In February of this year I visited the incredible Maasai Mara in Kenya to document a trip there for Biosphere Expeditions. Blog post of that life-changing trip to Africa here. A ‘Citizen Scientist’ project based at Enonkishu, a privately owned 5000 acre re-wilding conservancy, started and managed by Tarquin & Lippa Wood. At the time I interviewed Tarquin on camera for short film I was making and later found myself invited back to make a film specifically for them. My visit inspired me to start a fundraiser to provide the wildlife rangers of Enonkishu with essential equipment (Power The Rangers) so we were returning with well-stuffed suitcases.
So, after much anticipation, on the 15th October I flew back to Kenya except this time I wasn’t alone – my partner Leanne came too. Her first ever visit to Africa, safari a life-long dream, I was excited to introduce Leanne to one of the most special places I have ever seen.
Below are a collection of shots from our trip. The majority of them are mine but I confess that some of them are Leanne’s. Since I was required to video much of the trip for the film I wasn’t able to capture stills at the same time to Leanne took over on that front. She has a terrific eye for composition and I couldn’t resist using some of her images to tell the story in this post. Joint credit for this blog post goes to Leanne.
After arriving in Nairobi we took a taxi across the city to met Tarquin at the Aero Club at Wilson airport – the link to the Maasai Mara. Tarquin very kindly flew us in his Cessna to Enonkishu, pointing out landmarks on the way. Flying across the Great Rift Valley looking out 0f the windows for elephants, buffeted by the updrafts, an exhilarating way to start our trip.
On our arrival we were greeted by Rebekah, Enonkishu Conservancy Manager, with beautiful Maasai gifts and then marching around the corner came the Enonkishu & Naretoi rangers to give us a personal rangers parade. Both myself & Leanne were fighting back tears at this incredible welcome.
After dropping the bags to our room at House in the Wild we took the truck and went for a drive out into the conservancy. Watching Leanne’s reaction for the first time she saw wild warthog, baboon, impala, giraffe, zebra, hyena and so much more is something I will never forget.
Below are a selection of shots of the wildlife that inhabits Enonkishu and the two neighbouring conservancies of Ol Chorro and Lemek. Literally teeming with life, much of it endangered, and only here because Tarquin & Lippa and their team have put in so much work over the last seven years to return this former intensively-farmed habitat back to a natural environment. Rewilding at it’s very best.
So to House in the Wild – a collection of boutique safari lodges right on the bank of the Mara River. Truly the most stunning location of anywhere I have stayed. We ate our meals overlooking the river, sharing our restaurant with hippos lazing in the mud and monkeys jumping around in the trees. House in the Wild really is aptly named as you will see later on.
Below is our room – River Cottage – what a view! No need for television with a view like this right outside your door and look at that panorama from the bath. All of the rooms are beautifully decorated, luxurious, comfortable and surrounded by the sights and sounds of the Maasai Mara. Staying at House in the Wild is a fully-immersive experience and I can’t recommend it enough. Everyone should experience this at least once in their life.
After a few nights at House in the Wild (HIW) we moved a few hundred metres up-river to experience another of the Enonkishu properties – Villa in the Wild – formerly Tarquin & Lippa’s home, recently opened up for guests to take over. Sleeping twelve this is seriously high-end, with a cathedral-like living area it’s a showstopper of a building, more about that later.
Before we left HIW we had some photos with the wonderful staff, they had been so attentive and helpful, particularly David on front-of-house and delicious, healthy dishes prepared by Godfrey and Purity in the kitchen.
Definitely deserving of a mention is the legendary Wilson – safari guide to HIW guests. Wilson took us on many game drives while we stayed at HIW, wonderfully knowledgeable about the wildlife and the Mara environment, a great sense of humour and some very impressive 4×4 driving after the rain turned the road into something I wouldn’t even want to tackle in a tractor. We also had the pleasure of meeting Wilson’s brother Moses and David, both also guides and truly wonderful people.
One of the purposes of our visit was to present the rangers with equipment that the Power The Rangers funds had purchased (plus donations of lots of great binoculars and a telescope from Cley Spy). Thank you so much to everyone that kindly donated to the fundraiser.
In total we provided a value of over 6000 USD to the rangers, making a huge difference to the work the rangers are able to do in monitoring and protecting the many endangered species that in habit the conservancy. Dapash and his team were very excited to receive the new kit and broke into spontaneous song & dance!
