Mara Plains Camp or why we saw so much wildlife and why I put on weight

Dereck and Beverly Joubert filmed Scott’s favourite animal documentary called “Eternal Enemies: Lions and Hyenas”. They own Mara Plains Camp, which was why we stayed there. The camp is located on land owned by the Maasai. The Jouberts and owners of four other camps in the area came to an agreement with the Maasai landowners to create the 35,000 acre conservancy. The fees for the conservancy support the local communities and provide employment for many.

The camp prides itself on being low impact to the environment. Everything is on raised decks that could be removed leaving no trace. Solar power provides energy.

We were met at the airstrip, an area on the open plain only marked by painted rocks. A previous guest was certain the plane had made an emergency landing because he could not believe this was where planes intended to land.

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Right away, we noticed the safari vehicles contained stuff we thought we needed to pack: hand sanitizer, toilet paper, facial tissues, sunscreen and water bottles. We knew they supplied binoculars but brought our own, which were not as good as the ones they provide. There was also a bird book which we consulted, but I should have made notes because I’ve forgotten some (most) of the information. There were blankets on the seats. We saw people wrapped in them during the cooler morning hours. We used ours to reduce sweating on the leather seats.

I have already described a bit about our guide, Kevin. We were so fortunate to have him all to ourselves for four days. Thanks to his incredible ability to spot wildlife and his knowledge of their behaviour, we saw all the key things Scott wanted to see; and lots of stuff we did not know existed.

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Kevin’s father came from a village that used to be on the conservancy lands. The village has since moved. As a boy, Kevin herded sheep in the area and learned to spot threats to the herd–big cats–and threats to himself–elephants and buffalo.

He told us about having to walk 7 kms to primary school, and because he was always late, he ran the distance, although some times, he would have to wait for elephants or go around a flooding stream or river and would arrive at school even later. He attended boarding schools for his upper education, and has been guiding at the camp since it started. Kevin never lacked for an answer whether we asked about animals, birds, geology, weather or plants.

Most of the time, we did not know where we were but Kevin knew all the roads, very, very few of which have markers, and those seemed to be in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, not the conservancy.

He told us about a time he was with the Jouberts and how they missed filming a lion kill. I figure the Jouberts would travel the area with their best employees, so he must be one of them. The other staff say he is one of their best.

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We laugh now at how excited we were to spot wildlife at our Nairobi hotel, and as we left the airstrip and drove towards the camp. We had no idea how much more, and more close up we would see wildlife.

The conservancy keeps the vehicle density low. We noticed the difference when we were on the Maasai Mara National Reserve. On most of our drives, we only saw other vehicles in the distance. Other than when we went to the Mara River, we only saw more than one vehicle when we were watching the leopard.

Kevin always radioed ahead just before we arrived at the camp so someone was waiting to greet us–particularly important in the dark.

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Other than the bridge, there is little evidence of the camp from this side.

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After the bridge, you pass by a small shop tent with safari clothing, gifts (many made locally), books and DVDs produced by the Jouberts. There is also a small office tent and behind those tents, a washroom tent (which I made frequent use of since it is close at hand after disembarking the safari vehicle).

We confirmed that we would have use of a good digital camera with a zoom lens–better telephoto lens than we own. The camp is about to upgrade their cameras, but the upgrade would probably be lost on us. Kevin as well as being a great guide, offered helpful tips about using the camera (or would just adjust the f-stop for us) and tips about taking photos. He would drive to position us so we weren’t photographing into the sun.

The main dining area and lounge, with the kitchen hidden off to one side:

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We had our meals on the deck outside the main tent.

We were in tent 3 that had huge views to the plains area. Next to us was a family tent (tents 1 and 2) that consisted of two tents, each for two people, sharing a large common deck. Beyond was tent 4, called the tree house, because it was surrounded by trees and accessed by a small bridge across the river.

On the other side of the main tent were 3 more tents. We never went to see them but were told you can see hippos from tent 7, which over looks the river.

Another small tent is a library and some times used as a dining room:

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The path from the main tent to our tent, where zebras were standing in the dark on our first morning:

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Our tent:

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The photos belie how close the wildlife got to our tent during the day. If we never left our tent, we would have seen a lot. All the grazing animals went past during the daylight hours, as well as baboons. One of the guests saw the leopard from their tent.

During the dark hours, the wildlife would come very close and I am convinced, under the tent. Something or things were running on top of the tent and on our deck Wednesday morning before dawn (bush babies or monkeys some suggested) and something hit the supports shaking the entire tent on Thursday morning (hippo or buffalo some suggested).

