We had the majority of the week off for Eid Al Adha, so my friend Avani and I got busy looking up good getaway deals. We were initially envisioning a girlie time away on the exotic Greek islands, or a laidback beach-bum break in the Seychelles. There were great deals going around!
However, after a brief chat with a local travel agent, our laidback holiday plans took a 360 degree turn into something far more action-packed and adventurous! Turns out early August is the best time of year to do a Kenya safari as the migration is happening. Add to it the love for The Lion King, and a trip to Kenya was, as they say, ‘meant to be’.
We booked a 4 night, 5-day package deal with Musafir.com
Day 1: A Night in Nairobi
The flight from Sharjah to Nairobi takes approximately 5 hours. We left the UAE early morning, and got to Double Tree by Hilton (Nairobi) a little past 4 in the evening.
The hotel is clean and modern, and has that sanitized, commercial feel of a business hotel. The group tour consisted of around 54 people in total, including families with young children.
By this time of day, we were tired, frustrated and in need of hot, soothing showers. The fact that we got seated infront of a couple with a very frisky 3-year-old who kept doing summersaults on the back of our seats didn’t quite help either.
We got introduced to two solo travelers, friendly girls who were looking to share local transport to explore the city of Nairobi. We decided to book a car and a driver for the evening from the hotel reception itself.
Our driver, a middle-aged Kenyan who went by the name of Samuel turned out to be quite the charmer. He gave us anecdotes on his life and the sights and sounds of his beloved Nairobi whether we asked for it or not.
We asked Samuel to take us to a local souvenir store. Almost half an hour into the countryside, we found ourselves at a fascinatingly exotic tin-roofed shack, heavily bedecked with the colorful artifacts of the land.
This is where I got my very first touristy click with a Masai man, but we didn’t buy a thing. The quoted prices were ridiculously high (USD$10 for a fridge magnet anyone?!). Perhaps Samuel got a cut out of this place, as much later we discovered Nairobi has interesting open markets at the center of town at less than half the cost.
Carnivore Restaurant, Nairobi
I ticked off a major foodie bucket-list item on our night in Nairobi. We had dinner at the much talked about Carnivore restaurant! We went for the epic ‘all you can eat’ meat feast where all kinds of game meat were being served.
Loved the beef tenderloins and the spicy chicken sausages, but what made this meal really memorable was my first-time experience eating ostrich, crocodile and… wait for it… ox balls! Yes, that’s bull testicles for you.
Ostrich didn’t taste much different from chicken, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I genuinely enjoyed eating crocodile. Crocodile tastes like a cusp between chicken and seafood. But those balls… the flavor was far too intense for my liking, and I found myself spitting out my very first conservative bite and rinsing it down with ‘Dawa’.
What is ‘Dawa’? It is the Indian word for ‘medicine’ and has been adapted by the Kenyans for the region’s most popular cocktail. The Dawa cocktail consists of vodka, fresh lime juice and honey. It has this fresh hit of citrus zest that got me hooked. Must try to make this at home!
The ambiance at Carnivore is magical. The dimly lit interiors expand out to many larger, roomy sitting spaces and the live grill of various meats is happening right at the welcome gates. By night, the central podium transforms into a dance floor. We wanted to stay on but had a very early start to our safari adventure the next day. So we bid Carnivore adieu, and ended the night with shots of Jaeger Bombs at our hotel bar with our newfound travel mates.
Day 2: Off to Masai Mara
The safari jeeps were waiting at the reception. We skimmed through our breakfast and made a dash. We requested our tour guide to put us in a jeep with single people as we didn’t want to go through the drama of toddler tantrums again.
This is when we made three more travel friends! There was a young Indian couple, and a bearded young man from Pakistan. Before we knew it, we were on the road and sharing common interests and taking turns to play out our favorite road-trip tunes.
We made a pitstop for coffee and got click-happy like a bunch of Japanese tourists.
The road to Masai Mara takes around 5 hours. We drove past scenic hills and vivid greenery, and through a rocky, dusty dirt-track that lasted a good half hour before we got to our lodges.
Mara Concord Lodge
The Mara Concord Lodge is in the game reserve itself and fenced out with electric wiring to keep the wildlife at bay. A river runs at one side of the quaint settings, and hippos bob their heads in and out in greeting.
The lodges look very scenic, but the actual facilities in the rooms are very basic. We were promised 4-star accommodation, but this was more like basecamp essentials. Add to this the fact that the place is run solely on generators as no electricity exists in this area, and lights go off promptly at 11 every night.
We had breakfast, lunch and dinner included in our stay at the lodge, but the food was nothing to write home about. The meat and chicken barbeques were bland and chewy, and I found myself eating more of the vegetarian dishes. It was also a shame that everything served was primarily Indian. We didn’t really get to try local cuisine.
