Mara Intrepids / Explorer with photos

Nov 6th, 2006, 12:41 PM
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Mara Intrepids / Explorer with photos

Photo link below – lots of cats especially for the cheetah addicts …

http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=...i&x=0&y=sb68jv


We have just returned from another wonderful trip to the Masai Mara. Having recently visited the areas north of the park (Mara Safari Club), West (Serena) and South East (Cottars 1920’s) we decided to stay right in the middle and booked Intrepids for six nights through Gamewatchers. Their rates seem pretty competitive at $280 pppn including park fees. I used them when we stayed at Cottars as well and for some camps they seem to be 20-30% cheaper than booking direct.

When we arrived at Nairobi we were told that the rainy season had just begun. There were some glum faces from the sun worshippers in the family but we needn’t have worried as we only had two or three showers during our stay.

After a night with friends, we flew into Intrepids on the morning flight from Wilson Airport and were delighted to see that the migration was still around. We landed at Ol Kiombo airstrip, literally two minutes from the camp and were met by the excellent camp manager (David). He confirmed that he had arranged a double and twin tent as requested but also that he had also organised an exclusive vehicle for the four of us for the whole week. A great start to the holiday. The tents are in the process of being upgraded so are a little worn but perfectly OK. All have a view of the Talek river although I’d imagine the view is better when the river is full.

One of the reasons we chose Intrepids was because of the swimming pool for the children. It was as hot as I can ever remember the Mara and, for once, it was not too cold to use ! The food at Intrepids was very good indeed – much better than Cottars which charges double the money. Service in the restaurant was very friendly if a little slow…but this is Africa and, as my wife constantly reminded me, I was supposed to be on a relaxing holiday ! The kids (age 12 and 15) in particular were looked after superbly. They had resident bushbabies and genets in the restaurant. Whilst we saw loads of game, the highlight for my youngest daughter was probably hand feeding the bushbabies ! She was not happy that I didn’t get a picture but I had heard that bushbaby’s eyes are every sensitive and I didn’t want to blind the wildlife !

For the first couple of days, most of our game drives were within a few miles of the camp. As with most of the Mara, lions were plentiful (Ridge and Ol Kiombo prides very near camp), we had a number of individual cheetah sightings and a leopard, reputedly Chui (local name Kitana) son of Bella the leopard of Big Cat diary fame, walking down a river bank. As well as our own vehicle, we also had the same driver all week and could take game drives as and when we pleased – on the third morning we had a lovely drive over to a crossing point near the Mara river (around 30 minutes from camp direct but we took the 2 hour scenic route ! ) and a picnic breakfast with no-one else around. A number of animals (wildebeest, zebra, topi etc …) crossed but nowhere near as spectacular as the huge crossing we witnessed in August 2005.

When we were having dinner on the third night when the camp manager came over and asked whether we would like to be upgraded to their sister camp Mara Explorer for the last three nights. Not surprisingly he received a very quick and grateful response ! Mara Explorer only has ten tents and, unlike Intrepids, is unfenced. All of the tents have wonderful settings on the Talek River (better views than Intrepids) - it is a big site and all the tents are at least 20 yards from anyone else.

The view from the reception deck is excellent and there was drama as soon as we arrived. We saw a young waterbuck lying on the river bank and, given he/she was moving, assumed it was sleeping in the mid morning sun. However when we spoke to Marianne (another excellent camp manager), she said that at 8am that morning, when all of the guests were on their game drives, a leopard had attacked the waterbuck right in front of the lodge to the astonishment of the staff. The mother waterbuck then charged the leopard which ran off leaving the young waterbuck with a broken neck but still alive … My youngest daughter was not happy to see this but it shows the brutality of life on the African plains. After being prodded by its mother all day, the waterbuck eventually died just before we went on our afternoon game drive at around 3.30. Just as we were having our pre dinner drinks at around 7.30, the leopard returned, sat around for a couple of minutes and then dragged her kill away – all right under the spotlight ! The leopard’s strength was amazing as the waterbuck was almost the same size as it. Mara Explorer is Bella’s home territory so we think she made the kill (so much for the sweet leopard in the BBC programme…) but one of the other guides thought it may have been ‘Tito’, another of the cats that appear in the show. Either way, a great pre dinner appetiser ! The drama continued the next evening when a crocodile appeared, found the uneaten half of the waterbuck carcase and dragged it into the river.

Mara Explorer is only ten minutes from Intrepids and we started to venture further away from the Talek river. We continued to see more solitary cheetah and lions and searched unsuccessfully for a rhino. Apparently rhino make themselves scarce when the migration is about and when we got to Lookout Hill just south of camp we saw the biggest congregation of wildebeest I have ever seen. The guide estimated that there were around 500,000 spanning a 180 degree viewing angle on both sides of the Mara river stretching all the way to the Tanzania border. For anyone visiting in the next fortnight, the guides felt they would stay in the Mara until mid November.

