It’s true that most of the blog posts written here have been about our animal sightings and in some respects we make no apologies for this given thats why we go to the Mara! However, its come to mind that we have never really blogged about the journey to/from Nairobi which really is an adventure in itself, but also not without animal encounters. Be warned...a 7 hour drive equals a long blog post today!
There are pretty much two ways in which to drive from the Mara to Nairobi (where our Land Rover is stored whilst we are in the UK). Neither way is much better than the other and around an hours difference in time, both feel like you are ‘running the gauntlet’ hoping for no vehicle issues. The first way being the ‘Lemek route’ going via the Mara North Conservancy and usually taking around 5-6 hours and the second via the Sekanani gate, taking around 6-7 hours (depending on which part of the Mara you are coming from)
The decision as to which route to take is often decided by the weather (and to an extent which part of the Mara you are coming from). Lemek is best avoided after the rains given that at least 1 hour of the journey is through black cotton mud/sand which sticks to the tyres like glue and turns them into racing slicks! We had come in via Sekenani and given that it had rained a far amount in the last 24 hours and also knowing no one that had come that way since the long rains we decided to stick to the way we had come in.
As we left the Mara Triangle at around 7:45am with heavy hearts (as we always so) and a tear in my eyes (referring to me, rather than Andy!) our mood was soon diverted as Andy stopped suddenly and pointed to the side of the road and here trotted a cute little Serval cat. We had commented only just the evening prior that it was the first Mara trip for a while in which we had not seen one of these cute little felids. With a mission for mice the little Serval moved off the road and into the long grass and here it carried on its business as we lost sight. Our moods changed as we laughed about the irony of this and then again Andy stopped suddenly again. This time it was because of a various cars that had also stopped on the main road ahead with heads popping out of roof hatches all around and signaling something of interest for sure!. This time it was again our Felid friends causing the road block, with the entire Mugoro Pride (minus the males) laid out on the road causing a complete road block on the main Serena Road. It was quite hilarious and as if the Lions had come out to say good bye to us! What was interesting is in the days prior I had counted 10 members in the pride and all of a sudden 11 lay in front of us, meaning the 4 Adult females had 7, not 6 cubs. A pretty cool revelation! Taking the usual GPS references and notes we knew we could not stick around as we had one long long journey to go!
Given the ‘leaving party road block’ we had to make a slight change to our route to the Mara South Bridge where we would exit the Mara Triangle and so took whats called the ‘lower river road’. As we drove down, not paying too much attention and instead laughing again about the Mugoro Girls I suddenly told Andy to stop. On the right ,in the long grass were lions, a couple of adult females with a couple of 7/8 month old cubs making their way further into the plains and soon disappearing. The Lions really were coming out to say goodbye at this point! So, again we continued on until Andy heard me emit the immortal words again ‘STOP’! . This time on our left, around 200 metres away I pointed to a Cheetah on a mound. This was insane, less than 40 minutes after leaving our camp in the Mara Triangle and we had seen 2 Lion Prides, 1 Serval and a Cheetah! (3 different cat species!) Why does this always happen when you don’t want it to!!! We went on to the track to try and get a closer look but the adult female was moving away and her behavior revealing she was keen to hunt. Although we could off-road (allowed in this part) we decided against it and took a couple of quick snaps for ID and we then continued on. We really had to start making tracks ourselves and quite frankly the Mara was NOT making it easy for us to leave!!!
Andy politely asked me to shut my eyes at this point now for fear of finding something else!. We were almost expecting a Leopard or Caracal to pop out of nowhere, given how the cats seemed to be coming out of the wood work at this moment in time.
Along the route down to the gate we also saw something quite interesting, an adult Grants Gazelle with no horns (both male and female have horns). This creature was quite shy and I only managed to get a quick snap on my little camera before it trotted away, certainly an unusual sight and one we have never seen before and we debated for some time what may have caused this.
The animal road blocks seemed to continue along the road as a huge Hippo, returning from its nightly graze on the plains stood in the middle of the track before disappearing into the deep lugga it evidently calls home. Now animals please could you let the Skinner’s go!! We don’t want to leave but we do have a plane to catch on Sunday and a 7 hour drive in-front of us!
We soon arrived at the gate and made our last crossing over the Purrangati/South Mara Bridge, bidding a fond farewell to one of the most famous rivers in Africa. Clearly we were not the only ones to use the bridge as midway across we found Lion scat. Well, why make life hard when you have a bridge!?
We continued on for another 1.5 hours on rough but just about tolerable tracks passing another Adult Lioness (although we can’t take credit for spotting this, instead a bunch of minivans gave it away!) We then arrived at the Sekanani Gate, the point at which we were well and truly leaving the Mara.
