Paradise on the plains
Article By: Gillian McLarenThu, 08 Mar 2012 7:23
click for link to published article: http://travel.iafrica.com/HIDDEN/newsletter/782604.html
Being truly hospitable is a gift. Lorna and Richard, the managers at the exclusive Mara Plains Camp in Kenya have that gift in abundance. From the moment I arrive at the tented camp - positioned on the Ntiakatek river on the Northern boundary of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve - I am swept into fun, friendship and feeling completely at home.
Lorna welcomes me to lunch, served in a leafy arbor below blossoming trees. The waiters are guarding a range of imaginative salads and cold meats, as some naughty monkeys are eyeing the fare. Guests eat together and conversation is lively.
I meet a honeymooning couple from the USA, and am pleased to be invited to share their vehicle. They are passionate about wildlife and - to fuel my appetite for our game drive - tell me about all their exceptional sightings, including a leopard mother with her cub.
My tent is set on the river, embraced by trees and with a sublime view of grassy plains. I can see the massive, broad-muzzled heads of hippos lazing in the water and I enjoy the evocative sound of their deep, roaring grunts. Birds flit around the area and two White-browed Robin-chats duet their melodious song. It is peaceful and private. Paradise regained.
Our guide is Daniel, a former Masaai warrior, who is wearing his red Shúkà and a red tartan-like blanket around his shoulders. He is warm, easy-going and it is immediately obvious that he knows much about biology and behaviour of game in that area.
We soon find a cheetah and see that she is hunting. Suppressing our excitement, we sit quietly and watch her slowly edging closer to a group of Grant’s gazelles that she is stalking in spite - Daniel tells us – of cheetahs’ usual preference for Thomson’s gazelles, which are smaller. He suggests that she will probably target the baby gazelle in the group.
Suddenly she begins to run but almost immediately realises that she is not going to make it and aborts her attempt. I am relieved the baby is alive, but disappointed not to have seen her succeed in her hunt. The cheetah strolls right past our vehicle and I can see the tiniest details of her spots from the open-sided Land Cruiser, which makes for unbeatable (if sometimes nerve-wrackingly intimate) viewing.
Although it has begun to rain, we continue our drive and are rewarded for our perseverance when we find a group of six lionesses with fourteen cubs. Undeterred by the summer rain they have begun to walk towards some Thomson’s gazelles. The cubs are then left near an acacia tree and the lionesses spread out to encircle their intended prey.
The gazelles must get wind of the lions as they snort and run away. We sit and watch until it grows dark and, agreeing that the lions have more patience than we do, head back for the luxury of our tents and dinner.
Tales from the hunt
Lorna and Richard meet us with umbrellas to lead us across the river on the suspension bridge, then they offer us drinks before dining, which we sip in the tented lounge area- that has a superb view of the plains- while regaling them with details of hunting cats. Lorna relates tales of sights she has seen from the lounge, especially during the migration when thousands of wildebeest gather right there.
We all dine together around a huge wooden table, in a cosy candle-lit area. Richard’s life, in which hospitality and bush living have always played a part, makes for colourful storytelling and as we discuss the merits of different 4x4’s and he amuses me with stories of his survival in all sorts of road conditions. The atmosphere is relaxed and convivial and we dine elegantly.
As the camp is unfenced, Maasai men, who are the night guards, escort us back to our tents. My tent looks romantic and inviting with soft lighting and I fall into bed, which harbours a hot water bottle, and listen to the whoops, screams and cackles of nearby spotted hyena.
I wake up early and open the front flaps of my tent to inhale the pure, crisp air. A waiter appears on my verandah, to serve me tea and scrumptious biscuits. It is sheer magic to watch giraffe loping across the plains.
Lorna casually mentions that they had leopard tracks on their verandah… what a thrill to think of a leopard padding past our tents! Richard drives me to the airstrip and on the way we see a Rosy-breasted longclaw and a crowned crane as well as a breeding herd of elephants. We watch the Safarilink plane land and he carries my bag for me and waves goodbye as we take off into a sky decorated with cumulus clouds. I have had the time of my life, met stimulating people and experienced hospitality par excellence.