conservation and preservation
Even though we enjoy self-drive safaris, there is no question that the Maasai Mara must be done with a guide. At 1500 sq km, the Mara is only a fraction of the size of the Serengeti, which is essentially the same national park across the border in Tanzania. However, 1500 sq km is still a massive expanse of wilderness, none of it sign posted. If you had given us a compass and a map, there is still a good chance that we would have been unable to navigate the tangle of haphazardly criss-crossing car tracks that run through the Mara, let alone be able to find any of the elusive animals that brought us there.
Because of its popularity, there is a wide range of tour operators who will happily charge exorbitant fees to take tourists to the Mara. No matter the state of the global economy, trips to the Mara have their own inflation rate, which has been steadily outpacing even the high rate of food inflation in Kenya. Low-budget trips are better to be avoided, as you will likely end up riding in a cramped matatu-style minibus with a tour guide from Nairobi whose knowledge of the Mara will be only incrementally more expansive than your own. These buses tend to speed around aimlessly, crowding around whenever their drivers spot someone else who has found something worth seeing. However, we did not want to shell out for a top-end lodge either.
On a friend’s recommendation, we went with Gamewatchers and we cannot say enough good things about our experience. The company operates four camps, two of which are on land that borders the Mara. All four of their Porini camps [porini is a Kiswahili word meaning “in the wilds”] are located on conservancies, and the company works with the local communities to provide employment while at the same time protecting the wildlife and ecosystem that is in danger of being destroyed by the increased human presence in this region. Despite precipitous drops in animal populations throughout Africa, these and other conservancies in Kenya have actually managed to increase the number of animals on their land. The Porini Mara camp exclusively employs Maasai from the neighboring villages, so all of our guides, cooks, and other camp staff had a connection with the land.
Conservation is a key component of the Porini business model. For example, they have rigged a bucket shower system whereby a bucket of hot water is raised by a pulley and connected to a length of hose that runs into the shower. The system operates by gravity, enabling visitors to have a hot shower – much needed after a long and dusty game drive – without unduly taxing the ecosystem. So the camps are eco-friendly while also maintaining a high level of comfort.