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Trip Report: Kenya; Masai Mara: Little Governor's Camp

Trip Report: Kenya; Masai Mara: Little Governor's Camp

Feb 22nd, 2008, 09:12 AM
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Trip Report: Kenya; Masai Mara: Little Governor's Camp

This report is included under my inital report on Amboseli, but I wanted to address this to those who are just interested in the Mara.

Part 3: Maasai Mara, Little Governor's Camp, 1/31/-2/2/08

You can view my photos from here at http://www.photoshopshowcase.com/Go....96&ABID=298965

Safarilink flight from Shaba got us into Musiara about 11:30a. Am amazed at how smooth those little planes are. That American couple whose tour operator had changed their itinerary from driving to flying were on our plane again, and now the operator had changed the venue to the Maasai Mara (from Laikipia?) because of the continuing violence. They also said they'd seen a lot of animals at Samburu, especially elephants, so that's where the Shaba animals must have gone.

Samuel the elder was there to pick us up, along with another couple from Britain. We had requested him as our guide, based on the recommendation of another Fodorite, but the camp wasn't sure he'd be back from leave, so I was glad to see him.

Right away, the difference between Shaba and the Mara in terms of animals was remarkable. We saw many giraffes, buffalo, and gazelles just during the short drive to camp. One of the fun parts of Little Governor's is the arrival. You get let off and walk down steep stone steps, with a rope railing, to a small, flat boat, and the boatsman uses a rope pulley to get you across a narrow part of the Mara River. If he let go, you'd go down a small rapids. Then, you climb up steep steps on the other side.

We and the other couple were greeted with the customary fruit juice and given our tent assignments, #14 for us and #17 for them. For the first time, I noticed on the voucher I handed over that our tour operator was requesting some special treatment for us because it was our 25th Anniversary...that was nice, I thought.

This camp has a more "authentic, Hemingway-style" feel than Joy's Camp and Tortilis. No electricity, just kerosene lamps in your tent, basic green canvas roofs, plain wood furnishings, but you're on a raised wood deck with 2 camp chairs overlooking a large waterhole, no fencing, so elephants, baboons, warthogs, etc. roam freely. The bathroom does have a flush toilet, open tile shower, sink and even a bidet! Although I knew this wouldn't be luxurious, I was still under-whelmed by the tent. It could definately use some decorating update.

The camp itself is sited well...it's in a forested part of the Mara up above a large water-hole, so it was very green and refreshing. At this camp, you must be escorted by a guard at all times and that felt a little restrictive to me. Walking to lunch, a group of warthogs ran close by us. The tables are set up so you look out over the water hole and we watched a family of baboons playing. Lunch was a buffet but very good...moussaka, lentil salads, soup, and a great chocolate banana pie. While eating, a warthog ran right up to me, and I jumped up. We also got an offer we couldn't refuse. Captain David, who pilots the famed hot air balloon rides that take off from Little Governor's, came up and offered a 2 for 1 special on the next mornings's flight due to the lack of tourists....so that turned out to be $415 for both of us and included a champagne bush breakfast. When booking the safari, we had decided against the ride because of the cost, but a 1/2 off sale is worth it.

After lunch, a family of elephants were munching in the wetlands right in front of our tent. While shooting photos of the baby, he looked like he was going to come over so I ran in the tent because I didn't want Mama to follow just as a guard ran over to warn me. It was pretty exciting to have these huge elephants so close.

3:30 game drive: On our walk to the game drive we ran into the other couple who checked in with us. They were laughing that they'd been given the honeymoon tent and they didn't know what to do with it! When we got across the river, there were several Range Rovers, and we were assigned to a different guide, Fred, while the British couple got Samuel, all to themselves! This annoyed me since we had requested him in advance. But, we set off, along with another British couple, for our first game drive.

Fred was young, reckless and didn't say much, but we did see more animals than any other place. First, after spraying my husband with mud while grinding his wheels, we basically drove off-road through a vast, boring savannah. However, there are animals everywhere you look....herds of waterbuck, topi (a first for us), Grant's and Thompson's gazelles, Impala, Maasai Giraffes, Plains Zebras, Baboons, Cape Buffalo, Elephants, all peacefully co-existing side-by-side. Watched male giraffes "necking", a play form of fighting, and saw them splay their legs so they could bend over far enough to drink.

We drove by 2 sleeping lionesses, our first close-up enounter with lions. They opened their eyes but that was about it.

