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On safari with the Masai

FOR AN AUTHENTIC SAFARI EXPERIENCE

Romantics and adventurers have been coming to Kenya since the turn of the last century. It took them at least three weeks to make the journey from Europe. Today, you’re there in a day. In fact, getting there can be easier than choosing where to stay. As more and more tourists come looking for the real Africa, the authentic safari experience is becoming harder to find.

Jake Grieves-Cook of Gamewatchers Safari has come up with a solution. About five years ago he saw the developing problem: too many tourists chasing too few animals in the game parks. He knew that the famous Masai Mara game reserve occupies much of the tribal land of the Maasai people, but by no means covers it all. A few years ago, he met with the Maasai elders and offered them a deal they couldn’t refuse. In exchange for a yearly rental plus a fee for every guest bednight, Grieves-Cook acquired huge swathes of land ouside the game park, land previously used by the Maasai for hunting and grazing their cattle. He established four camps where a strictly limited number of visitors have the exclusive use of pratically unlimited stretches of game-rich bush country. He also offered young Maasai warriors training and employment in the camps. He called them ‘Porini’, meaning wilderness.

Recently, I visited Porini Lion Camp. Situated on the 20,000-acre Olare Orok Conservancy, it caters to a maximum of 20 guests. An hour’s flight from Wilson airport in Nairobi brought me along the Rift Valley to a red-earth landstrip carved out of the bush. A 4×4 vehicle manned by two Maasai, a guide and driver in their traditonal red robes and beaded jewellery, was waiting. On many previous safaris to other camps and lodges I’d glimpsed the colourful Maasai at a remote distance; it was slightly strange to be sharing a Land Rover with two of them now. In excellent English they thanked me for coming and I realised that, here at least, the Maasai are finally getting something back from the tourist industry.

The pale green tents of the Porini Lion Camp are strung out along the Nitakatiak river. Although the campsite is ecologically responsible (it could be struck in 24 hours leaving scarcely a trace), the tents are extremely comfortable, with solar lighting, flush loos and hot showers. The food is good too, served buffet style with freshly baked bread and cakes and plenty of wine. The Maasai take care of their guests in style under the watchful eye of a throroughy experienced camp manager.

A typical day here involves three game drives — the first one allows you an early-morning look at the African world as it wakes up. Up close and personal, I saw predators on the prowl, brilliant birds among the trees, hundreds of grazing animals on the grasslands and hippos on the river bank. After lunch and a nap there’s another expedition, with a stop for a drink to watch the sun go down.

The days ended with a magical night drive on the search for nocturnal animals such as that most elusive of creatures, the leopard. And no matter what we happened upon — a herd of elephants trudging along, the babies walking beneath the mothers; or a lioness bringing down her prey — in this wilderness camp no minivan of tourists ever drove up to spoil the moment.

 Prices per night per person at the Porini Lion Camp include return flights from Nairobi to Mara; game drives in an open 4×4 with a qualified guide; a bush walk with Maasai warriors; night game drive; sundowner; all meals on safari; soft drinks, mineral water, house wines, gin and tonics; as well as all park and conservancy fees. Contact www.porini.com or info@porini.com

Gamewatchers Safaris and the Porini Safari Camps are the winners of a Kenya Tourism Federation Award 2012. The Porini Safari Camps were recognised as the Best in Kenya for “Support and Integration with Local Community”. They were honored for their pioneering work and partnership with the Maasai communities in creating wildlife conservancies in addition to supporting local initiatives in education, health & water projects.

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