Maasai Mara eco-tour

by Robin Fuller November. 14, 2020 200 views
We flew in to the Mara airstrip where we were met by our Porini driver and spotter - the flight was perhaps the least 'eco' bit of our tour. But if only air travel were always this simple!

We flew in to the Mara airstrip where we were met by our Porini driver and spotter - the flight was perhaps the least 'eco' bit of our tour. But if only air travel were always this simple!

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.

A picnic lunch on the Mara before our first game drive.

A picnic lunch on the Mara before our first game drive.

We two had the exclusive attention of a driver and spotter throughout our stay, and a 4x4 to ourselves.

We two had the exclusive attention of a driver and spotter throughout our stay, and a 4x4 to ourselves.

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.

Open plains with grasslands support huge numbers of grazing animals and the predators that prey upon them.

Open plains with grasslands support huge numbers of grazing animals and the predators that prey upon them.

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.

The five guest tents in Mara Camp are set under yellow-barked Acacia trees along the banks of the small Laetoli River. And, yes, those are wild elephants in the distance, about centre-frame.

The five guest tents in Mara Camp are set under yellow-barked Acacia trees along the banks of the small Laetoli River. And, yes, those are wild elephants in the distance, about centre-frame.

Our tent at Mara Camp had a wooden platform, canvas sides and a generous canopy to keep out sun and rain. Solar power gives light and the all important power for camera batteries and screens.

Our tent at Mara Camp had a wooden platform, canvas sides and a generous canopy to keep out sun and rain. Solar power gives light and the all important power for camera batteries and screens.

Inside are two double beds and occasional furniture locally crafted from sustainable materials ....

Inside are two double beds and occasional furniture locally crafted from sustainable materials ....

... and the all important basin and flush toilet - with biodegradable waste management ...

... and the all important basin and flush toilet - with biodegradable waste management ...

... and a shower, hot or cold as you wish, piped indoors, gravity-fed from a canvas bucket outdoors on a pulley which is lowered and filled on request.

... and a shower, hot or cold as you wish, piped indoors, gravity-fed from a canvas bucket outdoors on a pulley which is lowered and filled on request.

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.

The plains are broken with various habitats, here a line of Acacia trees marks the course of a small river in the Mara.

The plains are broken with various habitats, here a line of Acacia trees marks the course of a small river in the Mara.

Scattered trees offer habitats for birds and provide food for browsers like Giraffes and Elephants.

Scattered trees offer habitats for birds and provide food for browsers like Giraffes and Elephants.

Spotters are trained as guides on wildlife and environment but, together with the driver, will happily discuss Maasai lifestyles, tribal politics, and the delicate balance between conservation and pastoral land use.

Spotters are trained as guides on wildlife and environment but, together with the driver, will happily discuss Maasai lifestyles, tribal politics, and the delicate balance between conservation and pastoral land use.

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.

Porini Lion Camp blends unobtrusively into the Mara landscape.

Porini Lion Camp blends unobtrusively into the Mara landscape.

Lion Camp accommodation was much more luxurious than that at the Mara Camp. The tents were huge, airy and light, superbly appointed and very comfortable.

Lion Camp accommodation was much more luxurious than that at the Mara Camp. The tents were huge, airy and light, superbly appointed and very comfortable.

The' dining room' too was spacious and furnished with superb attention to detail with fixtures and fittings sourced locally and made by Maasai craft workers.

The' dining room' too was spacious and furnished with superb attention to detail with fixtures and fittings sourced locally and made by Maasai craft workers.

Both camps were staffed by Maasai - drivers and spotters, waiting staff, chefs, room staff, security guards and maintenance people.

Another day, another picnic; and another chance to learn more about our hosts and the fascinating Maasai community.

Another day, another picnic; and another chance to learn more about our hosts and the fascinating Maasai community.

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.

Walking safaris allowed our guides to give us a closer look at things, especially plants, invertebrates, reptiles and the tell-tale signs that animals leave behind, in life and in death.

Walking safaris allowed our guides to give us a closer look at things, especially plants, invertebrates, reptiles and the tell-tale signs that animals leave behind, in life and in death.

A walking safari got us closer to what was happening on the ground. Blankets in Maasai colours seem to warn off predators which know the Maasai can look after themselves; but an armed guard provided a second line of defence.

A walking safari got us closer to what was happening on the ground. Blankets in Maasai colours seem to warn off predators which know the Maasai can look after themselves; but an armed guard provided a second line of defence.

Discussing the skeletal remains of a Hartebeest (probably). The Maasai cattle in the background are out of bounds within the reserve.

Discussing the skeletal remains of a Hartebeest (probably). The Maasai cattle in the background are out of bounds within the reserve.

 Two Maasai lads errantly herd cattle through the reserve - it is amazing that their parents were happy to send them into 'lion country' with no more than sticks and a Maasai blanket. During droughts the pressure to graze cattle becomes too great, even though the land is earmarked for conservation.

Two Maasai lads errantly herd cattle through the reserve - it is amazing that their parents were happy to send them into 'lion country' with no more than sticks and a Maasai blanket. During droughts the pressure to graze cattle becomes too great, even though the land is earmarked for conservation.

A quiet word with the boys herding cattle reminds them that they are in the conservation zone - though I sensed the guides had sympathy with their plight. Those boys may well now be employed as part of the safari team, so the arrangement was in their long term interest.

A quiet word with the boys herding cattle reminds them that they are in the conservation zone - though I sensed the guides had sympathy with their plight. Those boys may well now be employed as part of the safari team, so the arrangement was in their long term interest.

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.

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Nancy Andrea D 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Oh wow ... I really enjoy reading your adventure!

6 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Robin Fuller Replied to Nancy Andrea D 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I enjoyed writing about the adventure. Working through the photos reminded me vividly of a wonderful trip. I'm working on the Mara mammal photos right now. Posts to follow soon.

6 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Nancy Andrea D Replied to Robin Fuller 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Looking forward to it, Robin.

6 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Camellia Staab 6 months, 4 weeks ago

So glad you have shared this post with us. I had missed your previous post (glad you add a link here) and now have an understanding of why you created this blog. This particular post brought on tons of memories for me in regards to the Maasai people, East Africa, safaris, etc. My travels to that part of the world were not as recent as your but nonetheless the memories are just as vivid. Thank you for sharing smile

6 months, 4 weeks ago Edited
Robin Fuller Replied to Camellia Staab 6 months, 4 weeks ago

I love East Africa, having been to Uganda 3 times (work), Tanzania (safari) and Kenya several times (friends, coast, diving & safari). I'd go back like a shot if I could. Africans have a lot to teach us about being so happy with so little. They positively changed my outlook on life. And we had such a good experience too.

6 months, 4 weeks ago Edited
Andy Truscott 6 months, 4 weeks ago

I thought lockdown had tempered my desire for straying too far away but your pictures have whetted my appetite. We should have been in India right now but i think an African Safari probably trumps India, great pictures thank you.
Lin

6 months, 4 weeks ago Edited
Robin Fuller Replied to Andy Truscott 6 months, 4 weeks ago

Wildlife pictures to follow soon.

6 months, 4 weeks ago Edited
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