I got very nervous when Fred parked the Range Rover right in the path of an approaching mom elephant with her baby. She kept coming right at us and I got afraid and said "move", while the lady in the back seat said "Oh, no!" But, Fred pulled ahead and they passed behind us. This is the problem with sharing a game vehicle: we have conflicting ideas of what's dangerous, but it didn't seem to make sense to position the vehicle right in their path.

Then, we spotted "Duma"...2 half-grown cheetah cubs playing and their mother, sitting erect on a rock. Beautiful! I hadn't realized how black and definative the teardrop marking on their faces were. Her coat was lovely...she looked so regal and elegant perched there impassively surveying the plains. Then, I was trying to figure out a temporary camera misfunction, so missed the excitement when the cubs took off after a Topi, but didn't catch it. Then, the three of them cuddled on their rock perch...I think cheetahs are rivaling giraffes as my favorite.
After that, we spotted another lioness, but she was walking around. We pulled up right next to her, and I have to admit, I'm still nervous around them, since we're in an open game vehicle without windows. But, you do get a sense of security inside the vehicle.

On the way back, the Grand Finale....leopards! A half-grown cub was up a tree with his antelope kill...exciting! It was hard to photograph him through the leaves and it was getting dark outside. Then, we spotted the mother in the bushes on the ground. She eventually started to get irritated so we left. The other woman said she'd been on 5 safaris before she ever saw a leopard. So, now we've seen 4 of the Big 5...Lion (but no male or cubs yet), Water buffalo, elephants, leopard (or cheetah), but no rhino yet.

This is going to sound really heretical, but despite seeing more game in 2 hours in the Mara than Shaba and Amboseli combined, I really didn't enjoy the game drive as much. It almost was like riding through a zoo...there was no challenge to finding the animals. I could really notice the difference in the herds of antelopes. At the other parks it was difficult to photograph them because they were so skittish. Here, they didn't run away as quickly or often. And, there are so many more game vehicles around...and this is with about 25% occupancy due to the violence...I can't imagine how crowded it must get during normal peak times. And, I didn't like the scenery...it was flat and boring...also overcast, which makes everything look worse....and I didn't like Fred, who didn't provide much information about the animals like the other guides did.

I had a hunch that the camp had mixed us up with the other couple at check-in...since they got the driver we requested and were given the honeymoon tent, which would've gone along with the special treatment request. We didn't care about the tent...actually glad we weren't at the very end of the camp where it was located...but we didn't want another game drive with Fred. So, my husband planned to talk to the mgr about it at dinner, but we were told he wasn't available to speak with until the next am.

Dinner was lovely. The tables were set up under the stars, our waiter was very good (you usually have the same waiter the whole visit), the food delicous: Garlic cream of tomato soup, red snapper starter, roast pork and potato croquettes, green beans and cheesecake for dessert. Here we had to pay for wine and soft drinks. But laundry is free, as at the other camps.

With the balloon ride, we had to have a 5:15am wake up call (with hot chocolate and bisuits) to get to the site by 5:45am..a short walk away in the dark (all the while thinking that it's prime leopard/ lion feeding time).
Heard the safety lecture about how the landing could be like a controlled car crash, the basket could turn over and be dragged...and how you have to climb over to get inside the basket pretty quickly, and started worrying if this was going to be a mistake with my knee ( had torn the miniscus a month earlier and delayed surgery until after Africa).

Last night we'd had a hard rainfall and wondered if the flight would be cancelled. However, the rain had stopped but now it was too calm. There was hardly any wind, poor visibility, and we were drifting the wrong direction. We crossed the Mara River, where we scared lots of hippos running out of the water, saw giraffes and baboons, but we were losing altitude and it looked like we were going to put down in a swamp. Not good! The captain said this was not going to work, and we had to put down in an entirely different area than planned...we made it to drier ground, thank God, but it was on Maasai land...not good again!

A lone Maasai approached and negotiated landing fees, and while we were waiting to get picked up, another Maasai came over out of nowhere with trinkets to sell. How did he get there so quickly? Anyway, my husband bought a beaded stick with the tail of a wildebeest on it...yuk! and I got a beaded bracelet...figure we should buy something.
That brings up the Maasai village visits, that are an option around here. We heard so many negative reports about the high pressure selling tactics, the lack of authenticity, etc. that we chose not to go to one.
We headed back and had our champagne breakfast at the balloon field at Little Governor's and Captain David said we could all go again tomorrow am. so we could have a good experience. We were concerned that we'd get back in time for our 11:00am flight but he assured us we would. So why not? Four flights for the price of one!

