Kenya - An Asilia Experience

Author: Ryan Johnston

I was starting to feel left out this year as all the WanderingThru privets guide had the opportunity to travel to East Africa this year. Finally the stars aligned and I managed to get onto a trip to Kenya at the beginning of November to explore some of the most iconic destinations in this country. To say that I was over the moon was definitely an understatement! Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Mara Naboisho Conservancy, and Masai Mare itself were on the list. I could not wait and counted down the days for months until the big trip finally came around.

I flew directly to Nairobi from Johannesburg, a short three-and-a half-hour flight. Kenya Airways was great; the flight was comfortable, and the food was good. I landed and, without much hassle, headed through to my hotel, the Four Points Hotel, very close to the airport. After a good rest, I met up with the rest of my team for breakfast, and we were informed about the daily schedule. Soon after breakfast, we headed off to a smaller airport, where we took our first 45-minute flight.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Kenya safari with Wandering Thru

Ol Pejeta is home to the last two surviving Northern White Rhinos (Ceratotherium simum cottoni). It also boasts large numbers of both Southern White Rhinos (Ceratotherium simum simum) and Black Rhinos (Diceros bicornis). The work they are doing here to preserve all three species is absolutely amazing.

We arrived at the gates of the conservancy, filled in the necessary paperwork, and were informed that it would take us about half an hour to get to our camp, Ol Pejeta Bush Camp. About 200 metres through the gate, we had seen our first black rhino. For someone who knows how difficult it is to see and track these often illusive animals, I was over the moon. I soon learned, though, that we were to see many, many more. About fifteen minutes into the drive, we then saw a massive male leopard hunting a group of warthogs! What a start! By the time we arrived at the camp, we had seen six black rhinos, countless white rhinos, leopards, elephants, buffalo, giraffes, and numerous other antelope species.

On arrival at the camp, we were greeted by the staff, who sang one of their local songs to us. We met everyone and were shown to the main area, where we were told about the camp and the conservancy. The main area was where we were to meet before activities, and all our meals were to be shared. It had an amazing view of a clearing, and we were treated to views of elephants while we were enjoying our welcome drinks. All our questions were answered with good knowledge of the area, and we were shown to our tents there after.

Each tent had an equally amazing view of the river that flows past camp and the clearing beyond as well. The bird life around camp was amazing, and I counted at least 30 species from my tent alone. The tent was very spacious and comfortable, with a large double bed, cupboards, and a large bathroom as well. It is a safari tent, but a very comfortable one at that, and very private.

We spent the next two nights in this magical spot, and with amazing game drives and brilliant food, the time just flew by. The amount of wildlife we saw, especially rhinos, was just staggering. I saw more black rhinos in two days than I have seen in the last 10 years combined. As this is a favourite of mine, I was in heaven.

Kenya safari with Wandering Thru

A standout at this camp was getting to visit the Northern White rhinos. We got to spend the morning meeting and learning from the amazing guys who were doing everything they could to save this special species. We were also introduced to the two special ladies themselves, and after a very close inspection, there were some obvious differences between the Northern and Southern white rhinos. I also got to meet Baraka, a very special, blind black rhino. He was blinded in a fight with another black rhino bull, and so he was taken in by the Rhino Project. Although it is sad, he is very happy and is an amazing ambassador for his species and the project.

Ol Pejeta Bush Camp, its staff, the rhinos, and the conservancy were all incredibly special. The two nights we spent there absolutely flew by, and before we knew it, we were off to the airport for the next part of the adventure.

Encounter Mara and Naboisho

Our next stop was two nights in the Naboisho Conservancy, where Asilia has two camps, Encounter Mara and Naboisho. We were lucky enough to spend a night at each camp and experience its magic. The Naboisho Conservancy is a private conservancy that is owned by the local people and is one of the conservancies adjacent to the main Masai Mara, only split off by a few local villages. This doesn’t stop the animals too much, though, and a lot of them move between

We landed at the airstrip and were met at the airstrip by our very enthusiastic guide, and we made our way towards Encounter Mara. I knew something was up as our guide was very excited, but I said nothing as I didn’t want to spoil the surprise for the rest of the group. We saw a large amount of white-bearded wildebeest, topi, both Grants and Thompsons gazelles, zebras, and giraffes. Then the excitement became clear: a female cheetah and a young impala were killed. We spent some time watching her before we headed down to the camp, which was not far away.

Kenya safari with Wandering Thru

Encounter Mara is nestled in a beautiful thicket and is so well hidden from view. The safari tents were very similar to those at Ol Pejeta, but rather than overlooking a river, each had its own little clearing in front of it. They are very well spaced out, and they are all very private again. The lunch deck had a phenomenal view, and we spent most of the afternoon there, birding and watching animal life move by.

Our afternoon drive was great, and we got to meet the local pride of lions, watching their cubs play through a rainstorm. We were very well equipped for the rain, and it was great to cool off while we watched the lionesses and cubs. After the rains, we managed to find the three male lions that were in charge of most of the conservancy. They roared for us numerous times and continued throughout the night, serenading us right through dinner and into bedtime. One of the highlights was most definitely the song and dance the Masai staff did for us after dinner, an experience on its own.

The next morning’s drive was again spectacular, with another pride of lions, bat-eared foxes, and large amounts of hyena. We watched a large clan of hyena finish off a wildebeest carcass before we ourselves stopped to have breakfast in the bush. Everything you could think of was there, from fruits and yoghurt to home-made breads, eggs, and bacon. While we were packing up, we had audio of lions and hyenas fighting. We managed to find the hyenas finishing off the remains of a warthog kill, but no lions, as they had been chased off by the strong hyena group. From there, we headed off to see Naboisho, where we were spending our second night.