Masai Mara Game Drive
That first afternoon, right after lunch, we went off on our very first game drive. With migration season in full swing, it was pretty magical seeing the large hordes of zebras and wilderbeest.
We spotted a number of giraffes and a family of elephants, but the real excitement came on spotting The Lion King himself.
Two regally poised lionesses sat by his side, but his majesty was in deep slumber. Even the king of the jungle was having a tiring day.
Day 3: Masai Mara Magic & It’s People
Our game drive on day 2 turned out to be far more fruitful. Have you seen my real-life rendition of The Lion King?! It’s not a Spielberg production, but the real deal. Even The Lion King suffers from heartbreak, click below:
One of the highlights of our trip was our visit to the Masai Mara Village. We received a very colorful welcome from the residents. Their welcome tune, completely acapella, had me spellbound! I’ve been trying to get these sounds out of my vocal cords ever since.
We also got a mini tour of the humble homes of the Masai people. These huts are made of naturally found wood, mud and cow dung from the vast landscape, and interestingly it is the women who make these homes from scratch. The hut includes a mini shed for a baby calf, a living quarter for the family, a makeshift kitchen and stove and even a guest room.
We were also given a demo on how the tribe makes fire from scratch. Elephant dung is the most commonly used fuel for this.
Click on my video below to have a look!
Day 4: Lake Naivasha & the Great Rift Valley Lodge
It was yet another early morning start. We hit the road around 7 in the morning after a super-quick gobble-down of breakfast.
We got to the Great Rift Valley Lodge around 2 in the afternoon, and it was love at first sight. Located in a lush green valley and boasting of an expansive, luxe golf course, this lodge was a very welcome upgrade from the Mara Concord Lodge.
After checking in, we headed off to the lunch buffet. The food here was also a major upgrade from the previous stay, and we dined in the open veranda, taking in breathtaking views of the greenery.
A golf cart took us to our room, a spacious abode flooded with natural light. We showered, and most of the group proceeded to the Lake Naivasha boat trip. Lake Naivasha is the Great Rift Valley’s most prized freshwater lake.
After all the early starts and dusty trails, I was exhausted and decided to give the boat ride a miss and booked myself in for an hour-long massage session at the lodge.
Our safari buddy Sneha got ‘lines’ done at the lodge salon. Arguably the best souvenir of all!
Here’s a stunning shot of Lake Naivasha, taken by my talented new safari friend Manu:
However, the photos from our friend Sheryar’s camera takes the crown here… he caught the adorable hippos up close and personal!
Pity we got to the Great Rift Valley Lodge so late in the day. This property is stunning, and I wish I had more time to get more click-happy around here while the sun was up.
Day 5: Heading Home
After a whirlwind adventure of a lifetime, it was time to bid Africa adieu.
We made a pitstop at a scenic lookout point called… wait for it… Digital Valley Viewpoint! We took a few selfies and ended up buying a few more souvenirs.
However, the adventure was not quite over. Midway, one of our 7 safari jeeps decided to have a breakdown, and we were stranded midway with panic-stricken visions of missing our flight home. The safari jeeps have an interesting pact; they only ride together in a tight row. If one breaks down, they all stop and wait for assistance.
Here’s a travel tip… do your check-in online! Our wonderful savior of a friend Manu got our entire jeep of 7 checked in on the Air Arabia portal. We made a dash to the airport, and thankfully made it on record time. We even had a spare half hour or so to browse the duty-free shops. By this point I had run out of Kenyan Shillings, so just a coffee and a chicken sandwich for me thanks!
Despite a few hiccups along the way, the overall itinerary set out by Musafir.com gave us the main highlights we needed to experience on 4 nights, 5 days trip. I’ve left Kenya with a phone full of photos, and a heart full of crazy-fun stories I will be recalling for years to come.
The highlights of my trip included eating game meat at Carnivore, the warm hospitality of the people of Kenya, and seeing 4 of the Big 5 at the game drives. We got close and personal with The Lion King, and got click-happy seeing the elephants, cape buffalo and a majestic leopard.
The stunning shots below were taken by our very entertaining safari buddy Falah Ud Din Sheryar:
The rhino didn’t come out to play when we were there, but hey! 4 out of 5 ain’t bad at all, and 1 friend to a jeep-full is a real bonus.
I went to Kenya with my friend Avani and came back with an entire troupe of brand-new safari friends. This is the beauty of group tours! We now have a Whatsapp group to share our memories and will probably be partying together wearing our Afro beads real soon! Thank you Musafir for an epic trip.