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One of the rarest satisfactions in travel is to know you are in the right place at just the right time
I’ve spent decades crisscrossing the world, first as a travel writer and for the past twenty years as a filmmaker and a community partner building local schools. In all those years, the number of right place, right time moments has been surprisingly few, which of course only heightens the pursuit. If you fly halfway around the world to film East Africa’s beautiful flamingos only to be told, “you should have been here last week,” chances are you’ll be coming back soon. “Right place, wrong time,” is not what you want to hear.
That brings me to Angama Mara, my favourite lodge in Africa (and I have seen many). I first came to Angama to offer my thoughts on best ways for the lodge to engage with local schools and communities. Inspired and wanting to be part of this work – and to have another fabulous lunch on the lodge’s deck overlooking the vast Mara plains below – I knew I’d be back.
I returned to visit Partakilat Primary, which the Angama Foundation is building in partnership with a Maasai community whose children were far from the nearest school. I returned again to open Partakilat Preschool and a small library which our Texas-based non-profit, The Nobelity Project, funded in partnership with the Angama Foundation. The opening celebration was pure joy, the kind of joy I’ve experienced many times at school openings across Kenya, but this time it was a joy that seemed almost perfect. It was obvious that the new classrooms held great promise for these children, as they lined up excitedly to sample the giant celebration cake the lodge had baked. I stood in the middle of the joyous mayhem, and surveyed the wide smiles of students, teachers, parents, and the Angama staff and I knew we were all in the right place at just the right time.
The Angama Foundation has another wonderful partnership, the Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the Year, which raises funds for important community and conservation work through entry fees to a competition with an extraordinary prize -5 nights in paradise (at Angama of course) and US$10,000 in cash. Any photographer would be delighted to win this contest, but the competition is mighty indeed. Marvelling at the incredible entries is a lesson in humility about your own talents as a photographer. Or is it another lesson about right time, right place?
Earlier this year, I was on safari in the Mara with Angama’s regional director, Tyler, and their wonderful guide Douglas. We had an hour of afternoon light left when we came upon the Angama Pride napping soundly 30m from the road. I was considering how we might get the setting sun behind us, when Douglas instead moved us to a spot that would potentially put the sun as backlight on the lions. It was a cloudy day, but a there was a slender strip of blue between the low clouds and the horizon. If we were lucky, the sun would slip into that gap just before it set. If doubly lucky, a male lion napping far to the right might wake up at the same time. As is often the case, one cub was restless but couldn’t rouse anyone else to play. I shot many images as we waited, enjoying watching this curious cub with his fierce, independent spirit.
Finally, just before sunset, the sun slowly sank beneath the clouds and cast us in a golden light. Right on cue, the big male lion stretched and stood tall, facing the females and the cubs to our left. Seeing him up, the active cub trotted to him with great excitement, passing just in front of his father trying for some attention, then looping back for another try. As you might imagine, I was clicking happily away when the cub turned to face his father who looked down on him with what seemed to be great pride. Seated, the cub lifted one paw to the big lion and I managed one last click of the shutter before the sun slipped behind the hills. With that click, I knew I had my entry into the competition.
The whole sequence was a minute, a minute of perfect backlight on an interaction that I could never have imagined. Turning to Tyler and Douglas, I realised that, despite all the time they spend in the Mara, they were both as excited as I was. Together, the three of us had been in the right place at the right time.
Most travellers to the Mara want to know the best time to be there. The Great Migration is the common target, the ultimate high season when the plains are filled with a million wildebeest and zebras. That is a sight everyone should see, but there are many good times to come to here. For many months before the vast herds of wildebeests and visitors arrive in August (or thereabouts), the Mara Triangle has a large number of elephants – I believe we saw 300 elephants in one day on a recent visit. On another day, you might see multiple large prides of lions. The birds are beyond compare. The entirety of this Reserve is beyond compare. A visit to Partakilat Primary is hard to beat. And so is lunch on the deck. Whenever you go to Angama, whatever you do while you’re there, you will have the added satisfaction of knowing you are in the right place, at the right time.
Note from the Editor: The work that Turk and Christie Pipkin do in schools across Kenya beggars belief. I travelled with them to Nanyuki for the ground breaking of a new Vocational Centre for severely disabled children. The joy with which these two remarkable people tackle the most challenging of projects, often seemingly against all odds, takes your breath away. We are so proud to call them friends and family of Angama Mara.
TAGGED WITH: Maasai Mara, People, Maasai Culture, Angama Foundation, Partakilat School, Giving Back, Maasai