As well as the new equipment we were able buy a whole new ranger camp – named Shannock Camp (after the old Sheringham name). Below, head ranger Dapash and Albert, inhabitants of Shannock Camp, pose for photos at their new residence.
The magnificent male lion below is one of two resident brothers currently at Lemek Conservancy (just 15 minutes drive from Enonkishu), originally part of the famous Marsh Pride at Governors Camp, they featured in the BBC David Attenborough documentary – Dynasties (and Big Cat Diary with Jonathon & Angela Scott, heroes of mine). The Dynasties clip of a lion being attacked by many hyena until his brother turned up to fight them off is an incredible piece of film making and featured these boys. Such an honour to see them face to face.
Apologies if you are eating while reading this – the below shot is either a very fortunate or a very unfortunate zebra, depending on how you view the situation. The shot shows a recent wound inflicted by a lion attack. There are two possible outcomes for this zebra – the wounds may heal leaving the zebra with mismatched stripes or the smell of blood will attract hyenas, which will finish the job the lion started. Good luck zebra, life on the mara is a brutal battle of survival, eat or be eaten, constant dramas being played out in this finely balance ecosystem.
With the recent rains most of the elephants headed into the hills but we found these four beauties one afternoon on a self-drive. Wilson told us later that they are a well-known local family group consisting of one old female, her two daughters and a granddaughter. We enjoyed some time in the company of these gentle giants – much more placid than the more excitable males I had seen in February, no mock charges here.
So we headed a very short way down-river to Villa in the Wild, to be looked after by Benson and Purity and the team.
As with HIW the evenings here were always special, falling asleep to the sounds of the hippos quarreling in the river, hyena calling close by, crickets, frogs, the ‘bark’ of zebra and the distant deep roar of lions calling to each other.
No African safari would be complete without sundowners, a civilised end to the day with drinks and nibbles (or ‘bitings’) while the sun sets on another amazing day.
While at the villa we had a sundowner on the edge of the river with Tarquin, Lippa and Rebekah. A fire, G&T or the Kenyan cocktail the ‘Dawa’ (originally invented at the famous ‘Carnivore‘ restaurant in Nairobi), delicious homemade onion bhaji prepared by Purity and always great conversation.
With such little light pollution the Maasai Mara is a fantastic place to view the stars, after our sundowners we sat out listening to the hyena & lions and gazed up at the Milky Way. A truly magical experience. I set my sound recorder outside our room one evening and recorded 20 minutes of the night sounds of Africa. I’m listening to it as I write this, takes me right back there in an instant.
The Enonkishu Conservancy aims to fully involve the local population in their values of conserving the wildlife and that extends to the school established by Tarquin & Lippa – Emarti School. We visited on one morning with the rangers, after a brief talk with the children their ‘Wildlife Club’ were loaded onto the DAF truck and taken for a tour around the conservancy. It seems impossible but many of these children still haven’t seen much of the wildlife since the animals stay away from settlements. Taking the pupils into the conservancy and educating them in the importance of Kenya’s wildlife is essential – as Tarquin said at the time – these children are the future of Kenya and the wildlife needs their ongoing help to manage the conflict between wild animals and farming/herders.
We had some awesome sightings over the course of our trip – finding a pride of lions cleaning off the buffalo kill from the night before was one of the highlights for me. The following morning we found a hyena with another fresh lion kill, the sound of the bones being crunched an indication of just how powerful a hyena’s jaws are. Thankfully they are quite shy around humans so the threat of an attack is very low although Tarquin & Lippa did have a very interesting camping experience while we were there involving hyena and elephants in their campsite!
We were lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time in the company of the Enonkishu Maasai herders. One morning we filmed the weekly cattle dip, another afternoon we filmed a planning meeting with Musa, the Enonkishu education officer, we visited their village and were invited to a celebratory feast (nyama choma). At one point I gave the lead herder a lift in the back of the truck, it was surreal to be driving along with a genuine maasai herder in the rear view mirror.
