Day One: Monday 29 February 2016
The flight in a 12 seater, single-engined, plane from Wilson Airport, Nairobi to Olkiombo airstrip in the Masai Mara took 50 minutes. Time enough to get a feel for the grandeur of the scenery, to see both elephants and giraffes from the air – which was wildly exciting – and to notice the network of heavily rutted 4×4 tracks criss-crossing the plain.
At the airstrip, half a dozen liveried safari vehicles were waiting to ferry guests from a succession of incoming flights to various Lodges and Camps. My heart sank a little, as the reality of nature-tourism reared it’s head. I’m not sure what I expected, although I have to acknowledge a romantic attachment to Director Sydney Pollack’s Edenic vision of Kenya in Out of Africa, still one of my favourite films 30 years after it’s release.
Things looked up immediately as my Masai guide (I say my because I was the only passenger for Basecamp) climbed out of the least preposessing and most workmanlike of the 4x4s and introduced himself as Steve. “Really,” I said. “Are you the only Steve at Basecamp? My wife came here in 2012 and she told me about a wonderful day she had with a guide named Steve.” I showed him a picture of Chris. “That’s her,” I said. “Chris Seeley.”
He flashed a brilliant smile. “I remember her,” he said. “She has not come with you?” “No,” I said. “She died from a brain tumour a year ago. But we always talked of coming here together. That’s why I’m here.”
“I am very sorry to hear that she has died,” he said. “But you are most welcome. Karibu.”
Steve drove slowly to Basecamp with many detours to see the teeming wildlife, from warthogs to elephants including a close encounter with a massive solitary tusker. Later in the day, we came across a Cheetah eating a recent kill. Four other safari trucks soon pulled up alongside us to watch the feast. Steve told me that in high season it would have been a dozen or more.
Which is when I realised that the Masai Mara has become something of a theme park, albeit on very a grand scale. But I’m not cavilling: without the revenue generated by nature-tourism, there would be no economic reason for Kenyans to protect the habitat and thus enable the survival of this unique eco-system. It’s more fragile than it once was, and it would no doubt be better off without any human presence at all, but it’s still here and it’s still wonderful.
I’m very glad I came.