The Great Rift Valley: (mostly) untouched wilderness

I got up at 5.15am on my first Saturday in Kenya. I was going to the Masai Mara for the weekend. My driver picked me up at 6.15am (or 6.35am according to Kenyan standards of punctuality) and we were off, navigating the pot-holes ridden roads of Nairobi. It was still very cold, a bit dark and the scenery was less than inspiring. I was fighting dozing off because despite everything I didn’t want to miss a thing! I was in Kenya (I still can’t believe it even though I have been here for two weeks already).

The Great Rift Valley took me by surprise as it revealed itself after turning a corner. It lay stretched before me in all its glory, stroked by the gentle rays of the morning sun. It was waking up to a bright new day! There was no sign of humans as far as the eye could see, nothing but unspoiled wilderness, arid and beautiful, for miles.

The Great Rift Valley at sunrise

The Great Rift Valley at sunrise

We stopped for a quick coffee break and I immediately got “attacked” by a charming crafts seller. He struck up a conversation, took some photos of me, made me laugh, invited me to have a look at his wood carvings and the walked me into his boss’ shop diligently talking me through all the items on display. ‘You are my first customer’ he said. ‘And in Kenya we have a tradition – I’ll  give you a good price so today’s trading goes well’ he continued. Then he threw a massively inflated price at me. Luckily I’d read about local bargaining and I was prepared. I smiled and told him that the price was ridiculous and I wasn’t going to pay it. We started at KES 2,500 ($28.50) for a small ebony figurine of a giraffe and after some merciless and impossibly charming hard-core bargaining on my part I got it for KES 700 ($8). Still quite a lot I found out later but I was pleased. I liked the little giraffe.

Maasai fabrics

Maasai fabrics

With so many herds running around, wool is plentiful and so are the crafts made from it

With so many herds running around, wool is plentiful and so are the crafts made from it

Ebony wood is white on the outside and black on the inside

Ebony wood is white on the outside and black on the inside

We descended into the valley and the gentle, green, rolling, mist covered hills of Nairobi gave way to a flat, arid endless and a much warmer weather. I enjoyed the long drive through the bush where the only entertainment was offered by navigating around cargo trucks slowly creeping up the hills and the occasional herds accompanied by their young herders (sometimes barely even 3-4 years old).

A herd by the road through the Rift Valley

A herd by the road through the Rift Valley

We were still miles away from The Mara when we spotted a herd of Thompson gazelles freely grazing in the bush. My guide explained that the Masai respected wildlife to such an extent that they would never eat a wild animal. The closer we got to The Mara the more wildlife there was. By the time we’d reached the reserve we’d seen a couple of dik-dik antelopes (tiny little things that seemed to change colour depending on the way the light hit them), zebras, giraffes, impalas, heart beasts, grand gazelle, heart beast, baboons, monkeys and even eagles! It’s like…it’s like…you know what? I can’t think of a comparison. It’s like nothing you have ever seen or experienced before. There are no words to describe what it feels like to see all these amazing animals roaming around in the wild.

We drove through a couple of small towns which made me wonder whether living in a somewhat civilised way (far from what we are used to) is in any way better to the traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle of the Maasai. Is a poorly build concrete house with a tin roof, in the middle of a barren dust field by the road, without any canalisation and far from the ever giving Mother Nature a better/easier/happier way of living compared to the traditional cow dung houses of the Maasai built in the middle of some of the most amazing nature in the world? Is having a small shop selling sweets and drinks better than the natural goodness that nature can provide? Food for thought.

Speaking of shops I have to mention one of the villages as it made rather an impression on me. It had a small number of shops organised to what I can only assume was the town centre and they had the following names: The Grace shop, The Glory Vision shop, Jesus never fails shop. Detecting a common theme here? 🙂

We drove on through the dusty valley and I realised that I didn’t even care whether we make it to The Mara or not. The drive in itself was an adventure and I felt so at peace, so happy. I didn’t want it to end.

The paved wide road was long finished and we were now on the red dirt roads of The Mara. My driver skilfully navigated every bump, every rock and pothole at top speed; the car leaning either to the left or right at various angles; all along whizzing us through Maasai land and getting us closer to our final destination – the Maasai Mara.

It got more and more exciting as we neared the reserve as the Maasai people we now saw became more and more traditional. There was no more Western clothing, there were just the blood-red cloaks and the beaded jewellery. There were no more cars or motorcycles, there were just large herds. There were no more shops and bars, there was just wilderness. The scenery didn’t disappoint either. It started out dry and arid, then it changed into something that looked like the hills of Tuscany before it changed into red dryness again. All along every child there was on the side of the road (either playing or most often keeping an eye on a large herd) waved frantically at us as we passed. By the time we’d made it to the camp I’d waved at tenths of children and my arm was tired.

This section of the Rift Valley was fresh and green and packed with crops. It looked more like the rolling hills of Tuscany than the arid lands of Maasai land.

This section of the Rift Valley was fresh and green and packed with crops. It looked more like the rolling hills of Tuscany than the arid lands of Maasai land.

Finally we reached the camp where I was spending the night. We walked into a cool dining area an got given a warm, wet towel to wipe my face. It was red by the time I was finished with it. I only then realised how dusty our voyage had been. We were most definitely deep into Maasai land. Later that day I thought how much this country fascinates me and how much it also scares me and makes me feel uncomfortable, way out of my comfort zone. I love it and struggle with it at the same time. What an experience!

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