The Mara, the lake and the crater

Friday August 31 2018

Wildebeest in the Mara Migration 2018. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT | NATION


We had 10 days to organise a safari on a budget — affordable but not cheap.

I arranged an itinerary from Nairobi to the Maasai Mara then on to Mfangano Island on Lake Victoria in western Kenya via Mbita Point.

We would return to Nairobi through the Menengai Crater in the Rift Valley. It was a round trip of 1,000 kilometres to explore the treasure trove of Kenya’s west side.

We set off from Nairobi to the Maasai Mara through the scenic Mai Mahiu route (the old highway from Nairobi to Western Kenya).

We stopped at the Travellers’ Church, a quaint chapel built by Italian prisoners during World War II. The road was built by the same prisoners.

One of them who was too ill for manual work painted the fresco on the church wall.


At the Mara, more than a million shaggy wildebeest walked through the grass plains.

Prides of lions, a leopard with her cubs, cheetahs, and a rare serval cat studied the potential feast. Vultures rose to scan the plains for carcasses.

And when the wildebeest collected by the river, we anticipated a crossing. We had been on their trail since sunrise and it was now midday.

The herd moved to the steep bank and faltered. As their numbers grew, the push from behind got the first ones to scramble down and, after a few suspense-filled minutes, leap into the muddy water.

One was snatched up in the jaws of a resident crocodile, which became a familiar sight for us after three days spent at Crocodile Camp on the banks of the Talek River that flows into the Mara.

We left the Mara through Oloololo Gate and up the Oloololo escarpment, to go island-hopping on Africa’s largest freshwater lake – Victoria.

We arrived at Mbita Point and checked into the Lake Victoria Safari Village. It’s a novelty to spend a night in the lighthouse, a room with a view.

We hired a motorboat for the day to visit the islands on the lake. We started at Mbasa twin islands, filled with gigantic monitor lizards. We landed at the fishing village of Takawiri, where fishermen sailing wooden boats bring in their catch from the night.

Back on the boat we were off to Mfangano island, to see the 4,000-year-old rock art. Across the blue waters is Nzenze, the island that legend has will follow the Suba people wherever they go. Tin roofs shine under the sun on Ringiti island, bordering Uganda.

We briefly enter the Ugandan waters before sailing to our abode for the night — Mfangano Island Beach Resort at the foot of the highest point of the hill. It’s quite a hike up through the forest, but the view of the lake is worth the effort.

Two days later, we’re on the waterbus back to Mbita Point, to drive to Ruma National Park in search of the rare roan antelope, rhino and Rothschild giraffe.


The waterbus used to move from Mbita point to Takawire island. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT | NATION

With an estimated 30 roan antelope remaining at Ruma, this subspecies faces extinction. We saw the Rothschild giraffe and plenty of antelopes.

We drove through Kisii to Kericho, the land of sugar, milk and tea. Kericho’s rich tapestry of green tea plantations is picturesque, bordering the Mau Range.

Wheat fields and maize plantations line the sides of the road to Menengai Crater, on the alkaline shores of Lake Nakuru.

We checked in to Maili Saba Camp on the rim of the crater in the Great Rift Valley that boasts the largest volcano caldera in Kenya, and the second largest in Africa.

Maili Saba Camp was started to raise funds for orphans and set up a tourism college for them.

Many alumni work at the camp, and the service is impeccable. Lights from geothermal rigs glow in the crater at night.

Morning brings a hearty breakfast, after which hikers vanish into the crater for a couple of hours.

On the drive back to Nairobi, we enjoyed scenery of lakes Nakuru, Elmenteita and Naivasha, with Mt Longonot in the midst.