Despite my best efforts, I never got hold of Anne or the kids last night, so it will have to wait until later today. I’ll call them from the park. We left for Masai Mara at 6:45am. Everyone’s bags were packed, and we loaded them onto the bus. The driver, Ben, who was the same man who picked us up at the airport, was the guy who was driving today. He failed to bring a tarp to cover the luggage on top of the bus, so everything was stored inside for fear that they would get wet in the rain. We lost 2 more seats because we had to store the suitcases in the isle and on the 2nd to the last seat. I’ve told him that he has to find a tarp for the ride back. It’s only a 6 hour drive to the Norok, and 2 hours to the Mara, and we’ll need the extra room to move around during a trip that long.
I got in the front seat with the Ben and Ashley. In 15 minutes we knew it was a bad decision. The pot holes were bad enough, but there was also this insane heat coming up through the seats. We were, after all, sitting on top of the engine… and the engine seemed to constantly remind us of that fact. We fidgeted as frequently as possible. The only thing that really took our attention from the heat on our backsides was Ben flagging down a passing vehicle to ask for directions from time to time. Super. I’ve never taken this ride before, and found it unnerving not knowing when we were going to arrive. I assumed that if our driver was asking for directions, it wasn’t going to be an easy ride, despite the smile he showed me each time I questioned his ability to find his way to Norok.
We passed several towns and villages of varying sizes and populations. Some were neat and peaceful while others were disheveled and in constant motion. The one thing they all had in common, besides Kenyans, were pot holes – big angry pot holes. It made driving a 20 passenger bus much more of a talent than I had previously thought. He did a wonderful job weaving his way through the trenches and holes that littered the road. It didn’t make me like him anymore, though. I failed to tell you that he suckered me for an extra 2,200 ksh. I knew he was overcharging me, and after arguing fro 5 minutes, I just gave up. I suppose I was angrier at myself than at him, but I found much more comfort in being angry at him. It probably wouldn’t have been as bad if he didn’t smile so much, but he did. I decided to turn my attention to something more productive, so I spent much of the ride thinking about Ann, Kevin and Karen. I wish they could have played baseball with Katie and the students from MOSS. I would have loved the opportunity to sit in the grass with Andrea and just watch them. They would have marveled at Karen talent at the sport, and Kevin's speed on the bases. One of these days we'll get that chance. I've got a friend who drives a piki piki (motorcyle) just outside Maseno University who is always training for marathons. While talking to him about Andrea he once said, "Have her come with you so she can eat my dust." I'd love to see her and Kevin run with him! Although his name is Lucas, his nickname is "Champion." We'll see. Now I look forward to seeing the animals later today... another treat that Ann and the kids would love! They'll have to wait for that one too, though. Only 5 more hours to go...
7 hours later, we arrived at Norok, and found Isaac, Jim’s friend who was a guide at Masai Mara with his 2 brothers. He, too, was full of smiles, but it was a smile you could trust. We got back on the bus with Isaac, and he began to give directions to Ben to get us through the next 2 hours of driving. You know it’s a rough road when the passengers get excited to be on a stretch of washboard road rather than driving through potholes. This stretch made it sound like everyone was speaking through the back of a large desk fan.
After 1 ½ hours of this, we had Isaac call his brothers to bring the Land Rovers to us, and drive us the rest of the way… it would be faster and smoother. It was. Ben arrived about 45 minutes after we did. When I first saw Isaac, he said, “Long journey?” “You have no idea,” I responded. “In the morning they will all have forgotten it.” He was right.
We weren’t even on the Mara yet, and we had already seen zebras, spring bucks, antelope and wildebeest. We drove by dozens of brilliantly clad masai herding goats or steer throughout the property on which they reside. The road we were driving on separated the mara from the Masai land, although the Masai didn’t seem to care much about this “boundary.”
We arrived at Sekenani Camp two hours after we left Norok. Everyone was so enamored by the compound, that they proved Isaac wrong. I think most of them forgot about the long bus ride 30 minutes after we arrived. Nick Woods, the general manager, explained some of the rules. The camp is in one of the more remote areas of Masai Mara. In fact, it’s just a little bit off. It’s in a bowl, which prevents any good cell reception with my phone/modem from Safaricom, but that wasn’t the half of it. It’s one of the only camps that ISN’T fenced in, so animals can come and go as they please. Baboons, monkeys, bush babies… all of them, just wander around. We were told not to go out at night without an escort. Our escorts were plain clothed masai, wandering the property with a flash light and what appeared to be some long thin sticks. Apparently they’re quite handy with the “long thin sticks” that they refer to as “weapons.” All the masai carry them, and they’re not to be trifled with. They wander the compound all night long. That’s the extent of the animals that wander through… it’ not like we heard lion’s roaring outside our room, we always felt perfectly safe.
Everyone was hungry, and the staff was eager to please. Pasta bolagnese or red sauce was our light (and late) lunch. The first person to sit down at a table was Liz. Just as the rolls were set down, a small monkey jumped on the table to grab one. Despite her shriek, she grabbed the rolls and the monkey hissed. 3 staff members, Nick included, came over and scared the monkey away. All it took was a couple claps. Apparently, this monkey’s future does not look very bright… he’s been getting bolder and bolder over time. The food came quickly, and it was delicious! It was such a contrast to what we’ve been having for the last week. Just when we though it couldn’t get better, it did. We went out on a first game drive. It was incredible. Isaac and his brothers were phenomenal. We saw animals that came within 20 feet of our Land Rovers. Elephants, lions, zebras, wart hogs… it was simply breathtaking.
We came back to the compound about 3 hours later, and we picked up our bags, and were shown to our rooms.
I can only describe the rooms as high end tents. Some had a single bed, but most were doubles. It was a thick canvas shell with a zippered end, and rollup clear plastic windows and screens on each side. The bathrooms in each tent not only had hot water, but a full length bathtub. Sekenani means “clear water,” but the heavy rains they’ve been experiencing has caused silt to find its way into the water, so it wasn’t very clear, but that didn’t matter to anyone… it was warm, and we could have it whenever we wanted. Katie was on cloud nine. Sharing this experience with her was glorious, and she continued to repeat how much we needed to, “… come back with mom, Karen and Kevin.” We came down to the dining area to have dinner. The large tent had a bar and small round tables on one end, some larger dining tables on the other. At the far end was a constantly burning fire, surrounded by chairs and cocktail tables.
Dinner came with an entrée option: beef stroganoff or curry chicken. So here we sat, eating dinner, drinking wine, in beautiful surroundings, in Africa. It was a bit overwhelming for some of us. Two days earlier, we were taking cold showers and eating ugali and kuku. The conversation at the table was about the pillows that accompanied the comfortable beds, the hot water in the shower, and how amazing this place was. It was about what we had done over the last 5 days, and what a wonderful way to end this trip. After we were full, everyone retreated to their tents for a restful sleep. We were going on a game drive tomorrow, and we were departing at 7:30am.