Naboisho is spectacular! There are few words that can describe the view from the main area and the rooms themselves. You overlook open Mara grasslands, with huge herds of antelope, zebras, and buffalo visible in all directions. I could not get myself to rest there during the day, as I just sat and soaked it all in. The rooms at Naboisho are really well done. With seven standard rooms and two family suites, there is space for twenty-two guests at the camp.

Kenya safari with Wandering Thru

After a superb lunch and exploring around the camp, we headed out on our afternoon drive. We were lucky enough to see the female cheetah again, but this time she had her five small cubs with her, and it was great to see them. We then spent the rest of the evening, including sunset, with a pride of fourteen lions, all within view of the camp.

Dinner was spent enjoying good food, good wine, and discussing the amazing sightings we had managed to have that day. We were all very much on a high, as everything was just working out in our favor. While we had dinner, there was another small rain shower, which just cooled everything down, making it possible to sleep with the room flaps down. There is meshing up to stop the insects from getting in, but it doesn’t allow you to take in the night’s sounds. Hippo, hyena, lion, buffalo, and zebra were heard throughout the night, which was, for me, the best way to sleep.

Kenya safari with Wandering Thru

After a hearty breakfast the next morning, we started our trip towards the next destination. This transfer is done by road, but as it is into the Masai Mara, it is pretty much a game drive the whole way there. We saw a new-born Masai giraffe, along with large groups of eland, buffalo, ostrich, topi, and Coke’s hartebeest, en route to our last destination.

Rekero

Rekero is situated in the heart of Masai Mara National Park and along the banks of the Talek River. The main area looks straight down the river itself and overlooks one of the popular crossing points for the migration. meaning that guests often witness a crossing from the camp itself during the right season. All nine tents have spectacular views of the river as well. I had a resident group of hippos right outside my tent, along with a few crocodiles. You are situated on the bank itself, and so you are more than safe.

As with all of the other camps, the tents were great. It was nice and spacious, well ventilated, and had everything you might need or want. With the views, it was just out of this world.

After another great lunch, we had a bit of a rest before high tea and then went out on safari. We spent the afternoon with a beautiful female leopard, who posed perfectly for us all. There was a magical sunset as the clouds slowly moved in again, but the sky and silhouettes were amazing. Dinner was great again, and it finished just in time. As we got to our tents, the rain came down, helping sleep come fast and easily.

Kenya safari with Wandering Thru

Our morning drive started looking out for a lioness and her young cubs, but with the rain the night before, it was difficult to tell which way they had gone. As we were sitting on top of one of the ridges, scanning for any signs of them, our guide spotted something even more exciting. In the distance, he spotted a large herd of zebras heading straight towards the famous Mara River. I couldn’t contain my excitement, as the chance of seeing a crossing was now becoming a potential reality. We headed straight in their direction and were the first vehicle in place as the first zebra hit the water. What an experience—one of nature’s phenomena! The sights and sounds were just amazing. Zebras calling, swimming, running—it was just so much. It didn’t take long for the crocodiles to get into place, and we witnessed at least six kills. It was unfortunate for some of the zebras, but where six were killed, over a thousand others managed to cross.

I could not believe my luck, as this was a massive bucket list item for me, now checked. After sitting there for almost three hours, we moved down stream and enjoyed a breakfast right next to the river. While having breakfast, we enjoyed the large amounts of hippo and bird life that were also along the river. We then went back to see what was going on at the crossing point. Some of the crocodiles were enjoying their breakfast, but a lioness had also arrived and was seeing if she had any chance at a kill. She was just about to give up when another group of zebras arrived. Out of nowhere, five other lionesses appeared, and they all got themselves into position. This time, though, all the zebras survived, as they managed to see the lions and evade the trap.

Kenya safari with Wandering Thru

The day flew by, and before we knew it, we were back out on the road. We went back to see what had happened and found that the lionesses had come right and killed a zebra during the day. The whole pride, along with one of the large males, had fed and were all resting close to the remains of the carcass. We ourselves were then treated to a drink stop on top of one of the ridges, overlooking a large area of the Mara. What a way to finish off the day!

The next morning, we had a bit of a lay-in before we had our last breakfast together. People were starting to head in different directions, with different flight times, and so on. We all said goodbye and parted in three different directions. Fortunately for our group, we could still squeeze in a short drive. We bid farewell to the amazing team at Rekero and headed out. On the way, we found a large herd of about a thousand buffaloes marching towards the Talek River. We shot around and managed to watch them cross as well. There were no crocodiles present, and the river wasn’t as deep as the Mara River, but it was amazing to see and a cherry on top.

Kenya safari with Wandering Thru

We flew straight out of Masai Mara to Nairobi, a short 45-minute flight. This is where we all went our separate ways, as we were all flying back to different countries. After a short wait, I myself flew back down to Johannesburg.

Conclusion

Asilia has done an amazing job setting up some truly beautiful camps. They are not over the top, but a lot of thought has gone into their positioning, tents, and the areas they use. They have got this all spot-on. The staff were amazing—some of the friendliest, happiest people. They could not do enough for us, and we really did feel at home at all times.

The number of animals we saw and the special sightings we had in just six days were just mind-blowing. Photographic opportunities came thick and fast, at times making it difficult to keep up.

I will most certainly be back and cannot wait to get my guests out to these magical areas! I have a trip planned there for 2024, so follow this link and have a look to join me 

 

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