How did you ring in the New Year? We packed up the car (seriously, packed full from floor to roof!) and headed to the Maasai Mara for a bit of bush camping with friends.
The campsite at Sand River Gate was spectacularly beautiful. It’s one of the most stunning spots we’ve ever set up our tent! We set up camp right by the banks of the trickling Sand River (true to its name), under the shade of a huge fig tree. There were boulders dotting the landscape that one can imagine were left behind after the last ice age or volcanic explosion. Sand River itself is especially lovely – enough water for the kids to have fun playing in, but not so much water that we needed to worry about crocodiles or hippos.
We chose to camp a few hundred meters away from the “official” campsite. We preferred the peace and privacy of camping in the bush to the services we could have accessed at the official site. Setting up camp a bit downriver afforded us a secluded, quiet, and incredibly peaceful spot all to ourselves. At night, we heard the occasional hyena and the trumpeting of a baby elephant in the distance.
Our mornings were spent on the reserve, watching the wildlife. The landscape was conspicuously devoid of grazers – not a zebra or wildebeest to be seen. But we were fortunate to see loads of elephants on the move, with lots of little elephant babies. The highlight for me was my first leopard sighting!!! (No photos of the elusive cat, unfortunately). For Jesse, the best part was fording rivers and mud pits with some wild off-road driving.
Afternoons were spent relaxing and having fun with the kids. The girls especially loved climbing the boulders scattered around camp. Heidi enjoyed an al fresco bush bath – one of our favorite family camping traditions.
Claire’s favorite activity at camp was playing in Sand River. The water was perfect for the kiddos – nice and shallow, full of driftwood and water-polished stones. It was great to sit, watch the kids play, and dip our toes in the warm water.
We greeted the New Year early in the morning, watching the sun peep over the horizon, reflecting on the year past and wondering what the future holds for the year to come… (I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – we never miss a sunrise with these girls!)
This was a wonderful trip, but it did have its downsides. It has been a couple of years since our last trip to the Mara, and I’m sorry to report that the roads are still a disgrace. It’s disappointing to see that the Trans-Mara and Narok County councils have not made a bigger effort in repairing and maintaining the access roads. The other major downside of the trip was the expense. Reserve fees coupled with exorbitantly high camping fees (1,000/- per person, per night) made this a pretty pricey camping trip for us. If you wish to visit the Mara, camping is way cheaper than staying in the lodges, but compared to other camping locations in Kenya it’s absurdly expensive.
Despite the roads and the expense, this was a wonderful way to ring in the new year, surrounded by family, friends, and some of the best landscapes and wildlife Kenya has to offer. Every time we go camping, we come home telling ourselves that we need to camp more often. Here’s hoping that in 2016 we make good on that resolution!
(Thanks to our friend Dominic Rebelo for several of the photos for this post, including the lead photo, the view of our campsite from the river, the sun setting over boulders, and the photo of our car driving through the mud. Thanks for the wonderful weekend and the amazing photos!)