We have been so lucky that we have had the opportunity of going to Africa twice. Two very different places, and two very different vibes. It was a dream for the both of us to see all those animals that David Attenborough had shown us on countless programs from the savanna. To experience live a flock of lions, to see a cheetah on the hunt, giraffes grazing on treetops is a dream. To see, and smell and hear all those animals, it’s like nothing else on this planet. For many it will remain a dream, but if you have the chance, you should go and see for yourself the splendour of Africa.
For Europeans flying to Africa means little or no jetlag, and that is a good thing. Both our trips were done with few days on site, just 3 nights, so it was intense, but the price of a safari being at a premium, it’s not something you could do for weeks on end either. At least not in the safari camps. There are options in all price classes, all over Africa, so to do this on a budget is possible. We wanted the luxury treatment, go big or go home, so both our trips were in the upper echelons of the price range.
Kenya, Maasai Mara.
We flew into Nairobi and continued with local small plane transfer to Masai Mara. This stretch could be done by small transfer bus, but it is not recommended, it takes too long and the roads are bad. So plane is the way to go if you have limited time. To land on a small dirt airstrip, with elephants grazing all around it, is something else. Our chosen camp was the Kichwa Tembo camp and it was glorious! Yes, it’s expensive, but again you don’t need to stay for a week to get a taste of Africa and get to see some of the wildlife.
Maasai (Masai) tribe welcome us to Kenya.
The adumu, traditional Masai jumping dance. For the performance of adumu, the aim is to jumps as high as possible, as smooth as possible, as elegant as possible. The highest jumps can be 80 centimeters high!
To be greeted by Masai warriors, smiles all around, and a service beyond compare was an experience. The lawnmowers were a flock of warthogs, grazing calmly among the lounge chairs and sofas on the lawn. The setting was sublime, overlooking the plains, and with lush greenery all around the camp. The animals are fenced out, or the humans fenced in, depending on how you look at it, so walking around the campgrounds was relatively safe.
To sit on your own porch and look out over all the animals just meters away, and listening to the snorts, grunts and rustling is just amazeballs. Not to mention lying awake at night when the noise from the savanna really gets loud – you hear the lions roar, and you hum on every song from Toto to The Lion king just to get to go to sleep, there is nothing like it.
The Maasai Mara, or simply just The Mara is a large game reserve, and it continues south to become the Serengeti in Tanzania. It is world renowned for its exceptional populations of lions, leopards, cheetahs and elephants. The annual Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra crosses the park, and this is also the best time to visit The Mara, and thus high season is between July and October. We visited in March (low season), and we had no problem spotting all the animals we wanted (except the elusive leopard) while there.
To sum up the days, you are woken up very early, before the sun rises. You get tea and biscuits, and head out on the plains to look for the animals. The guide in the safari car works with spotters, and together they find animals, and on the way, you drive past more animals.
This elephant displaying ears out as a warning, it did not like one of the guests poking out a GoPro on a stick outside the jeep. So nothing should go on the outside of the jeep while watching animals.
Back to camp for breakfast. Then you relax and wait for lunch. After lunch you relax some more, then it’s afternoon game drive, which is basically repeat the morning, with other or same type of animals.
Get back early evening and have sundowners while waiting for dinner. Great food with great drinks, local Masais dancing and general fun ensues. To bed early, to rise early the next day and repeat. Every evening and every morning you hope to see some new animal that you did not see the day before, all the while driving past countless wildebeest, zebras and other antler clad hoofed things.
Topping this with a balloon trip in the morning, you have basically had the ultimate safari adventure. After taking off we saw the sun rise over the plains. The perspective from ballooning over the flocks of animals grazing in the morning sun is beyond compare. If you go ballooning once in your lifetime, this is the place to splash out for such a thing, it was marvellous!
We loved the Maasai Mara, the open plains were what we imagined when planning our first safari. The camp, the people, the food and the animals made this the ultimate safari adventure (so far!).
