns, leads you down to a round terrace made entirely of stones, with a large fire pit in the centre. As soon as the African sun starts to set, the fire is being lit and your drink of preference prepared beside it by the lovely Maasai staff. If you’re adventurous enough, you can even savour a memorable dinner there, while the security guard regularly scans the horizon with his torch to make sure, you don’t turn into someone’s dinner. A dinner at that fireplace guarantees a million-star dining experience underneath the night sky, far from light pollution and city noise. Quiet times. Exceptional moments.