"You know you are truly alive when you're living among lions"
Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), Out of Africa
This is the second article by our founder sharing her transformational safari experiences while discovering Kenya. This time she found connection to life and the vast and beautiful wild Maasai Mara National Reserve - the most northerly section of the Mara Serengeti ecosystem. She speaks of the magic of living in the moment on a photo safari and provides hints on how you too can escape an over amped life and find stillness and clarity in a sector of the Maasai Mara that succeeds in balancing conservation, community, culture and the commerce of responsible tourism.
I am surprised to find that life in the wilderness of the Maasai Mara has its own special wildness. It is a natural, peaceful, vivid, wonderous wild in perfect harmony of being as it should, undisturbed by civilization. There is an awakening of the senses and a serenity that comes with being completely enveloped by and accepted as part of the ecosystem. Nothing seems to be perturbed by our presence - cheetahs pose and lion cubs play. Life is chill, and no energy is wasted. The primary focus - sharing family time and living in the moment. I reflect that this is the way life was intended to be lived and find in the quiet a strong and profound connection to all of life and this vast land.
I'm certain that this sense of oneness with the environment was due to our respect, appreciation, patience, and desire to capture the essence of life on the savanna in a photograph, combined with the excellent guiding and the overall responsible management of the Reserve including human (especially tourist), wildlife and environmental interactions.
Not all Maasai Mara safaris will bless one with this kind of Zen - solitude, vitality and connection. Kenya is considered the birthplace of the safari and the Maasai Mara one of the original game reserves, hence it has had the most time to see the negative effects of overdeveloped tourism. The Eastern Gates and surrounds, within driving distance of Nairobi suffer from irresponsible commercialization that should never be allowed in or near a nature reserve and which has destroyed the safari experience and the wildlife, environment and traditional culture that the Reserve was intended to protect and preserve.
There are several reasons why we were able to indulge in a life changing true safari experience - alive and living with the lions.
First, we flew into the isolated and particularly beautiful sector known as the Mara Triangle. Here the Reserve and the surrounding Conservation Areas are much more responsibly managed with respect to both the accommodation density and the management of human wildlife encounters. We saw Rangers diligently patrolling the region with strict control over the number of vehicles at any wildlife sighting.
Our basecamp for our photo expedition was the small exclusive 36 bed Little Governor's Camp, one of only two camps in the area and aligned with our philosophy that how you travel matters to the world. The camp has operated for over 40 years, so their guides have an extensive knowledge of the Reserve and great respect for this wilderness. They understand that the spirit of a safari should be transformational while caring for the environment, community and conservation. Situated in the forest around a lush watering hole we felt like part of the landscape while staying there - whether we were enjoying an el fresco candlelight breakfast or sharing the night with one of the resident hippos and her baby sleeping outside our tent.
Great organization always helps to maintain the magic. Our trip was setup for success by Great Escape Publishing Photography Expeditions and beautifully organized by our exceptional photography instructors Joe and Kathy Sindorf and safari stage manager Victor Nyakiriga, Founder of Topguides Safaris, as well as our knowledgeable and patient local guides - all in concert with a giant dose of spontaneity.
Life in the Mara flows with the cycles of the rains. We visited in early March at the beginning of the rainy season. This turned out to be great timing. As a less popular time to visit it meant a more relaxed approach to camp life, more flexibility and special moments. Best of all it coincided with the end of the birthing season making it prime time for viewing the newest offspring and plenty of family pride. It also meant that we missed the massive wildebeest and accompanying wildlife migration from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the lush grasslands of the Mara plateau between July and October. This also meant that we missed the now accompanying migration of disruptive and destructive, status seeking tourists and irresponsible tour operators!
Sharing the experience with a group of like-minded individuals with a common goal of full appreciation and capturing spectacular photographs added to the mindfulness journey. Our schedule was designed with the freedom of full immersion into the moment, spending hours watching lionesses and their cubs at play, following the elusive serval cat on his hunt, enjoying our mealtimes with awe inspiring vistas of the countryside and watching the thunderstorms roll in with the lions.
I'm so happy that I captured the thousands of photos that transport me back to the magic of the moments that otherwise would fade from memory. If you are considering an African photo safari and wish to capture life on the savanna in all it's glory, we recommend that you consider renting a 100-400mm zoom lens for your digital camera. It is the perfect lens for taking close up shots but still a manageable size and weight. I rented mine physically from Vistek in my hometown Calgary, Canada. Another option is BorrowLenses.com where you can rent all the professional camera equipment you need for memorable wildlife photos.