When I visited the home of the red lion

Holidays – remember them? RLG member Susan Burrows certainly does and writes vividly and entertainingly about her trips in Roar! magazine. Here’s her account of a memorable visit to Kenya

Shortly before the first lockdown I had a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the beautiful African country of Kenya.

We (I and my group of 16 intrepid travellers) spent the first two days of our visit in Nairobi, the country’s sprawling, bustling capital where we discovered that much of the city’s land is owned by the famous Maasai, a semi-nomadic tribe based in Kenya and Tanzania. 

Once known as fearsome hunters and fighters, the Maasai’s main activities today are herding and raising cattle, goats and sheep. It meant that at busy road junctions we often found ourselves jostling with herds of cattle which were being driven by young boys from the tribe. 

Another feature of Nairobi is that there are no traffic lights and getting across junctions and around roundabouts was, to say the least, haphazard. I think that at times we all had our eyes shut –  much to the amusement of our driver.

We also visited the Daphne Sheldrick Animal Orphanage – named after the pioneering conservationist and author who rescued, reared and reintegrated orphaned elephants into the wild for more than 30 years. Here the young elephants feed in mini-herds, coming back three times a day for milk feeding and, in the hot weather, mud baths. 

Out of Africa

Another highlight was a visit to the Karen Blixen Museum – founded by the Danish author of the same name – where both the house and garden were made famous by the film “Out of Africa” which was based on the book she wrote.

On the third day we flew in a small private plane to the Maasai Mara [the word ‘Mara’ comes from the local dialect ‘Maa’ and means spotted], a huge game reserve in the Kenyan town of Narok. We stayed in a lodge on the edge of the Mara River – a   favourite spot for hippopotami – and until then I didn’t realise how noisy they can be particularly at daybreak.

Roar of approval: A hungry red lion

The reserve is 1,500 square kilometres of broad, biscuit-coloured savannah (tropical grassland) and plays host to the most spectacular array of birds and animals. At times the vast landscape is dotted with shadows from small clouds which scud across the vast sky. It is adjacent to the Serengeti, another famous national park, and for five days we enjoyed the sights and sounds of the Maasai Mara on early morning, late afternoon and full-day game-viewing excursions.

And we saw so much – elephants, hippopotami, several prides of lions, a cheetah fast asleep under a tree, a leopard and her cub who were notoriously shy but made their way around our vehicle to get to the other side of the track (see photo). There were zebras, giraffes, warthogs, cape buffaloes and, after many hours of searching, one of the 18 rhinoceri that still wander the Maasai Mara. 

The list is seemingly endless, but I must mention that we also saw the tail end of the wildebeest migration – a fantastic spectacle as the animals ran down towards the river to rest before moving on to the Serengeti. 

It takes two to tango: A pair of secretary birds

Accompanied by an experienced Maasai guide we visited a typical local village. It was built along traditional lines complete with a cattle enclosure, outer palisade and mud and cow dung huts which are all built by the women. 

We also discovered that cattle are a very important commodity, particularly if buying another wife! 

Our five days on the Mara ended with a visit to a school. The school was supported by the lodge where we stayed and provides the portable water filtration systems to cleanse the local drinking water of the bacteria which causes many diseases. The children were on holiday but a number returned to tell us about their school life. They walk many miles a day to and from school but their enthusiasm for school life was uplifting.

Health and safety

During the visit we took malaria tablets. It was not the first time that I had taken them, and I had no adverse reactions to them. We drank bottled water as well as using it to clean our teeth. The water is clean but different chemicals are used to cleanse it and this can cause upset stomachs. I think that this applies in numerous countries. The toilets in the lodge were excellent and there was constant running water. 

When we were on the game drives there were no toilets, but the half-day drives were only about three hours long and the full-day drive probably around five hours. During the latter we stopped for a breakfast picnic and two of the vehicles were parked a short distance away and used to shield people who needed to use the facilities!

This article first appeared in ISSUE 60: Christmas 2020 edition of ROAR! if you would like to read other articles like this, why not become a member of the Red Lion Pouch Support group? You will receive a printed copy of ROAR! twice a year and have online access to archive ROAR! editions going all the way back to 1994.

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Gary Bronziet