Have you ever wondered, when sitting in an aircraft looking out of the window, what it would be like to travel through the landscape below?
My wife Bunny and I had made the journey from Wilson Airport to the landing strips near Angama Mara six times before, flying west over the Ngong Hills, across The Rift Valley, towards and over the Greater Mara; we have gazed down trying to envision this.
This year, we finally decided to do something about it, cycling the route and becoming the first guests to arrive at Angama Mara on two wheels.
But where to start?
Having cycled in Africa several times before, the first task was to find someone who could accompany us in a vehicle, and Nicky put us in touch with the redoubtable Geoff, a former Angama guide, who was able to source bikes and a supporting vehicle for us for the journey.
The route planning was done here in London and we settled on taking four days to cycle the 270km distance, staying at local hotels in Suswa and Narok en route the first two nights, and a small safari camp, Mattikoko, near Lemek, within a nature conservancy for our last night.
During this planning process, we encouraged two Scottish friends, Sandy and Juliet, with whom we have done a number of major cycling journeys before, to join us.
And so it began…
It was quite nerve-wracking, cycling out of Nairobi, dodging motor bike taxis, matatus (small minibuses) and livestock, until we got beyond the Ngong Hills with their wind turbines. There, we had a glorious ride down into the Rift Valley running parallel with the new Chinese built railway line on our right. We followed a less used and recently tarmacked road until 15 km short of Suswa when the tarmac stopped, and we had to contend with dust, loose gravel and mid-afternoon temperatures of 46 degrees Celcius.
We soon got the hang of working with Geoff, who either followed to protect us or leap-frogged ahead to wait under a shady tree to refill our water bottles and provide us with bananas or cookies. At times we had to contend with herds of cattle crossing the road but otherwise, it was finding the right part of the dirt road to ride on to get a smoother ride with maximum traction. Sometimes we were joined by watatos (young children — mostly boys) who ran alongside us and when we stopped wanted to have a go at riding our bikes.
The second day was a grind but a highlight was coming across a troop of baboons who were squabbling as we were haring down a steep and winding part of the road. With no one else around to scare them off, we had to shout to bring them to attention as it could have been spelt trouble if they had suddenly seen us at the last moment.
On the third day, the traffic thinned out beyond Narok as most of the safari vehicles headed southwest towards the eastern Mara and we had an easier day before turning left on a signposted dirt road to the Maasai Mara. Total bliss, as we had the dirt road virtually to ourselves and we were able to ride four abreast soaking up the scenery and atmosphere.
Near the end of the day, we were met by Moses and Marion Nampaso, a young Maasai couple, who escorted us to their Mattikoko safari camp 9km off the main road. As this is in a conservancy, we had the thrill of going on a ‘game-ride’ on our bicycles, passing zebra, impala and wildebeest and getting close to elephants before we finally arrived at the camp.
All of this was a prelude to our final day as we undertook another ‘game-ride’ to rejoin the main road to Angama. No sooner had we got on it, in the distance we saw an old lone bull elephant eating nonchalantly on the side of the road. How to get past safely? A car passing the other way confirmed to us that the elephant was not aggressive, so we sidled past him with Geoff and his vehicle between us.
We eventually crossed the Mara River and just as we were toiling our way up the final segment of the escarpment dirt road we were met by Adam Bannister and his wife Diana in an Angama vehicle who accompanied us to the top, where we were then met by five members from the Angama running team who escorted us the final 6km to North Camp.
As we swung around the final corner we were met by the lovely and warm Angama team who had a chequered flag and a ribbon stretched across the road for us to breach. No sooner had we done so, we were given Maasai beaded hearts — as medals _ to wear around our necks and laurel wreaths on our heads. Champagne was sprayed and we had an impromptu music recital with a Maasai guitar. Quelle journey and what a welcome!
On our eventual return to Nairobi, the pilot of our plane wondered why we were carrying cycling helmets and he was flabbergasted to learn why we had them. The flight back took a mere 45 minutes.
And if we had to make the choice again, you know which one we would have taken — after all, how often do you get the chance to cycle to the place known to be somewhere between heaven and earth? Maybe we have pioneered a new way to get there.
Peter and Bunny are inveterate cyclists, who specialise in creating their own self supported adventures to cycle across countries. They have ridden in 24 countries on journeys that have ranged from north of the Arctic Circle, through mountain ranges such as the Andes, the Alps, the Atlas and Simian Mountains, the Dolomites, and the Himalayas. Next, they have planned to cycle the length of the Dutch Coast during tulip time, and after that, the length of Ireland from south to north and later a possible trip to Peru. And, furthermore, there is talk of cycling next time in Kenya from Nairobi to the new Angama lodge in Amboseli. They love to dream…!
Filed under: Stories From The Mara
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