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The sun rises and sets on the Mara

Lynette Matheka experiences the breathtaking dawn and dusk of the bush, an inviting break from the hustle of city life

Travelling to one of Africa’s biggest national reserves for the first time is a chance that elicits excitement unmatched; Maasai Mara was the destination of choice for the signing of an extension of a deal between English Premier League club Arsenal and Kenya’s betting firm Sportpesa in a hot air balloon ride, making the trip possible.

In the company of few Sportpesa staff and fellow journalists, our journey began in Nairobi on a chilly Thursday morning. On to the narrow Limuru-Mai Mahiu road, the view of the Rift Valley at the famous escarpment viewpoint is both breathtaking and nerve-racking.

At the foot of the hill is Mai Mahiu, a town said to have adopted its name from the old-age steam locomotives’ hot water, where we had a quick stop for breakfast. The stretch of the Narok-Bomet road is an exciting one, with expansive wheat plantations that proved an ideal background for dazzling photography.

The ride gets rough at the turn off the main road in to the Sekenani gate. Reception at the gate and in to the Sarova Mara Hotel was facile and speedy; we were served sumptuous bitings and shown to our rooms by courteous guards in the compound.

I landed a standard tent complete with an outdoor patio fitted with antic seats and a table in case a guest fancies the breeze. A sizeable double bed and a well-finished bathroom with personal use items was also part of the room.

The only part of the room qualifying it as a tent is the entrance, which has a zip for the door. I hurriedly freshened up as our group was to head out for a short game drive to experience a sundowner, the Mara way.

This entailed watching the awe-inspiring sunset, whilst enjoying a drink of choice around a bonfire, lit to ward off the cold of the fast approaching nightfall. My excitement over my tent, however, was soon shot down by a colleague who was booked in a VIP room.

“With a chandelier-lit bed space, a king-size bed, an enormous furnished dining area and not forgetting a washroom fit only for a king, you might as well call me King of the Mara,” he bragged when we met on the beautiful walkways on our way out. Sundowner was soon over and we changed settings to a pre-set bush dinner.

Fully dressed in Maasai regalia, dancers stood in wait to welcome us to our dinner with song and dance before our meal was served, we gladly joined them. Being in Maa land, meat lovers had a field day as it was a dominant part of our enjoyable dinner. A local guitarist kept us entertained to the cheering of all.

Erick Egadwa, a chef at Sarova Mara, encouraged a taste of roast Lobsters he was making and although wary, I did not regret taking the risk as it was tasty. At sunrise the following day, Friday, the sky over Mara was awash with hot air balloons, offering a spectacular sight through the one-hour ride to where the ‘signing’ balloon, which had Mediamax’s Torome Tirike for a commentator aboard, would land. Watching four lions and a cub rest peacefully under some shrubs at such a close range when we encountered some along the route brought mixed feelings for everyone.

“They look so harmless from here, but for our safety let’s leave,” exclaimed one photographer when the lions acted nerved by our presence. Breakfast by the Mara River was stupefying. The breeze from the river accompanying a freshly prepared meal, enjoyed under an indigenous tree shade, is all one needs to relax and forget the hustle and bustle of the city life.

A quick chat with one of the lodge’s chefs, who only wished to be identified as Mohammed, had me learn that the decline in the famous wildebeest numbers was partly caused by malicious acts at Serengeti. “The plains around Serengeti have often been set on fire to prevent the migration,” he explained.

Slowly, we exited Mara, taking in the spectacular view of the wildebeest, and an occasional gazelle and dik diks grazing. Every herd of wildebeests had few zebras within it, leaving us with questions as to what traits the two shared, except for being preyed on.

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