in the bush
We wound up going on four game drives over the course of the three days and two nights we spent at Porini Mara Camp. In addition to the full day we spent in the Maasai Mara on Sunday, we also went on three drives around the conservancy: an afternoon drive after we arrived on Saturday, a night drive after dinner Saturday night, and an early morning drive before we headed back to Nairobi on Monday. Before leaving on our first drive, our guide, Ben, told us that the Maasai don’t say, “we will go see lions or some other big animal;” rather, they say that they will go see what nature has to offer. With wildlife-based tourism, one can never be certain of seeing what one wants, so we tried to keep realistic expectations as we climbed into the open-air, souped-up LandCruiser for our first drive around the conservancy.
Perhaps the best thing about staying at the conservancy rather than in the actual Mara reserve is that we had the place all to ourselves. There are no fences, as with game reserves in South Africa, so the same animals inhabit the conservancy land as the actual Mara game park. Unlike the Mara, however, which is crawling with tourists, we had the Ol Kinyei conservancy all to ourselves. After stopping so that we could take pictures of the dozens of different antelopes and other common species that inhabit the region, we set off in search of the harder to find animals that we had not been able to see in other game parks in Kenya.
How good were our guides? After driving around fruitlessly in search of a leopard, we came upon a carcass. Your humble narrators would have been unable to tell whether the carcass was a day or a week old. Our guides, on the other hand, immediately said that there must be lions about and plunged the vehicle into the bush.
Sure enough, it took less than a minute for us to come upon about a dozen lions – three adult females and a bunch of cubs – that were lazing around in the bush. We spent about an hour watching the lion cubs play with each other before driving back out to the plain to watch the sunset.
An African sunset is spectacular in its own right, but this one was made all the more enjoyable because our guides busted out some folding chairs and a cooler, and made us superb gin & tonics, which we slowly sipped as darkness descended on the savannah.
Not only were our guides able to find lions hiding in the bush, but they were also able to locate them in the dark when we went for our game drive after dinner. Lions are typically more active at night, but our guides had no trouble finding them in the pitch dark despite the fact that they had moved a few kilometers from where we saw them originally. Not only did we see the full pride out on the prowl, but our guides also managed to find the dominant male, who was off trying to mate with one of the lionesses and whom we did not see during the day.
On our early morning drive, we also saw hyenas, jackals, and a couple of bat-eared foxes, none of which let themselves be seen on our full day game drive in the Mara. D diligently kept track of the different mammals we saw in the conservancy on a scorecard conveniently provided by the Porini camp. Though we wound up checking off 30 species, it was the lions that captivated our hearts and camera lenses.