Ten years ago my wife and I safaried at Porini Camps in the Maasai Mara, Kenya. Sir David Attenborough said of Porini Amboseli "What a marvellous example of how people and wildlife can live alongside one another. Thank you all."
I have done several safaris but nothing else matched Porini. Ever since, I have wanted to tell the world. Here I go: first I set the scene, with wildlife photos later. Of course, things may have changed in 10 years but Porini are still getting 5-star reviews from 499 reviewers on TripAdvisor.
We started on the Mombasa South coast Ukunda airstrip, flying 600km, 2hr 20m, to the Mara in a 12 seater plane - great views of Kilimanjaro en route. Driving would have meant 800km and 14 hours. At the Mara, we were met by our Maasai spotter (guide) and driver ready for our first safari.
We stayed two nights at Mara Camp in Ol Kinyei Conservancy, a 6570 hectare (18,700 acre) private wilderness with open plains, forests and rivers. There was also access to the exclusive 20,000 ha (50,000 ac) Naboisho Conservancy and the 151,000 ha (61,000 ac) Maasai Mara Reserve.
Ol Kinyei belongs to the local Maasai community who lease it to Gamewatchers Safaris, gaining an income, employment for local people, health care and education. There are just two camps in Ol Kinyei: Porini Mara and Porini Cheetah, each with 12 guests max, a truly exclusive experience of eco-tourism.
Mara Camp had everything we wanted. It was small, intimate even, but fully equipped. We loved the accommodation, the food, the service, the friendly welcome and the exclusive access to diverse landscapes and fabulous wildlife.
Diverse habitats meant diverse wildlife. Importantly, we controlled the agenda - 'you want elephants, we'll find elephants'; 'you like birds, we'll look specially'; or ' you want to just sit and observe, we'll stay until you say to move'. No frantic 'big five' hunt and 'tick box' safari you get with many operators.
We had two fantastic days and nights at Mara camp - wildlife photos to come - before we joined a new driver and spotter for three nights with the Lion Camp team.
Lion Camp, with 9 tents, has a small environmental footprint. Policies involve stakeholders, management and staff, emphasising local community benefits, sustainable tourism and management of land, water, energy and waste. Lion Camp was one of the founders of Olare Motorogi Conservancy (13400 ha, 33,000 ac) promoting wildlife conservation and providing economic gain to the community.
Both camps were staffed by Maasai - drivers and spotters, waiting staff, chefs, room staff, security guards and maintenance people.
We enjoyed greatly talking with our Maasai hosts. Not only were our safari team very knowledgeable about the wildlife, they were also happy to talk about Maasai life: the tribal hierarchy; village politics; conservatism of older Maasai versus the aspirations of younger people; health and education; and the conflicts between conservation, tourist income and traditional measures of wealth such ownership of cattle. We openly, honestly - and informatively for us - tackled tricky issues such as polygamy and FGM. And we laughed a lot, sharing a similar sense of humour. I loved it - a true privilege.
I have enjoyed sorting through my safari photos to select a handful for the blog. My old Panasonic DMC TC10 (used for wide angle pics) did a decent job in its day. I would love to go back with my current cameras to retake safari photos and meet the Maasai again, but my health issues - especially problems with travel insurance - preclude that.
Further blog posts will show some of the abundant wildlife of the Mara.