Now came the part of the journey we always dread the most and regardless of which route you take you cannot avoid what can only be described as the ‘roads from hell’. Imagine the worst dusty, potholed, heavily corregated gravelly/sandy track you can imagine and that pretty much describes the next 2 hours of the journey. The vehicle and indeed it’s occupants feel like it being shaken to pieces. It is not a journey for the feint hearted and its a wander that the minivans are able to do this route without falling apart, let alone robust vehicles such as Land Rovers and Land Cruisers. For those who have also done the same route you will know I am NOT exaggerating and every time we seem to do the roads in and out of the Mara it seems to get worse. Finally after 2 hours of horrible tracks, passing dusty plains being grazed by cattle and through Maasai Manyattas we finally hit Tarmac. Here you could here the sigh of relief. Reaching Narok town we made a brief stop to put air in the tyres and make a quick check to see if all was ok with the vehicle (given we were a little concerned that the fuel tank problem could have worsened after the roads from hell) After Andy gave the all clear we carried on for the last 2 hours or so of the trip.
The landscape really starts to change at this point, pasture land used for cattle grazing also turns to land also used for crops and terrain starts to undulate as you start to see the great and impressive Rift Valley in the distance, passing through small towns along the way. As it was a Saturday the towns were bustling with market stalls and a hive of activity. With children either playing in the street or taking the long walk home from Saturday morning school. Donkey carts transported goods as sellers on the street made the most of the busy streets, selling potatoes and Maize (Sweetcorn) to passers by.
Passing Mt Longonot (a dormant volcano that last erupted just over 100 years ago) and then going through Maai Mahiu junction we came to the 2nd part of the journey also feared by many (especially if you have a fear of heights!). It’s not a road we are keen on to be quite honest!. The road passing up into the Rift Valley is described by many as one of the most dangerous roads in Kenya (and possibly the whole of Eastern Africa!). As you track from the valley floor to an altitude of over 2000 metres the road bends literally just inches from a huge drop. Large container lorries seem to come toward you out of control as you can smell the stench of brakes and clutches as they make the steep and windy descent. Despite the fact its a two way road many cars and lorries take their lives into their hands as they try to overtake on blind bends, with at least a vertical 2000-3000 ft drop the other side. As you approach the top dozens of little tourist shacks line the edge of the road and as you drive past offer the most spectacular views across the valley to Mt Longonot and beyond. It’s a fantastic sight and is what makes the Rift Valley such an amazing place and steeped in geological interest.
The journey again tames for some time as you approach the outskirts of Nairobi before you then hit the usual traffic chaos that the city is so famed for. Crazy matatu drivers and large lorries causing chaos in the sometimes narrow streets as many go about their Saturday business. Traffic chaos, horns beeping, people trying to cross the huge busy roads and music blaring from everywhere. It’s what makes Nairobi such a crazy, but kind of cool place!
So, over 7.5 hours after leaving our base in the Mara we had now arrived back, safe and well but dusty, dirty and tired. We did not need a shower, we needed steam cleaning! The vehicle had done us proud and thankfully the issue with the fractured Fuel tank pipe had not worsened but needed fixing before our next trip out. Now was the task of unpacking in the evening the vehicle and calling some of our kenyan friends before we bid it a farewell until the next Skinner adventure......hopefully in 3-4 months time. It’s true that the journey is never without seeing things that make you grateful for what you have and not without things that make you giggle. It’s what makes Kenya a fascinating and colourful place to visit.
Boarding the plane we said ‘Kwaheri Kenya’ and thanked ‘her’ for such a wonderful time, we would miss Kenya, it’s animals and old and new friends we had made there. We knew we were lucky to be able to visit so often but it still always makes us a little sad to leave. Although at this point getting excited to see our own little domestic felids (Yogi & Charlie!) who would no doubt be eagerly awaiting treats and cuddles when we returned home to the UK.
As we flew home we were treated to one of the clearest views of Mt Kenya we have seen to date as well as a great view of Mt Etna, who emitted smoke and to this day remains quite active (and where we spent our first wedding anniversary!) For two people fascinated also by geology this was a great treat.
Now is the task of sifting though the thousands of images we have taken as well as writing up notes from our Lion Sightings and mapping the 34 GPS logs from Lion sightings taken over the last two weeks. Two tasks that will certainly take quite some time and once done links to the final set of images will be posted here. In addition to some short (but decidedly shaky) videos that we took with our little ‘point & shoot’ camera. It’s just a shame that as of Monday its back to the ‘day job’ and our other lives!
So, until the next Skinner adventure....its a big ‘Asante Sana’ from us both to those that have followed us along the way and until the next time. Kwaheri.
Lion Road block
Unusual sighting - Grants Gazelle without horns!
Hippo Road block
Leaving the Mara Triangle - Mara South Bridge gate
Crossing the Mara River
Lion scat on the Mara bridge
The Mara River flowing fast
The road from hell!
Loading a bike - Kenyan style!
Part of the Rift Valley in the distance
Rift Valley Road - this is supposed to be 'two way' traffic!
Car overtaking on blind bend with a 2000-3000 ft drop below!
Rift Valley road
Rift Valley road - Altitude 2140 metres
Did Mark Zuckenburg imagine this when he started Facebook?!
Winding Rift Valley Road
Interesting name for a fuel station!
Traffic chaos on the outskirts of Nairobi
Our Land Rover, still in one piece!
Mt Kenya from the air
Mt Etna from the air