By Santiago Legarre
One time I went out on a game drive in the Maasai Mara. As we drove by the Mara River, it was quiet or, as my driver put it, “dry”. We were aiming at cats — what a surprise — but simba and his friends were nowhere to be seen. Or, rather, some lucky folks seemed clearly to be enjoying their company on the other side of the river, namely the Mara Triangle — a bridge too far…
The situation described above is a common experience even if it is not always so easy to witness it the way I did that morning because you cannot always easily attest to what is going on somewhere else, “on the other side”. But if you are in the Taita Hills, and no interesting animal action is taking place there, you will wonder what is going on in Tsavo East, on the other side of Mombasa Road. And if you are unlucky in Shaba National Reserve, you wish you could be in relatively nearby Kalama.
It then dawned on me that your starting point for safari is important. What I mean is that if you are in location A and you or your driver wish to go to B because of the likelihood, at a given day and time, that you will find what you prefer, then you ought to know that you will only be able to go to B if A, your starting point is not far from B.
Enter Ashnil. In my 2019 visit to the Maasai Mara, I observed that Ashnil Mara has the perfect location. From the camp itself you can, if chance has it, watch the annual migration of the wildebeest while you do lunch, as the camp is on the River Mara with an overview of a couple of crossing points. But, if the migrating action is now taking place so that it can be better (or even only) observed from the Triangle side, you just drive around 45 minutes south towards the Mara bridge — not too far! Once you traverse it, in a split second you will be watching the mighty jumps of the black beasts, together with the tourists staying at the lodges and camps established deep in the Triangle, who had to drive a long way to get there.
On the other hand, if for example, you are keen on trying to find cheetah and your driver knows that it has been spotted recently in the National Reserve then Ashnil Mara still offers you the perfect location: You are already right there to begin with!
Ashnil also kindly sponsored my safari to Northern Kenya. There again, like in the Mara, Ashnil Samburu offers you the best of two worlds. The lodge is placed on the Buffalo side of the Ewaso River but you can easily cross to the Samburu National Reserve whenever you or your driver see it fit.
In late July 2019, my driver and I decided we had had enough of the beautiful but rocky and dry landscape of the Buffalo Springs National Reserve. I had driven there with him for a full day and as much as I liked the terrain, an option was most welcome. We went up the river to the bridge near where Serena Lodge once stood and we crossed to Samburu. What a difference! More red soil, more sand, the proximity of the mountains, green colours everywhere in the riverine ecosystem. And on that particular day, leopards and lions too that we had not been able to spot in Buffalo.
Let me repeat as I conclude: “we had not been able to spot” leopards and lions in Buffalo that particular day. For one of the main guiding principles of safari is that the animals move. They cross streams and rivers, they migrate, and they are restless (even if they are territorial). This is why on safari, as in life too, it is so convenient to choose your starting point well. If you have a flexible location, which will allow you to go here or there according to what you prefer and to where the action is, then you will be better off. That perfect location is precisely what Ashnil can offer you, both in Samburu and in the Maasai Mara.
Santiago Legarre is a visiting professor at Strathmore University, Nairobi