The last day we had to wait for a few hours in Nairobi, so we visited the Giraffe Manor, hope to stay here next time. They have a viewing platform where you can spot the giraffes, and maybe have a giraffe snog.
We also had time to visit the elephant orphanage of Dame Sheldrick – you have to be a sponsor to visit, so you can’t just show up here. This was an experience, we got to see the baby elephants come home after a day in the bush, and they wanted their milk badly. They came charging in, and we had to jump out of the way! Scratching a baby elephant behind the ear is a once in a lifetime experience. Thank you Kenya, we love you!
South Africa, Madikwe Game Reserve
Our second trip to Africa took us to South Africa, and the northern part of the country, to Madikwe Game Reserve.
We went by plane to Johannesburg, and then by a small plane to Madikwe, situated against the Botswana border. You can go by car or bus from Johannesburg, but if you have little time, a small plane is the way to get there. The difference between The Mara and Madikwe was that this is bushland – not open plains – and a fenced park, a huge fence, so you don’t see or notice it too much. This used to be farmland, but it was not good farmland, so it was made into a game reserve and the humans were fenced out. We came here at the end of January, which is summer and in the rainy season, but when we came in over the small airstrip in the bush, the whole landscape was twinkling like silver from all the water flooding the roads and paths. Everything was supergreen, lush to the max.
The trip was organized by the fantastic people at GET Africa Travel who recommended we stay at the Madikwe Safari Lodge – a place that is pure luxury and indulgence and really a romantic getaway. We were welcomed like royals upon our arrival.
Our first game drive was done in pouring rain and thunderstorms. Our guide asked if we really wanted to venture outside the lodge, and we answered, “WE ARE THE VIKINGS!” and a little rain does not scare us. Being alone in an open safari jeep, during a rainstorm, in the middle of nowhere, with water reaching halfway up the side of the car, was very exciting. Not something you think will be special, but it’s one of the things we remember best from the whole trip.
The day to day routines are the same as in most game reserves, up early, game drive, lunch, game drive, dinner and repeat. There will be impalas jumping over the track every day, lots of giraffes looming over the bush like ancient dinosaurs. The reserve is huge, but you will encounter the fence a few times, since many animals like to hang around those areas, relaxing with their backs to the fence.
Every time we drove across the airstrip it was a party there of various wildlife, a jackal was sleeping in the arrivals area, and the zebras partied in the tax-free shop. Just epic and fun all the way. The park has a thriving population of the highly endangered African Wild Dog, we found and observed the pack sleeping, but also tearing into a kudu they had caught just moments before we arrived.
We saw some magnificent herds of elephants; they are rust coloured due to the local mud they wallow in on a regular basis. We stopped for a while to look at them congregate at a crossroads, when a car came past a little too fast, they all promptly started trumpeting loudly to say, “SLOW DOWN!” very cool indeed. Unfortunately, the park did not seem to have too many cats, we only saw a few lions on our visit. Even though it is a fenced in park, of course animals are difficult to spot, so we were told they had cats, but the ones they had were playing hide and seek with the rangers at the time.
We had a wonderful experience with three elephant juveniles frolicking in a large pond, and we got up close and personal with a White Rhino. We had a cool and knowledgeable guide, and he knew how to go off-road, weaving through the bush like a champ.
Waking up and seeing wildlife grazing just outside the window is one benefit of having no fence around the lodges, we had a house kudu that kept waking us up every morning with loud grazing, the downside was that we had to have guards every time we left our hut in the evening, but that also made it exciting. The lodge itself was great, with outside shower, small plunge pool, fireplace in the bedroom and big bathtub to soak in after a long hard day in the jeep.
The lodge itself gave us culinary excess, the best G&T we have ever had, and the level of service from the staff and the guides was awesome. We had a great time in Madikwe, a very romantic place, full of unique experiences, we will be back some day for sure. Thank you South Africa!