Day three of our marvelous adventure in the Maasai Mara breaks clean and crisp like a fortune cookie. And if you are not a morning person - like I am not - prepare to be proselytized.
I lie listening to the symphony of birdsong outside for a long time before deciding to get up for breakfast. The other guests are all on a game drive and I have the camp to myself, which is how I prefer it. Located in Maasai Mara in Kenya, this Basecamp Explorer is a feast for the senses. The United Nations has declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, recognizing "the importance of international tourism... in fostering better understanding among peoples everywhere, in leading to a greater awareness of the rich heritage of various civilizations and in bringing about a better appreciation of the inherent values of different cultures, thereby contributing to the strengthening of peace in the world". Nowhere does any lodge embody this philosophy as perfectly as Basecamp Explorer in my humble opinion.
Richard, the community project manager and naturalist takes us to meet the beautiful Maasai women who make arts, crafts and jewelry from recycled materials. We also visit the recycling plants where they separate materials. The infernal plastic water bottles which one gets at every lodge and the bane of my existence get transported to Nairobi where they are compacted into poles which can be used as building materials - brilliant. He also tells us about the tree planting project where you can pay $5 to plant a tree. To date 70,000 trees have been planted since 1997 to the joy of about 300 species of birds here. Everything here is solar powered. There is a separate solar and water powered generator for only the fridges as well. There is even a water purifier. Nothing here is left to chance or glossed over so the complete cycle is fulfilled. It is so refreshing to see such a place in this dirty world of ours. So many lodges claim to be "eco-friendly" but when you ask about a simple thing like what happens to their liberal supply of bottled water after use, you are met with blank stares.
Basecamp Explorer is completely engineered around sustainability, the community and the environment and I have never seen anything like it. In the words of Big Moses, Co-Founder of Basecamp: "In Maasai we have a word - Enjoolata - that we use to describe the joy felt when something hidden becomes known, when something concealed becomes revealed. For me, Enjoolata refers to the thrill, the wonder, when coming round a riverbed, or emerging out from a thick wood, and there, suddenly, a hidden surprise, an unexpected awe, an unforgettable encounter. That is Enjoolata."
We take to the road again, this time to our next camp for the night, Wilderness Camp, also in the Basecamp portfolio. The land is positively festooned with game, big and small. Hordes of wildlife including giraffe, buffalo and myriads of antelope species roam here. Together the Serengeti and Mara comprise almost 30,000 square km, the former being by far the larger, with the Mara having the densest wildlife throughout the year. The two regions share the same eco-system as part of the same area but the Serengeti is in Tanzania while the Mara is in Kenya.
The second camp in their portfolio is Wilderness Camp which aims to emulate the authentic Hemingway experience without the accompanying unnecessary opulence you find nowadays but gin and tonic is to be found aplenty! Lunch is served as we arrive - delicious roast chicken - and we are shown to our tents which number only five in total. They are basic with running water and electricity but bucket showers are provided and you have to let them know when you want a shower. It is a mobile - or "fly" - camp and sits at one with nature, making sure not to disturb the natural environment. I sit on my double bed, staring out over the savannah, trying to get my brain to slow down. A wind comes up, caressing the bush but apart from that there is no sound. Clouds form on the horizon and it looks like rain. If there is any reason to be religious in Africa, it is to pray for rain...
Steve collects us for our afternoon drive.
The smell wafts our way long before we see the source. We park at one of the arteries from the river and there beneath us a pod of hippo. "This water is stationary and these hippo go to poop where they live," he tells us, somewhat redundantly.
We spend a long time with them, watching them cavort, snarl, yawn and taunt each other. An amazing sight to behold. On the other side of the river a hyena stealthily makes his way somewhere, smelling food on the wind - indeed, there is a massive heard of impala and wildebeest not far, totally oblivious to this hungry patron in search of a menu.
Steve tells us that the pastoral, nomadic lifestyle of the Maasai has never been in conflict with wildlife. "That is for two reasons," he says. "The Maasai do not eat wild animals so they have never been hunters. They also don' grow crops so they have never had issues with the destructive nature of elephants for instance who destroy crops. They have always lived in total harmony with nature."
The next morning after breakfast we walk the hour or so to our final destination, Eagle View Camp.
Eagle View Camp
We are accompanied by Steve and another Maasai ranger who doesn't speak English, but this doesn't stop him from having long grinning conversations with us in his native language which is Ma. The walk on the open plains of the Maasai Mara among all God's creatures is a pinch-yourself experience.
And then there was Eagle View... Be prepared to have your mind blown as you step into reception, with almost the entire Africa as your vista.
While Wilderness Camp blends into its environment like a shy chameleon, Eagle View is a study in earthy sophistication. There all only nine tents, three with family annexes and all with exquisite views over the escarpment and valley below. The en-suite bathroom has an inside and outside shower and the colors are olive green and the materials wood and canvas. The tent has indoor wrap around curtains to give it that extra-special luxurious feel. There are also sockets in the rooms here for electronic devices and WiFi throughout.
We spend the day relaxing and catching up on some work and after a delicious dinner of leg of lamb by candlelight - um - we go for a night drive. Apparently our spotter is a super hero whose superhuman strength is seeing things in the dark not visible to the normal human eye. Things like scrub hares, night jar birds and a small jackal. The night is fresh and the bush quiet under a blanket of a million stars. Three hyenas slink past us, dark shapes until the spotlight brings them into focus. The shoot us dirty looks before ambling off again, on the hunt. The moon sits very high in the vast black sky as the cold breeze brushes my face - this is happiness. We also spot bush babies, a lone elephant and then suddenly! There they are, three female lions by the road, lying in wait for a dinner that may or may not come. I crawl into my nest of luxury just after dinner and dream of Africa.
I forgo the early morning game drive and sleepily I open my eyes to the sight of the entire Mara stretching out in front of me. I have my coffee in bed as I ponder this toe-curling amazing view. There is a soft wind coming in from the East, blowing all cobwebs away.
We say fond farewells to the wonderful team at Eagle View and set off to the airstrip. The story goes that there was a class of third-grade children who won awards every year for their art. All of them. But strangely enough, none of them performed well in art in any year before or since. When asked, their third-grade art teacher had a simple but startling explanation. "I just know when to take their pencils away from them. Otherwise they will never stop drawing," she said.
This is how I feel about the Maasai Mara - someone, please take my pen away!
When to go:
The Maasai Mara is considered a year-round safari destination thanks to its resident abundant wildlife However, many visitors come for the wildebeest migration and the best time to visit the Mara for this famous spectacle is between July/early August and the end of November although due to varying rainfall patterns, the exact timing varies from year to
Basecamp Explorer (all their camps)
There are direct flights available between China and Kenya but we suggest flying to Nairobi with RwandAir from Johannesburg in South Africa via the beautiful city of Kigali. We also suggest you stay over in Kigali and explore its incredible beauty and history, before flying onward to Nairobi. RwandAir will also soon add Harare (Zimbabwe), Mumbai (India), and Guangzhou in China to its list of destinations before expanding to Western Europe. Go to https://www.rwandair.com/