When preparing to leave a country a sense of urgency kicks in. We always arrive in new places with grandious ideas about the wonderful places we will visit and the places we will explore. We always anticipate years in which to make these acquaintances and feel comforted by the time we can take to acquire 'local' knowledge.
Now, faced with ten weeks before departure, we embraced our inner tourists and simply started making bookings.
The trouble around the December election had largely calmed (if not completely resolved). And there remained parts of the country that we preferred to avoid... just in case. Fortunately we had snuck in a trip to Lake Nakuru in October and had our chance to marvel at, literally, millions of flamingoes. Post election, Nakuru became the centre of much of the political violence as IDPs (Internally Displaced People) moved into the area and became targets from rival tribes. I hasten to add that, by the time we left Kenya, Nakuru had calmed and anyone planning a holiday to Kenya now should definitely consider a trip up there on their itinerary.
But the place we had not explored, the big ticket, the must do before we leave, was the Masai Mara. Politically, this area had remained largely untouched by the election fallout. As the name would suggest, it is home to the Masai people who had not been involved in the conflict. It had, however, been hugely effected by a sharp drop in tourism. This was undoubtedly being felt by the local operators and their staff. Their strategy to keep some sort of occupancy level going was to discount sharply for local tourists. As residents, this included us. So, much to our surprise, instead of camping, we were able to stay in beautiful luxury tented camps. Twice!
The first time we went, the good Granny was with us for a visit. We stayed at the Karen Blixen camp in one of the concessions just outside the park proper. The highlight of the trip was finding two female lions with six cubs and watching them, on our own for the best part of an hour, yanking tails, chasing each other, climbing all over their mums. Too cute. Our guide mentioned to us that, had we visited a year earlier we would have probably been jostling for position with about twenty other vehicles. So, lucky in a way... although political conflict seems a rather high price to pay for a good game drive...
The second time we went we really stepped out and treated ourselves to a weekend at Little Governors (again at 'special' rates). This camp is known for a few very special things. First, it has been maintained as a real bush camp - no electricity, fences or mod cons. Although very comfortable and serving some of the best food in Kenya, it goes to some lengths to ensure that you never forget where you are. The second thing it is known for is its balloon safaris. Which were also running deep discounts.
Sadly, Bambi was considered too young, and I was considered too pregnant (discrimination I tell you!) to go on a flight but the Good Man took the gap. We followed behind in the chase vehicle and got to take part in the champagne breakfast (if not the champagne) at the end. I have never felt such envy in my life. Watching that graceful orb floating over the treetops while we bounced over the ever pitted ruts of the Mara was quite torturous. But Bambi and I have promised each other that, when she's old enough, our turn will come...
Our final excursion was on our very last weekend in Kenya. The Good Man had for many years been talking about taking part in the Lewa Downs Half Marathon. He had rallied a few friends, got himself into a team and our departure date was actually set so that he could take part before leaving. What makes this event pretty unique is that it is run through a fully fledged game park, well stocked with animals that can trample you, chase you and eat you for lunch. Or dinner. Fortunately it is also extremely well organised, with the route being steadily patrolled by rangers and helicopters to ensure the safety of the runners.
The organisers set up a temporary village for the weekend to accommodate runners and their families, complete with campsites and long drop loos. At five and a half months pregnant I was not feeling even this adventurous so booked us into Ol Pejeta House in the Sweetwaters conservancy where we shared a self contained house with another family whose dad was also running. The boys went to run their race while we visited a tame rhino and the chimp sanctuary, lit roaring log fires and generally absorbed the atmosphere and the stunning views of Mount Kenya. It was idyllic - good company, fantastic scenery and all too easy to forget what was looming ahead.
On the Sunday we drove back to Nairobi, picked up our luggage and left Africa... again.