For animal lovers and adventurers who come to touch the wild and languish beneath the sun and starry skies, this romantic folly couldn’t be more perfect. The swathe of bush is set on the most preserved, untamed and un-touristy part of the Mara Triangle, the site of the seasonal migration when over 2.5 million wildebeest, zebras and other creatures travel between Tanzania’s Serengeti and the Mara’s plains, crossing treacherous crocodile-filled rivers, chasing the rains and last grasses.
At sunrise the next day, after the rains passed, I set off with Jackson, my Maasai guide, to the Mara National Reserve. As we descended the hill, I saw zebras and antelopes, their silky coats shimmering in the gauzy morning light. The sheer volume of wildlife out on the Mara was staggering. All around
A stately Cape buffalo, with a line of yellow-billed oxpecker birds on his back, sat on the roadside near the park’s entrance. “An old general,” Jackson says affectionately, saluting the buffalo who continued staring ahead without giving us a passing glance.
Everything seemed so peaceful and exotic. Ever so often, we stopped to take in the stillness across the endless acacia-studded plains with wildebeests, waterbucks and zebras dotting the horizon as far as the eye could see. Jackson, who knows every aspect of the bush and all the creatures it sustains, told me stories about growing up in a Maasai village in the 1960s, a time when elephants and lions ruled the continent from coast to coast.
“There, look,” he says, flashing a wide smile and pointing out a black-maned lion, half-hidden in the hip-high grasses, rolling around on his back, his legs up in the air, with the playfulness of a kitten. The excitement of seeing a big cat in the wild never ceases, even for those who’ve spent their entire lives among them.
Settling under a solitary balanite tree in the middle of nowhere, Jackson set out a blanket and picnic hamper full of fruit, snacks and chilled drinks. Unlike most safaris, which revolve around meal times, these are entirely bespoke so you can wander out for a few hours or the entire day as far as the Tanzania border.
“Looks like we have company,” Jackson says cheerfully, and starts packing slowly. Just a few yards away, a pride of sun-dazed lionesses and their tawny cubs were dozing in the shade of thorny brush. To be sitting in this out-of-this-world nowhereness exposed to feline predators felt simultaneously spine tingling and quite incredible. Watching, mesmerised, I suddenly understood what Karen Blixen meant when she wrote: “You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”
At sundown on my last evening, Kate and I, and handful of other guests, a mix from Scotland, UK and the US, walked up to a steep forested glen for a communal fire-lit bush dinner. As the skies turned violet in the dusk, the warriors arrived from a nearby homestead and we danced with them on the cliff’s edge under a crescent moon.
From £2,720 for a full-board four-night stay, per person, including laundry, safaris and air-strip transfers; aardvarksafaris.co.uk