The border crossing from Tanzania to Kenya really wasn’t so bad…meaning it could have been much worse! The safari’s previous border crossings passed without a hitch:
- South Africa – Namibia
- Namibia – Botswana
- Botswana – Zimbabwe
- Zimbabwe – Zambia
- Zambia – Malawi
- Malawi – Tanzania
Maybe it was time for a mini border drama?
Before traveling to Kenya you apply for a visa using eVisa. After the Consulate approves your visa and you download it and print the details, including a receipt for payment. Thinking I followed the instructions and did everything required, I was horrified when we reached the border and the Kenyan immigration officer said my paperwork was incomplete. The officer frowned and disappeared behind the glass window with my passport in hand. After a silent scream, I waited pondering my fate.
Everyone else had already passed through Kenyan immigration. They watched the situation play out eager to escape the scorching sun and get to our hotel in Nairobi. After waiting for 20 minutes in 100+ degree heat, the border agent returned, stamped a Kenyan visa in my passport, and shoved it through the glass opening. I heaved a sigh of relief, grabbed my passport, and walked away quickly!
As we worked our way through heavy Nairobi traffic our guide missed a turnoff and made an illegal U-turn to get back on the right road. The Kenyan police stopped him but he skilfully sweet talked his way out of a fine. We arrived mid-afternoon and checked into our hotel – Sentrim Boulevard – near the heart of Nairobi.
Years ago Sentrim Boulevard was one of the poshest hotels in Nairobi. It has long since been replaced by more modern accommodations. Even so, it was comfortable and the park-like grounds were lush and full of flowers and birds. After traveling for weeks in the African bush, a proper hotel with a hot bath was a big treat.
There wasn’t much time to explore Nairobi since we were departing early the next morning for the Maasai Mara. Our guide cautioned us about night excursions. Nairobi is dangerous – especially for tourists and pedestrians. After terrorist attacks at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Kenyan shopping malls people were on alert.
A quiet dinner and retiring early in a comfortable bed were satisfying to me – no need for more excitement or adventure. Not bothered by terrorist reports, I planned to visit Nairobi on the way back to South Africa, after the safari was over. There would be more time to explore the city then without being rushed.
Nairobi is known for its shopping and open air Maasai Market with beautiful hand-crafted African goods including jewelry, clothing, wood carvings, and incredible bead work. Maasai women sell their beaded jewelry throughout the city. Fierce businesswomen, they don’t take no for an answer. I bought several cuff bracelets in traditional red, yellow, and blue Maasai colors. They’re unique, cherished possessions.
Nairobi is one of Africa’s most politically and financially important cities. The word “Nairobi” comes from the Maasai phrase “Enkare Nyorobi” meaning “the place of cool waters”. At one time under the British East Africa protectorate, Nairobi’s land was a swamp inhabited by the Maasai. Later the British built a railroad connecting East African cities, opening the area to trade, and encouraging settlements.
With a population of three million Nairobi is the largest city in East Africa. It’s home to the United Nations African Office and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The UNEP “sets the global environmental agenda, promotes sustainable environmental development within the UN system, and serves as an advocate for the global environment”.
Maasai Mara National Reserve
The following morning after an early breakfast we left Nairobi and headed for the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The “Mara” is a popular safari destination and one of Africa’s most spectacular game reserves.
The Mara marks the beginning of the Great Migration of over a million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of Thomson’s gazelle and zebra pursued by ravenous predators. The area is known for an abundant lion population and the colorful Maasai People. When driving on Mara roads, animals always have the right-of-way.
The Maasai Mara covers 1,000 miles and is bound by the Serengeti Plain to the south, Siria slopes to the west, and Maasai ranches to the north and east. The landscape is mainly vast savannah grassland including rivers that come and go with the seasons and interesting trees like the flat-topped acacia.
Mt. Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa, is a main peak in the Maasai Mara. The legend goes that Mt. Kenya’s three peaks stand for the Kikuyu chief’s three sons selected by God to rule Kenya. The Kikuyu are the largest ethnic group in Kenya.
Mt. Kenya’s two main summits can only be reached by technical climbing. The mountain’s third highest peak, Point Lenana, is a popular trekking and hiking destination as is smaller Mt. Longonot, a stratovolcano that last erupted in the 1860s.
All animals in Africa’s Big Five – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo – live in the Maasai Mara. Hippos gather in the Talek River, a tributary of the Mara River. Black Rhino and Cheetah live in the Maasai reserve but in small numbers since both species are threatened. The reserve is home to over 450 species of birds including marabou storks, secretary birds, hornbills, cranes, herons, ostriches, and one of my favorites – African Pygmy-Falcons.
Our accommodation was in permanent tents in one of many Maasai Mara Camps. The camp perimeter wasn’t fenced so lions and other wild animals were free to come and go. Everyone was cautious – especially at night. While we were sleeping an impressive Maasai night guard sat by a fire outside our tents watching over the campsite. He was magnificent. Just the same, I made sure my tent door was securely fastened!
The next morning we enjoyed a game drive followed by a visit to a nearby Maasai village. Maasai villagers surrounded our group, draped us with colorful robes, and performed a welcome dance. I felt a little silly but it was fun interacting with the friendly Maasai who are known for their warm, outgoing personalities.
Part of the walk from our campsite to the Maasai kraal and houses was over a fresh field of cattle dung. Regrettably I was wearing a pair of flip-flops – maybe better than a coating of dung on my hiking boots….
Lake Nakuru National Park
Early the next day we departed the Maasai camp heading north to Lake Nakuru National Park and another afternoon of game driving. Nakuru means “dry or dusty place” in Maasai. The saline, alkaline lake was originally a bird sanctuary. It became a National Park in 1968.
Lake Nakuru is home to a variety of animals including the Big Four – lion, leopard, rhino, and buffalo. The Lake is a haven for endangered black and white rhino but there are no elephants in the park.
Nakuru is famous for enormous flocks of flamingos that gather by its shores to feed on the abundant algae in the Lake’s water. Trees and vegetation around the lake range from grasslands to dense forests, including the very rare tarchonanthus bushlands and euphorbia forests – neither of which I had ever heard of before….