I am just back from 19 days of safari ably assisted by Daisy Soames who is back for her 4th summer of safaris.
June is often slow to get going on the riding safari front but this year we had two tidy groups with a core of six, plus a few extras for a few days on each.
The first safari went out from 13th-20th June. A jolly hand over lunch where the new group met the old took place at Olare Lamun on 20th June.
The first group consisted of a diverse mix of, newly married, Greg and Karrie from New York and Germany. Aram and Augustina, a brother and sister on a Grand Tour from Argentina and, last but not least, Danielle and Stephanie, two riding buddies from Dubai who took some time to risk a safari for security reasons but were glad they came.
I had not been to the Mara since January so arrived with some trepidation. I should not have worried and our only concern on 13th June was whether we could cross the swollen Mara river with hidden crocs, many hippos and a strong current.
Alice Oldenburg had come along as a professional photographer for 3 days and river crossings are a major feature of Offbeat Safaris adventure imagery, especially when the river is high. Sadly the current was too strong and when I began swimming on Cape to Cairo before halfway across I knew it was too much to expect of the horses. However, the earlier rains that had swelled the river had turned the Mara an emerald green and the zebra that precede the main migration from Tanzania were in profusion.
On our first move, from the Mara River camp to the Olare Orok, we met Nadege Seex, our new office manager, to give her a taste of what we do on a riding safari. On arrival the tireless Netty announced he had just passed two big male lion up a large Eliodendron tree in the Land Rover. This is not a trait of Mara lions, though is a big draw for Lake Manyara in Tanzania and also Uganda.
Scarcely believing him we rode a little closer and then transferred to our Land Rover to verify his claim. Sure enough, a huge mature male was 30ft up an Eliodendron tree as never before. He was balancing awkwardly, moving from leg to leg, hardly draped like a well accustomed leopard but had nevertheless climbed high. He was not phased by the car underneath so we went back to the airstrip, mounted up and rode down.
I was worried about his descending, what with all 450lbs of lion having to negotiate a steep tree trunk, so stayed a little way away but need not have worried. The advent of the horses decided his descent, which he accomplished with ease and a few growls later he had bounded down and trotted off to the cover of a Croton thicket.
Within half an hour we encountered a lovely bull elephant (about 35 years plus) in the wooded valley to the south and approached slowly. He knew about horses and was taking no nonsense so our causal but quiet approach, with Alice ready with her camera, was interrupted by a mock charge and much ear flapping. After a couple of these, and scattered riders, we detoured past him but indelible memories were clearly stamped on everyone and nervous laughter and different versions of the encounter were banded about for the rest of the week with myself taking much flack for leading the way on one retreat!
All this on our first move and three days on the Olare Orok, that enchanted valley guarded by Offbeat Mara and the horse camp, were just as magical.
The Offbeat Lion Pride have 14 cubs, some of whom were born in our camp when we got there in early January on our last visit to the horse camp. A groom had approached a bush to tie a horse up and was met by loud growls from a lioness who had young cubs hidden underneath. We later viewed them from the land rover. With six lionesses and two big males they are a thriving entity.
Several close and astonishing encounters with the habituated females, and getting to know the cubs, ensued. The best was one of the big lionesses on top of a bush (like the lion in the Eliodendron they too, are doing it more and more these days) with the horses 20 yards away and picture taking rampant.
We had one night of rain, which prompted me to stay on the Olare Orok and that day there were huge storms to the east so my decision was vindicated. The morning of the 19th we had perfect weather and a lovely ride to Olare Lamun. The ride, which is the longest, we now break up with two stops for breakfast and lunch, and just before we reached breakfast our canter was cut short at the sighting of a large snake by Greg. The snake turned out to be a 9ft python and added some excitement as well as some great photos once we had caught him up. He was obliging enough to demonstrate his powers of constriction upon my arm but after some negotiating, we both released one another and the python slithered off and we trotted away.
The Loita Wildebeest which were noticeably absent in Mara North suddenly manifested themselves on Ol Kinyei and Naboisho and we had a glorious canter through several thousand with Aram and Go-Pro providing great pictures since Alice had sadly left by now. Offbeat has a twelve-month association with migration if you are riding, as the Loita element is bound to be encountered at some stage between December and June by virtue of the ground we cover which encompasses their whole range.
Olare Lamun was home for the next three days and we were surrounded by wildebeest. Adrian Dangar arrived with a small Wild & Exotic group on 20th with his new wife, Rachel, sampling her first horse safari. They did the full ten days - 8 days and four camps in the Mara followed by a drive through the tea plantations and two days at Deloraine. Alex and Sarah Guthe from North Yorkshire and Jeremy and Sarah Billinge from Fife made up the Wild & Exotic element.
Harry & Flip Milbank, who are sadly on their way to a new life in Australia, joined us for 4 nights too and a wonderful week was had with close encounters with elephant and lion, and game everywhere generally.
The only sad note was that 5 cheetah cubs on the Ngorbop, who we had seen with their mother during the first week, fell victim to the mouths of hyena who we had seen hassling them. It all occurred just after we had been there despite the presence of a vehicle from the Mara Cheetah Project. The prevalence of hyena in the Mara was evident throughout our rides and their numbers already eclipse cheetah 45:1 and are increasing. Although we had some incredible viewings of hyena, including watching a clan devour a bull buffalo, who we had seen thriving the day before, something should be done.
We crossed the river several times in the second week and spent one night on the escarpment only. The grass in the triangle is very long but we got some good buffalo interaction and it is always nice on the escarpment. Hopefully the main migration will arrive soon to reduce the grass and we have so much to look forward to.
What a great start to the season and it has only just begun. We are off again for a five day trip through the Mara from the 6th – 11th July and, after what has been seen so far, it is with much anticipation that we return.