My husband had a talk with the staff about our driver situation, and found out that they had indeed mixed us up at checkin. So, on the 10:30a game drive, we went with Samuel, the other British couple, and another guy...three in a row is too crowded though. Didn't really enjoy the game drive...saw all the usual suspects but we spent way too much time waiting to see if the leoparad would come out of the bushes (didn't). I was getting bored, had gone to the same area again and I was very tired.

After lunch, we headed back to our tent for a much needed nap. However, the baby and big elephant were literally 10ft in front of our tent. Our guard motioned for us to come around the other side of the tent, but as we approached the front, the large one got very agitated and we raced back behind the tent. Again, the guard tried to get us to go to the front, but first he had to scare away another big elephant who was approaching from the other side. We shook our heads "no", but he kept motioning to keep quiet, stay low (which is hard with my knee), and while the elephant's back was turned, we raced up, unzipped the tent and ran in. Then, the elephant turned and seemed mad, and I swear was staring in the tent. We had run to the back where the bathroom was, and kept peering out to see if he had left. We were both scared and made no noise because it seemed like he could trample our tent with no problem while we were trapped in the bathroom. I told my husband to get his knife in case we had to cut through the canvas to get out. But,we waited about 10 minutes and he finally moved on.
I could finally get my nap, and decided to skip the 3:30 game drive.
My husband went, and saw a male lion and two more leopards, but I was happy with some alone time sitting on the deck, enjoying the scenery and catching up on housekeeping chores.
At dinner, sat around the campfire with a drink, before some raindrops sent us under cover in the bar. Tonight they set up the dinner tables in the tented dining area, and we did have some rain. Excellent dinner again...smoked salmon, beef filet, roasted potatoes, red cabbage.
Then, we heard chanting and about 10 Maasai warriors with their spears, dressed in red, came out preceded by the chef carrying a lighted cake. Must be someone's birthday, we thought. Well, they came up to our table and presented a lovely cake with our names and 25th anniversary on it! We were shocked! Then, they grabbed my hand and led me around the room for awhile...then it was my husband's turn to try the jumping that they do. It was very special and a lovely touch!
The bed and linens are so comfortable here and the temperature is perfect for sleeping. Heard hyenas and hippos munching outside the tent but slept well.
Another early wake up call for our second balloon try. This time we drifted off immediately in the right direction, the sun rose, and the scenery was much prettier...skimming over the treetops with the baboons below...giraffes and elephants watching us...scattering herds of gazelles..and more hippos in the Mara River. We sat down gently right in front of a hyena den, but no animals came out. Then, we were whisked off to a lovely spot high above the banks of the Mara River for our champagne breakfast. What a difference a day makes! The flight was lovely and Captain David is charming. Others took a game drive back to camp, but we went straight back to catch our flight.

Next: Tanzania: Lake Manyara Tree Lodge

barefootbeach is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2008, 05:28 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
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Thanks for sharing! I'm so glad your second balloon ride turned out much better than the first.

I'm looking forward to hearing about lake manyara tree lodge (my sister and I are thinking of staying there)

Jamie
jmartmd is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2008, 07:33 AM
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Jamie,
I'll get to that in a couple of days, but I think the tree lodge was our favorite place. You'll love it!
barefootbeach is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2008, 08:48 AM
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Great report, great photos! Thanks so much for taking the time to do all this.
Leely is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2008, 03:58 PM
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Hi loved reading your report....very lucky indeed, Sonali
sonali74 is offline  
Feb 24th, 2008, 06:21 AM
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Barefootbeach, the in-camp wildlife of Little Governorís sounds excellent. How annoying that most of your anniversary treats were given to another couple. Your photos are beautiful. I especially like the little camp elephant, the baby topi, the cheetahs, leopards and the hippos seen from above.
Nyamera is offline  
Feb 24th, 2008, 02:00 PM
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Nyamera,
I really can't complain because in one sense, just because we're having an annivesary doesn't mean we're entitled to more than others who are paying the same amount of money. And, the British couple were sweet...and truly, I kept thinking of a comment a friend made a while back when I mentioned how the animals roam freely and I was worried about potiential attacks...she said to insist on a tent in the middle, not the ends of the camp. So, I felt safer in the middle.
barefootbeach is offline  
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