Other highlights included an attempted hunt by a young male lion on some giraffe and being charged (yes) by a warthog when we disturbed her few days old piglets ! On one of my pictures you can see them peering out of their den wondering where Mum had got to! The only real disappointment from a game viewing perspective was that, a couple of weeks earlier, a cheetah had given birth to SIX cubs a couple of miles from camp. However, the mum had moved the cubs outside the reserve into the Olare Orok conservation area somewhere near Kicheche camp. Unfortunately our guide was reluctant to go into that area (maybe because if additional fees) so we missed out. However on our last drive we made up for it when, in the middle of nowhere with no other vehicles around, my 15 year old daughter said that she had spotted a lioness. We had heard this before and expected to see yet another rock through the binoculars when we found not only the lioness but also three small cubs that were only three or so weeks old. The guide had not seen them before and thought it was the first time the lioness had brought them out of the bush. My daughters fell in love in one of the cubs that was making a big attempt to look and sound fierce but was no louder than our cat at home ! We spent about half an hour with them and, despite all the great cheetah / leopard action, it was probably the highlight of the trip.

After all the leopard / waterbuck drama in front of reception deck, I think the kids were getting pretty hardened to life in the bush but on the last morning there was some sadness as a young orphaned hippo was killed by the resident school – apparently she had never been fully accepted since her mother died in the drought earlier in the year so it was a bit inevitable though sad to see….If you want to see action from a camp, Explorer is clearly the place to be as we also had bushbuck (literally on our tent deck), genets, hyaena, warthog and leopard in camp at night !

To end, the funniest sighting had to be one evening when we found a cheetah and were on our own with her until we saw two beautifully coloured birds (lilac breasted rollers) on a branch just a few yards from the vehicle with one of them feeding the other – I couldn’t believe the colours when the photos came through… We started watching them whilst the cheetah lay down on a nearby termite hill. Eventually another vehicle spotted us and came over and you could sense there disappointment when they found out we were looking at two birds ! We debated not telling them about OUR cheetah 20 yards (not that well disguised but the light was dropping) in the other direction but thought that would be rather mean spirited and instead made their day with a wonderful early evening sighting !

Phil

PS : The food at Explorer was superb – better than many of the better London restaurants in my opinion with a slightly better location ….
philw is offline  
Nov 6th, 2006, 01:04 PM
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Oh my - some sad stories... and great photos! Giraffe, zebra, topi and wildebeest in one shot! Of course, many others, as well, and what cuuuute little cubs. I don't think I've ever seen such small warties, either. (Talking about the ones poking their heads out of the den or whatever you call it!)

Thanks for posting!
cooncat3 is offline  
Nov 6th, 2006, 01:08 PM
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Thanks for your report and photos. Lots of adorable young!
Patty is offline  
Nov 6th, 2006, 01:12 PM
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bat
 
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What a nice trip--and nice upgrade. The slow death of the young waterbuck was sad to think about. Nice of you to reveal the cheetah to those folks on the last day.
bat is offline  
Nov 6th, 2006, 02:08 PM
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Phil, karibu nyumbani. Wonderful (and sad) trip and wonderful photos! What a difference to see topis cross the river! What style! I’m sure they did a crocodile check before crossing. The lion cubs and the “hoglets” in the hole are incredibly cute! Asante sana.
Nyamera is offline  
Nov 6th, 2006, 02:18 PM
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Great report.
Great pictures
The warthog piglets suckling is great.
net_warrior is offline  
Nov 6th, 2006, 03:43 PM
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The Mara is calling me and probably everybody else who saw your photos and read your report.

Spotted cats galore--wow. The tiny lion cubs were so cute. You got some nice colorful shots of those 2 lilac breasted rollers. I liked all the family photos too. My favorite is the nursing warthogs--a treasure.

Was your guide from Gamewaters or from Intrepids/Explorer?

I'm trying to get a feel for the crowds. Obviously they did not interfere with your excellent photos, but what was your opinion on encountering other vehicles?

Thank you.
atravelynn is offline  
Nov 6th, 2006, 07:54 PM
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santharamhari
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Phil,

Great report and some awesome cheetah sightings......thanks for sharing...

Hari
 
Nov 7th, 2006, 03:48 AM
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Thanks for the comments. To answer the questions ...

1) Our driver was from Intrepids / Explorer as opposed to Gamewatchers. The Gamewatchers admin has always been excellent with good attention to detail but I can't comment om the quality of their drivers/guides. I think others on this board have had a good experience with them...

2) The vehicle count was not too bad even though pretty well all the lodges and camps in the Mara was full. At most of the big sightings near the Talek there were probably 3-4 vehicles around. The one exception was the leopard near the river bank which had 6-7. These were nearly always Intrepids / Explorer vehicles. As we went further East down the Talek we saw a few more vehicles as we were then in range of Fig Tree and some other camps. Once we left the river we were pretty well on our own and had a least 3-4 'solo' cat viewings. The same applied to the two mid morning drives we had whne we saw no-one at all...The advantage with the Intrepids / Exploerr area is that the other big lodges and camps are some distance away

3) I called the warthog hole a 'den' - who knows what it is really called ?!