We could hear lions during the evening and a lot of hyena noises throughout the dark hours. Early in the mornings we heard other noises that sounded bird-like to me but probably weren’t. The prey animals make a variety of high pitched sounds that I had never heard before.

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The stream down to the river next to our tent:

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Zebras outside while sitting in the copper bathtub drinking a G&T:

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The tents include many small luxuries: big fluffy towels, bath robes, slippers, and all shower and bath amenities (all biodegradeable). I left hair conditioner behind thinking I could do without, but they supply some. Laundry service is included except for women’s undergarments. Knowing that, I needlessly brought laundry soap since that also is supplied.

There is wi-fi in the tents. The desk, with an electronics charging station, even includes reading glasses:

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A tea-tray that includes a jar of cookies. We were advised to secure the zippers or monkeys will get in so they can steal the cookies.

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At night, the sink, shower and bathtub area is curtained off:

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We brought flashlights because it sure is dark at night but we were supplied a flashlight as well. Scott used his during the night safari, but I never unpacked mine. We had a guide accompany us to and from our tent when it was dark.

Hot water bottles were placed in the foot of the bed at night. Totally unnecessary for us given the temperatures were never below 20 in the evening; although it did get down to around 14-15 by early morning.

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We would start out at 6:15 in the morning and stay out until after 12, after 2:00 pm one day. The pre-dawn start allowed us to see some of the animals that are mainly active at night before they headed to a daytime hiding spot.

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Meal times were very flexible in their timing and varied. Our first two breakfasts were picnic feasts:

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For our third breakfast, one of the chefs met us and cooked us a hot English breakfast.

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Our last breakfast, we ate at the main dining room looking one last time at the plains:

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Our lunches were back at the camp. They included a cooked protein–chicken satay skewers, stuffed meatballs, turkey fingers, fish–and a variety of interesting salads, fresh bread, cheese tray and fresh fruits. The local avocados were luscious and I really like the fresh coconut. Lots of Indian influenced spices. Wine (mostly South African) flowed freely. There were desserts but I passed on those at lunch time. Lunch started usually about 1:00 pm but when we returned late on Tuesday, they held our lunch for us.

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We would have a couple of hours for siesta, reading, I would blog and one afternoon, Scott tried out the copper tub.

Afternoon safaris started at 4:00. Some guests started later, but since the +30 temperatures started by 1:00 and continued past 6:00 pm, we favoured getting out earlier. During afternoon safaris, Kevin brought snacks–arrowroot chips are addictive, so are sesame crusted green beans–and offered cold drinks. I had a wine the first afternoon, but since it is summer in Kenya, opted for G&Ts on the other afternoons.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_13e34We would get back to the camp after sunset, after 7 pm.

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The three course dinners tended to be French influenced cuisine–lamb, t-bone steak, duck, stuffed chicken breast–and I did not pass on all the desserts such as tiramisu. We would take a glass of wine back to our tent after dinner, put our feet up, read or write, and digest.

The dinner arrangements were flexible. One group had dinner in the tent where the library is located. You can be served dinner in your tent or on your deck. But since there were few guests when we arrived for dinner, we always ate in the main tent; sometimes by ourselves or one or two other guests. The camp managers were also interesting meal time companions with lots of interesting stories and information.

Dining in the dark with a view of the sky:

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The camp is one of the few to offer night safaris. We had an early dinner to accommodate the evening departure. We did not see a night hunt but saw the leopard eating the baby wildebeest it had stored near to tent 4. We tracked three lions, who went to water and drank so much, they had to sleep. We saw a huge cackle of hyenas but there was no predicting what they would do so we did not linger. Some nocturnal animals we saw included a fox, tiny bush babies, and scrub hares. We learned to recognize that grazing animals have eyes that reflect green or blue while the cats’, hyenas’ and hippos’ eyes reflect yellow.

The day we went on night safari turned out to be Robbie Burns Day, so Scott explained to the staff that we should all have a dram of whiskey for the Bard of Scotland. They were waiting when we returned after 9:30 with a glass of Glenlivet for us–almost half a cup! I added water and once the ice melted, ended up with almost a cup of whiskey. Scott had to finish mine lest it finish me off before flying in the little plane the next morning.

On average, we spent 9 hours in the safari vehicle, and while I told myself I was getting a core workout as I tried to stay upright in the seat as we went up and down gullies or hills, and bumped over the rocky or rutted roads, we did not get any real exercise. The tents have yoga mats, skipping ropes and resistance bands, but we never used them. So combined with the delicious meals and generous amounts of alcohol, I now have to lose weight.

 

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