Maasai Mara - Kenya
Sand River Tented Camp
Where do I start? Oh yeah, how about the most amazing leopard sighting in my 8 safaris so far? On the way from the Keekorok airstrip to camp we saw a beautiful female leopard walking out in the open and no other vehicles around. She was out in the wide open and walked a few feet from our vehicle. We would then reposition the car and played this dance a few times before other vehicles caught wind and joined the party.
Sand River Camp is an Elewana property located on the banks of the Sand River with view over to the Serengeti. The camp has a classic feel to it with beautiful dark wood chairs, couches and tables and is set amongst the bush of the Maasai Mara. The tents themselves are big with a lounge, oversized 4-post bed, oversized bathtub, outdoor shower and viewing deck where lots of game walk along the river. While this isn’t the right time of year, the migration passes right through the camp. This year they were early arriving in June and only finally left in October. The camp is further away than the concentrated areas of the Mara and does offer viewing that isn’t so crowded.
The river was mostly dry but you could see elephant, buffalo and lion prints that weren't that old.
Our Maasai guide, Dennis, told us we had a 98% chance of seeing lion. We don’t like to use the word guarantee in this business, but that’s pretty close to 100% and he was not wrong. We saw more lion here than I can remember from solitary males wandering the plains to a pride of 6 powerful females and 5 cubs. The best lion sighting though was just before the most magical balloon ride over the Mara. We arrived to our launching site and were waiting when we started hearing hyena… and a lot of them. Once you’ve heard a hyena its hard to forget their distinctive calls. We got in the vehicle and found about 28 hyena crying, whining and yelping at this big beautiful lion enjoying a small impala. They kept getting closer even daring to snipe at the lions rump but none were so brave to launch a frontal attack. The lion seemed a little annoyed, but not that much considering he was outnumbered 28 to 1. That’s how the King of the Jungle rolls.
We then took off on our balloon ride. We were about 5 minutes into our ride before we started coming back closer to the ground where two younger males were heading straight towards us. We were about 6 feet off the ground when I started getting nervous as they were looking straight at us. We then felt the heat of the burners and slowly started gaining altitude again. A balloon ride over the Maasai Mara is not about wildlife game viewing, while up to this point wasn’t the case, but it’s about the experience of rising and then falling silently and gliding and watching the sun rise over the hills with other balloons around providing excellent opportunities for picture. The ride lasts over an hour and in this time we saw different antelope species, ostrich, warthogs and, oh yeah, a cheetah. Yes, we saw a cheetah on a small hill enjoying the views as well. We got a closer view after we had landed and drove back to our champagne breakfast that also included croissants, pastries, sausage, quiche, cheeses and more. If you haven’t done a balloon ride and are on the fence, I definitely recommend it as wonderful experience, and if you have no expectations like I did, you may just see some incredible things.
Laikipia - Kenya
Located in the Laikipia area, Loisaba is a fantastic tented camp. We arrived after a 55 minute flight from Meru.
Our guide is a Samburu person who was dressed in traditional garb including flower in the headless and very ornamental feather sticking up. He is fantastic and has the most infectious laugh. Having him as a guide is a true pleasure.
The next main highlight for me was this morning. Everyone else in the group went on a game drive while King Solomon, as I called him, another guide with the vehicle and I headed on mountain bikes for a ride. Solomon and I were on bikes and the vehicle was up ahead scouting for lions and other African fauna. The ride was tremendous! It wasn’t too strenuous or inclined, but a bit muddy. We saw some zebra and giraffe, but the best was the two elephant. One wouldn’t let us pass by as we waited patiently by the vehicle for cover. Then a second elephant came on the scene and fought the first one. It was a brief clash, but a mighty one as they crashed tusks! I couldn’t believe it. Oh, and this was just after we spotted fresh lion tracks on the road as we were cycling. The second half of the ride we were bombing downhill and I’ve never seen a Samburu warrior feel less assured in the bush than me!
Today was an epic day and it only got better when we landed in the Maasai Mara, but I’ll save that for next time!
Meru National Park, Kenya
Elsa’s Kopje was designed and built by Stefano Cheli, and opened in 1999 by Dr Richard Leakey, and Virgina McKenna, the star of the 1960’s film “Born Free”, and then founder of the “Born Free” foundation.