Phil












philw is offline  
Nov 7th, 2006, 04:38 AM
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santharamhari
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warthog burrow, i think....

Do you think, the Intrepids or Explorer ppl were accomodative of all day drives, if requested? also, if was the guide accomodative if, you just wished to spend all day with say a cheetah if you wanted to? if you do that, do you perhaps risk running into millions of vehicles?

Thanks in advance,
Hari
 
Nov 7th, 2006, 04:50 AM
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santharamhari
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sorry for all the typos there.....doing too many things right now...

Hari
 
Nov 7th, 2006, 05:02 AM
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Great pictures - loved all the cheetahs and babies! Thanks for sharing!

Cyn
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Nov 7th, 2006, 05:29 AM
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I spent 5 nights at Explorer at the end of July/early Aug. and had one of the best guides of all my trips to Africa. John was willing to stay as long as anyone wanted with anything. We witnessed a crossing of at least 10,000 animals virtually alone as all the other vehicles headed back for lunch. He recognized additional movement of the wildebeest and zebra and took us to the most incredible viewing location. We got there 15 minutes before the animals and watched the crossing from beginning to end. My wide angle photos have zero vehicles on the far bank. He also was amenable to leaving a sighting that was too crowded...I really don't like more than 2 other vehicles at big cat sightings. We often were the only vehicle at some lion sightings with cubs and kills. We often took our breakfast with us to get out early and if we wanted lunch could also be done on the fly.
Regards,
Eric
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Nov 7th, 2006, 05:32 AM
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santharamhari
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Eric, thanks....appreciate all the info...

Hari
 
Nov 7th, 2006, 09:03 AM
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I’d say that a burrow is a den in the form of a hole in the ground. I don’t know if there is a special word for warthog dens. Anyway, their “holes” are made by aardvarks. On my first safari in the Mara I was told to be careful when walking past warthog burrows, because they can come out at a speed that breaks legs. When I walked outside Lake Nakuru NP the plain was like a Swiss cheese with both big aardvark/warthog holes and the smaller burrows of springhares and others. It was a bit scary to inspect the big holes.
I googled “hoglets” and found that the word is used for baby hedgehogs, but that some people also use it for baby warthogs.
Nyamera is offline  
Nov 7th, 2006, 09:22 AM
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Interesting report, Phil. Some sad stories in there, but I suppose it's safe to say you and your family love the Mara.

I'm off to view what no doubt will be wonderful photos. Thanks again!
Leely is offline  
Nov 7th, 2006, 11:36 AM
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Hari, Eric is right that you have you driver at your disposal for whatever drives you want. When we were at Explorer he even took us back to Intrepids on a couple of mornings for a swim before returning to Explorer for lunch - all we had to do was tell him what we wanted to do next at the end of each drive. I'm not 100% certain but I think Explorer (unlike Intrepids) guarantees a sole use vehicle without a price supplement. If you spent all day with a cheetah I think you'd be on your own for most of the time except early morning and the start of the late afternoon drive.

Nyamera, I can fully understand the damage that can be done by a warthog. The one that came charging out of the hole/den/burrow (!) stopped a few yards short of us but, if it hadn't, I have no doubt would have damaged the vehicle more than itself !

Leely, you're right that we love the Mara. At some stage I'd like to tackle Botswana although, with a family of four, I guess it would cost a lot more for similar quality. I think Botswana costs the same if not more than the amount we spent when my wife and I stayed at Cottars in February but, given we had a much better and cheaper experience this time, its not always true that you get what you pay for !

Phil
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Nov 7th, 2006, 11:56 AM
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WOW!!!

Just viewed the photos. The herds. The lilac breasted rollers. The photo of giraffes, wildebeests and zebras with the lone zebra in the foreground to the left--unusual composition. Baby warthogs. The Ridge pride lions. The cubs. The cheetahs.

And these are just the shots I remember off the top of my head. I think I have Mara envy.

And your girls are growing up!
Leely is offline  
Nov 7th, 2006, 11:59 AM
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Phil, thanks, those are great photos (a real nice reedbuck -- I have only seen a few, and from a distance). Also, I have seen lots of bat eared foxes, but only at night, and never in good enough conditions to photograph.

Michael
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Nov 7th, 2006, 12:49 PM
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Great photos! I echo what Leely said - I liked the same pictures she did. Beautiful shot of the LBR's. I'll be checking out the camps you used for a trip in 2008. You all sure had a great time.

In Botswana, some of the mobile safaris are in a similar price range to what you paid for this trip. You might check that out if you want to go to Bots.

Thanks for posting your report and pics.
Cindy
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