Saturday, September 13, 2008
JOURNEY FROM THE SERENGETI
I had watched it on TV for eons, the millions of wildebeest crossing over to the Maasai Mara after depleting the magnificent Serengeti of all its green grass. The untouched pastures of the Maasai Mara lures the gnu’s into making the champagne colored plains in the heart of the African Bush one of the most spectacular wildlife locations in the world, this time of year, and I was one of the many who came from all over the world to witness this great migration, thanks to being the director for our tourism programme, Destination Kenya.
The plane was scheduled to leave JKIA at 1100hrs, and we were uneasy, the airline had just received a big hit, a crush in Somalia, where Ali, an old friend of mine was co pilot also perished. So when we were told we had been placed into another plane, there was a collective sigh of relief.
1300hrs, we board the plane at Wilson Airport, the captains smooth voice tells us Keekorok will be the first stop, and in my mind I play out my scanty filming schedule, and rethink the skeleton scripts I wrote based on research only and all I could wish for was to be able to do a Recce before, in production speak this means going ahead and planning with the location in mind…but that has not been the case (or can’t make much cents sense at this point in time, so hell, my goose is cooked. Producing a documentary or film about a place you have never been to is not one of the easiest things on earth, but armed with my laptop, contacts, presenter and cameraman, and the hope of Msengeti, the lodge manager on the other side.
we board the plane and sit with Adam of Sekenani camp, and for the half an hour we are in the plane I pick up bits and pieces of what’s going to make my great script for Destination Kenya. Nini and Kelly are all heated up about deep sea diving, bungee jumping and other extreme sports, as my tummy coils at the thought of my free falling mid air, accidents happen, that’s my excuse, so I pretend am listening as I try to work out this whole Mara filming, and I keep my fingers crossed as I hope the two days we have there will pay off.
About half an hour later , we land at Keekorok airstrip , the team is excited, and I see Francis Msengeti, the new lodge manager of Sarova Mara. He just moved here from Shaba, which in my own experience translates as the land of the Gods. Msengeti comes off as a very serious fellow, and when I first met him with another team of journalists a few months earlier in Isiolo, his ‘do not mess’ looks put us in our place; Giggly journalists, as we had been referred to in the recent Adam magazine by the lithe Biko. Anyway, When Joan of Sarova told me he would be the one with us in the Mara, I knew we were in good hands.
The CNBC placard was waving by the time we touched down, and before long we were on our way to the lodge, coming face to face with a lion that lay in the middle of the road, and the job began, Nini miked up for a quick piece to camera, as Kelly began filming. A very encouraging start , and my mind was now racing with words and structure for my now shaping up script.
The Maasai welcome at the Sarova beats any 5 star I have I have experienced in the few countries I have been too, the ethnic touch of song and dance, coupled with the high jump and deep throaty sounds of the Maasai men at the entrance, the very essence of the Maasai Mara invites us into this lodge that will be our base for this excursion, Msengeti has made us feel very welcome already, and as we make our way into the beautiful tented camps, I wonder when I can bring my daughter here, or even if I would afford it, and am told when the season is low, with good planning practically any Kenyan can experience the splendor of the Mara, that’s plan number 1 when am done filming this thing….
After a sumptuous continental buffet, I sit with Msengeti to plan the two days we are here, and the schedule he has in his hand puts my heart to rest, will be tight, but really smooth.I am glad to see the lodge brimming with tourists. It is full house, I am told, bookings are tight too, and looks like this will be the trend for coming months. I flash back to January this year, when I went to do a post analysis of the post poll crisis on beach tourism, it was a dreadful revelation. White sands has closed one wing, had a handful of tourists who were leaving in a week…but here, only 8 months later, the Sarova Mara is operating at about 90%, and deep inside I smile…slowly things are happening in this industry that supports over 2 million people directly and indirectly.
5.30 pm…Sundowner CocktailWe meet at the reception to go count the sun down, it could be every girls secret fantasy, should that special someone propose as we enjoy a Manhattan cocktail…I am a hopeless romantic, soon it feels as if we are driving into the sunset, the bonfire and table for 2 makes for perfect filming, and my mind goes on hyper mode, links, PTC’s as we watch the sun go down…this sundowner is one of the most beautiful setups, and am glad am working, this is no place for a single woman!
It was beautiful and the rest fell into place, starting with waking at at 5.00 am the next morning for an early morning game drive, this time driving into the sunrise, experiencing the morning in a Maasai manyatta in sekenani , drinking warm milk right from the cow, and freezing as the Maasai morans stare down at me and Nini, asking questions about our hair, mascara, lip gloss, picture this 10 men staring at you for one hour flat, no it’s not flattering, it’s scary!James Ole Tira, walks with a funny limp and I always wanted to ask him why, and decided against , he was a lovely man, a Maasai chief as well as our guide for this trip, we set up his main interview with the backdrop of the hills, he told us stories about the Maasai and how they stick to their culture in fluent English, even if he has never been to school. Kisio, the driver, kept dropping little gems of information as we moved from one place to another during the game drive. And I quickly caught on the lingo, “ tuna tafuta wa juu” when looking for the leopard..or “ kichwa yuko wapi” when asking about the Lion.
I have been on several trips to National parks but I had never seen so many animals! From the 10 different species of the antelope, to the Zebra, wildebeest, elephant, and birds: I loved the lilac crested roller!It was smooth; the programme went better than I had dreamed of. From the tented camps…fishing, mini golf, bush dinner, Boma dinner, salt lick dinner, view deck dinner, pool side breakfast, garden breakfast , buffet lunch, and when we were done, we sipped our beer and listened to Komora & Krensa at the fire place in the bar…cracking jokes about sex , journalists & hoteliers.
The wildebeest refused to cross the river. The Baks himself was there that weekend, and the ODM wildebeest said, bilaz. They live in the Serengeti, they hadn’t heard about the coalition. We camped for hours on end by the river, as the lead Zebra sniffed at the water and turned back, did you know that the whole pack of wildebeest is led by a zebra, Jah knows why, but that’s a fact!So we extended our stay by a day, thanks to Msengeti, but still the frigging animals stayed on the other side of the Mara River. But we got to experience the hot air balloon, filmed a lot especially the millions of wildebeest that refused to cross the river!
When I knew I had enough material for the prog, we gave up watching the river watchers, and settled for a game of poker by the pool at Sarova. Nini is too good at it, so is Kelly, we even managed to convince Msengeti to join us for a bit, and the thugs beat me at poker, thank heavens it wasn’t strip poker!
It was day three and our last evening at the Sarova Mara, and we wanted to have a good wrap, and we did! Let’s just say, it ended very well. It comprised many things, including staying up till 3.00 am watching Sin City, which in my books, is one of the best movies ever made, but it would have been so much better if I had a hand in mine…two is company.