We took a small plane (about 8 seats + pilots, single prop) to the airstrip for Cottars' Camp, where we will be staying for the next week. (Photos now inline, so scroll down for more)
We landed on this dirt airstrip, the only passengers getting off. We were met by our guide, Enock, who will be with us the rest of the trip, as well as a spotter. I'll describe the vehicle in a later post, but it is a 4WD Land Cruiser, which is needed to navigate the 'roads' in the Maasai Mara ("the Mara"). The road simply constitutes a track for two wheels in the dirt, driven by many vehicles before us. More to come.
We arrived at the camp and were met by Micah, our 23-year old camp manager. A native Kenyan, his dad was from Texas, mom from Austria, and he was educated in west Texas. We discovered we were the only guests in camp this week, as it is low season. While on the one hand, it's awkward because, well, we're the only guests, on the other hand it gives us an incredible level of personal service.
We did a quick walk around of the camp. It's amazing. Wildlife is walking through the camp, which consisted of tents with luxurious furniture and honest-to-god bathrooms. They carry the 1920s theme throughout, as the Cottar family has been guiding in Kenya since then. Our tent has a functioning crank record player and many other antiques. It's open to the air, but at night, flaps come down with netting and canvas to provide security and privacy.
After resting (and Emmy getting a massage), we went for our first game drive. We expect these to be the pattern for the next six days. We'll go on drives early in the morning and around dusk; the two times the wildlife is most active. We drove for about 3 hours - maybe 15 km - over dirt tracks, rutted roads, across rivers - you name it - and saw giraffe, zebras, lions, and many other animals. The pictures are crazy-amazing. A selection is below but when I get home, I'll post an album of 'best-of'. Sufficie it to say that it's hard to take a bad picture of wildlife when it is 10-15 feet away from you.
In the evening, we had a nice campfire and dinner with Calvin Cottar, the owner, as well as Enock, Micah and a few other members of staff (remember, we are the only guests...). We enjoyed talking about conservation and tourism, as well as the challenges of running a business, with Calvin, a genuinely nice guy.
We were escorted back to our tent by a Maasai warrior / security guard to protect us from the wildlife. After zipping in, we slept a sound sleep to the sounds of wildlife near and far.