Gwenlyn NoronhaTo travel is to redefine the world through your own experiences. There are many who hesitate about making their travel plans; doubts about the place, preconceived notions, fears about setting foot into territories unknown are some of the reasons holding them back. But travelling anywhere is an adventure; an opportunity to see something new and learn from it. And when you finally let go of your inhibitions and take that first step, you venture into an experience of a lifetime. Every hardcore traveller will tell you that their first travel is their most memorable, for various reasons. My first travel happened quite recently, when I finally did away with my inhibitions and decided to join a group of known strangers on a Kenyan safari! Never did I think that my first international trip would be to the majestic and mythical continent – Africa. Planning began months in advance; the preset part of the trip would begin in Nairobi, Kenya so we were on our own till then, choosing various airlines and routes to get there. While many of us opted for the Oman Air flight from Mumbai to Nairobi via Muscat, there were some who took the direct flight offered by Kenya Airways and others who flew Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa. In my case, reaching Nairobi was the biggest hurdle because once I got there and was done with immigration and visa (on arrival in the case of Kenya), our entire group was warmly welcomed by Nancy Mascarenhas, the Director of Bridge The Gap Ltd, the company we were entrusting ourselves with for the entirety of our trip. Our entire itinerary – from commuting to food and stay and even potable water – was planned by Bridge The Gap Ltd without a hiccup. Our first night was in Nairobi itself, where we indulged in some wild but delicious dining at Fogo Gaucho. The next day started early, where, after meeting with our safari guide for the entire trip and our vehicle-mates, we set out on a long drive (240 km southeast of Nairobi) to Amboseli National Park. While Nairobi may seem like any other metro while on the road, it’s as you leave the city behind that you realise you’re in Africa; when flat plains stretch out for miles; when traffic slows down so that the odd-stray giraffe can cross the road to join its family; when a herd of round-rumped zebras need to get to the other side… the wild is indeed the heart of Kenya… and this was just the beginning. On reaching Amboseli, we were welcomed with cool drinks, warm towels and warmer smiles. We put up for two nights at Kibo Safari Camp, in rustic, wooden cabins that offer you the amenities you require, while still maintaining the jungle experience. Our stay in Amboseli included two safaris in the Amboseli National Park, where we were privileged to spot various birds like the grey crowned crane, kori bustard, ostriches, eagles, herons, ibises and lesser flamingos and animals like numerous herds of free-ranging elephants, a few blue wildebeest as most had already moved to the Serengeti as part of the Great Migration, zebras, gazelle, impala, etc. We also spotted a couple of lionesses snoozing at a distance but my eyesight afforded me just a couple of specks in the bush. Our next destination was the great Masai Mara but as it involved driving back to Nairobi and then another 300 km to The Mara, we decided to stop at Naivasha, which is part of the Great Rift Valley, for the night. The Lake Naivasha Country Club is a cosy place to stay, with comfortable rooms, relaxing hot showers, great food and zebras and antelope running around the property! A long boat ride on the freshwater lake showed us a number of aquatic birds and hippos! After hitting the road once again, we finally reached Masai Mara, a large game reserve named in honour of the Maasai people. We were staying at the Mara Chui Lodge for two nights, exploring the Maasai Mara National Reserve during the day. The Mara, as it is simply called, is home to exceptional populations of lions, leopards, cheetahs and elephant and is an ideal place to spot Africa’s Big Five. In fact, we hit gold on our first safari into the Mara as we soon spotted a couple of lions merrily snoozing in the bush, followed by cheetahs, a leopard, more lions, hyena, Cape buffalo, hippos, crocodiles, various species of deer, elephants, Masai giraffe and much more. The vast expanse of this land is indeed home to so much wildlife and it is humbling to experience these creatures in their natural habitat, at ease with themselves and unbothered by a few eager spectators. The only animal that evaded us was the rarely spotted rhinoceros. We also had the opportunity of visiting a Masai village and interacting with the natives, learning about their culture, traditions, practices and beliefs. It was an enriching experience. We returned to Nairobi humble, satisfied and enraptured and though we had to wind up our visit in a day, we were not done yet. The two stops in the city after some quick souvenir shopping at the Mara market were the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Elephant Orphanage and the Giraffe Center. The former is home to some adorable elephant calves of various ages, orphaned due to various reasons. The animals are raised to a particular age and released back into the wild. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust operates a digital foster program which allows individuals across the world to support their field projects by fostering an orphaned elephant, rhino or giraffe in their care for themselves or as a gift. The Giraffe Center in Lang’ata, approximately 20 kilometres from the centre of Nairobi, is a great place to see the Rothschild’s giraffe, one of the most endangered distinct populations of giraffe, up close and even have the privilege of feeding them from a raised observation platform. Following another wild meal at the Carnivore, a must-try place for meat lovers, we made our way back to India, leaving with wonderful memories of a breathtaking country; warm, welcoming and kind people; a rich culture; a mouthful of Swahili words (including ‘nakupenda’, which means ‘I love you’) and above all, experiencing Mother Nature in its truest glory. I also left with the promise to return.