While staying the House in the Wild Leanne suggested I set up my wildlife camera trap. I was pretty certain we were unlikely to capture anything right outside our room but set it up anyway. We couldn’t believe our eyes the next morning when we checked the camera and discovered a female leopard had walked right across our veranda not once but twice during the night. Literally 6 feet from where we slept, far from being scared as many people have suggested we were absolutely thrilled. The leopard posed no threat to us, she was simply on her nightly round looking for small animals to eat.
One of the great features about Enonkishu is that Night Drives are permitted. Many places ban venturing out after dark so a stay at Enonkishu offer a unique perspective unavailable on most safari trips. Armed with red light torches (so as to minimise damage to the animal’s night vision) we had a couple of night drives out in the conservancy. Nothing can describe the excitement and adventure of a night drive, the sounds, the smells, the excitement of seeing eyes reflecting back at you through the darkness. It gives the opportunity to see some of the nocturnal wildlife (spring hare, hyena, eagle owl, bat-eared fox, leopard and much more) and the diurnal animals resting. Driving through the scrubland to see a stand of giraffe sleeping is something special.
We were honoured to be guests at a nyama choma with the herders – a celebration where they roast meat (this time sheep) on a fire, eat, sing dance and chat. While eating they boil the bones in a big pot with herbs from the surrounding bushes. I have to say that it looked about the least appetising soup I had ever seen (hot puddle water), but they enjoyed it. Luckily we weren’t offered any of the legendary Maasai traditional staple food of cow’s blood mixed with milk. I know for a fact I couldn’t have stomached that.
After the food the herders and rangers sang & danced for us, dragging Leanne in for a dance too, I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time, what an incredible experience.
Below, Conservancy Manager Rebekah and her trusty side-kick ‘Lou’, on our final sundowner overlooking what Rebekah calls ‘Chris’s tree’ after I spent many evenings there last time filming time-lapses of the sunset. Rebekah kindly brought along some bottles of the legendary Kenyan lager – Tusker. I love the taste of that beer, it means I am back in Kenya.
I had to apologise to Rebekah when we finally reached her at the rendezvous for the sundowner – we had been on our final evening game drive at neighbouring conservancy Lemek, a self-drive in the truck that Tarquin & Lippa kindly loaned us for the duration of our stay. We found Wilson taking some House in the Wild guests for a game drive and he told us they had just found a leopard prowling through the undergrowth close-by. We chose a spot a bit further down the scrubland in the direction the leopard had been traveling and waited. After a short time we were rewarded with a sighting of a well-known local female leopard known as ‘Half-Tail’ on account of her having a short tail after an injury (possible lion or hyena attack). Seeing this illusive and beautiful big cat at such close range was a huge thrill for us, adrenaline levels were high that evening.
The next morning was our final day, as ever I was keen to wring out every last drop of our time in Kenya so we were up before 6am and went for our final game drive. The one animal we had both really hoped to see but until then had eluded us was cheetah. We had a nice drive around Lemek with some very close hyena sightings and lots more animals including a huge herd of buffalo all around us as we slowly drove. The time came for us to start heading back when we saw a safari truck in the middle of an area of long grass, the occupants pointing their cameras down to the grass. Surely it couldn’t be the cheetah brothers we had heard were in the area?!
We drove over and as we got closer made out two large spotted cats lying in the grass, what a way to finish an incredible trip!
We would both like to say a huge thank you to Tarquin and Lippa for their incredible hospitality for the duration of the trip. It was an absolute trip of a lifetime. Thank you also to Rebekah for all of her help and great company, to all of the Enonkishu rangers – Dapash, Albert, Joseah, Meshack, Mike, Salami & Naamen. To the guides Wilson, Moses & David – their knowledge and passion for the wildlife at this special corner of the Maasai Mara is totally infectious. To all of the staff at the Mara Training Centre, House in the Wild, Villa in the Wild and Bandas in the Wild – Musa, Albanus, Bernard, David, Godfrey, Mary and Purity to name but a few. A dedicated team of wonderful friends who we have been honoured to spend time with. Asante sana to you all.
The Maasai Mara truly gets under your skin and we aim to be back time & time again. In fact we are already planning our next trips – we plan start a safari photography tour – one in early June 2020 and another in Jan 2021. Very early planning stages at the moment but if you would like to experience this unique environment, meet the people I have mentioned above, see the Maasai way of life, get some photography tuition and come home with photos like never before then please feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to get on the mailing list.
Until next time Kenya, kwaheri. x