Miscellaneous Ramblings by Tony Clegg Butt of Travel News – August 2013

Posted on August 2nd, 2013
Categories: News






I’ve just come back from the Masai Mara; well, not actually the National Reserve, but  the adjoining Olare Orok Conservancy.

The migration is in full swing, although I think the best is yet to come. I stayed at the swanky new Olare Mara Kempinski, where a huge luxury brand meets the Mara. I liked it, a fabulous place, and an article is sure to follow.

I’ve always been hesitant toward conservancies. I know what they do, and they do it very well. The safari experience in a conservancy is far better than that in the national parks and reserves without question. They also obviously benefit the landowners who earn a tidy living from leasing out their land, and who, well, now live elsewhere. I have always wondered where they have gone with their cattle and goats, and given the growth industry that conservancies are. Isn’t it getting a bit crowded, wherever it is they have gone?

My biggest bug bear about conservancies is that you can only visit them if you are a resident of the lodges or camps therein, which, at most times, is a seriously pricey proposition, exclusive they are.

That aside, and it’s a big aside, conservancies have considerably fewer tourists and fewer vehicles (one massive benefit is that minibuses are verboten!) which makes for a less stressed wildlife environment with perhaps only two or three 4X4s per pride of lion. The wildlife is happier, the conservancy’s tourists are happier; but am I happier?

To be honest, I’m not sure.

On our way from the airstrip in the National Reserve to the conservancy, while still in the reserve, we came across four young cheetahs, surrounded by fifteen vehicles. It was appalling with tip-driven safari guides and there were some surprises among them, all trying to get closer and closer. I have the photographs, and plan a few quiet words with some of those who should know better. We told our guide to drive on.

Cheetahs hunt by day, but with this sort of harassment they didn’t have a chance of scoring a meal that day. There is a rule (isn’t there always one?) that only allows, I think, three vehicles per family of cats, with a maximum view time of 10 minutes if there are others waiting. Great rule, but not a game ranger was in sight and again when we reversed our journey two days later, same scene, rangers nada!

Incidents like this make a great case for the conservancies, if only we could afford them.

A group of friends of ours, self and family included, camp right outside the Masai Mara every year at the end of July.

Well, to be ridiculously honest, it’s a camp other people put up, and even has ensuite facilities with proper toilet and bucket showers. We self-cater and it’s a blast. I’ve just ordered 28 cases of Tusker for the 4 days which will certainly add to the party atmosphere. Oh, I forgot to mention there are 40 of use, so please don’t think bad things – that’s only 2 beers a day per person.

The camp, now called more formally Speke Camp, is situated on a sliver of land between the National Reserve and the aforementioned Olare Orok Conservancy. It is ideally situated, affordable and if the budget can’t bear the ask, there is a DIY campsite. There is also a full-board catered option, so you don’t have to lug all those cases of beer and food down to the Mara.

Our little road from Tigoni to Nairobi, alarmingly tongue-in-cheek called the Banana Hill Expressway, was trashed by the rains earlier in the year, and believe it or not it is now being repaired.  From crater-size potholes to crater-sized bumps.

I stopped to ask why they couldn’t make the road smooth and this is the verbatim answer, ‘You see, bwana, if we make it smooth then the new tar will subside shortly, and the Ministry of Terrible Roads only pays if we fix a pothole, so that is why we make it high. It will then take more time to subside.’


To read more of this month’s Travel News, click on the magazine cover    TN August