A front row seat to the Great Migration in Kenya

Kenya’s international borders reopened on August 1. (Shutterstock)
Short Url
Updated 24 September 2020

A front row seat to the Great Migration in Kenya

  • The Maasai Mara is as empty as it has been in decades, meaning great access for the intrepid traveler

 

DUBAI: “It’s all about the spirit of Ubuntu — you take care of me, I take care of you.”

My safari guide Titus and I are perched on the towering Oloololo Escarpment in southernmost Kenya, sweeping the Maasai Mara below us with binoculars.

I’ve just voiced again how surprised I am to see the plains below devoid of people, despite how safe I feel travelling the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This, Titus is explaining, boils down to the Swahili concept of Ubuntu —togetherness — a word that now extends to Kenya’s collective fight against the pandemic.




In Kenya, 130 countries are exempt from the country’s 14-day quarantine upon entry — including each of the GCC countries. (Shutterstock)

At the time of writing, Kenya’s confirmed number of COVID-19 cases is 36,205, with 624 deaths, in a population of around 50 million. Many in the country have already declared victory over the virus. But that’s not to say they’re complacent — in Nairobi, it’s rare to find anyone not wearing a mask, and even in the market town of Narok, en route to the Mara, people are wearing masks and sanitizing common areas. 

Kenya’s international borders reopened on August 1, and 130 countries are exempt from the country’s 14-day quarantine upon entry — including each of the GCC countries.

But when I arrive at Angama Mara, the country’s premier safari camp, I am one of only three groups on site, despite the fact that I am here in peak season — during the Great Migration, when millions of wildebeest pour through the Mara in search of more plentiful grazing.




The domestic tourism market has thrived on the back of national park fees being slashed by 50 percent, and hotels cutting their nightly rates. (Shutterstock)

The Mara is one of the most renowned and important wildlife conservation areas in the world, with bountiful populations of lions, African leopards, cheetahs and elephants. The animals have only grown more confident in the past few months, when most game camps closed. Angama had elephants and zebra wandering through the property and during my stay I watched an opportunistic baboon help himself to the open bar in the dining room. 

The spectacular owner-run lodge with sweeping views over the Mara Triangle, is a destination in itself. The 1985 epic “Out of Africa” was filmed on this spot. From your tent perched on the side of the escarpment, you can watch elephants wander the plains below. 

The surrounding bushland provides the perfect backdrop for a run with a Kenyan staff member, or a walking safari with a local Maasai. My walking guide, Daniel, points out local fauna with expertise, taking particular care to show me the ajuga remota, usually consumed as a cure for malaria, but now being taken by the Maasai to ward off COVID-19.




Angama Mara is the country’s premier safari camp. (Shutterstock)

When I ask him about the efficacy of the treatment, he says with a smile: “Well, no Maasai have corona yet.”

The lack of tourism presents a unique experience for the intrepid traveler: a front-row, unimpeded seat to the excitement of migration season.

The famed river crossings — in which the wildebeest attempt to evade crocodiles and the swift currents of the Mara River in their hundreds, are usually crowded with camera-wielding tourists. In previous years, Titus says, there would have been “more cars than wildebeest.” Now, there are just seven jeeps in sight.

Over the next two days I see a pair of lionesses being chased away from chowing down on a water buffalo by a pack of cackling hyenas, two leopards (the most elusive of all big game) in just a few hours, too many lions to count, two servals and one cub, huge numbers of zebra, buffalo, giraffe and hippo. And hardly any people.




Angama had elephants and zebra wandering through the property. (Shutterstock)

When we do see other jeeps, most of my fellow wildlife-observers are Kenyans. 

The domestic tourism market has thrived on the back of national park fees being slashed by 50 percent, and hotels cutting their nightly rates.

Nairobi’s Villa Rosa Kempinksi put its prices down by 40 percent and has experienced a surge in local staycationers. A hotel staff member says the volume of domestic tourists has helped cushion the blow of a lack of foreigners.

But nowhere is the lack of international tourism more obvious than the Mara. 

I ask Titus if he misses the tourists. His answer is carefully considered: it’s nice having the Mara quiet, he says. But tourists allow him to do what he loves — spending days out on the vast, undulating plains.

“This is like medicine to me, it takes me to a different state,” he says. “I love doing what I do. So I really hope tourists come back.”


‘On the Rocks’ — Bill Murray is a steal in this dad-daughter outing

Updated 25 October 2020

‘On the Rocks’ — Bill Murray is a steal in this dad-daughter outing

CHENNAI: Bill Murray is the most endearing aspect from “On the Rocks,” Sofia Coppola’s seventh film as writer-director. Behind his trademark deadpan expression, Murray still has twinkle and mischief in his eyes. And he brings out the same kind of lonely wistfulness we saw in his earlier association with Coppola in 2003’s “Lost in Translation,” in which he and Scarlett Johansson meet in a Tokyo hotel and find comfort in each other. There was no romance there, as there is none in his latest outing as Felix. Daughter Laura (played by Rashida Jones, who has starred in “I Love You, Man” and “The Social Network”) is troubled thinking that her life is about to go into a tailspin. 

“On the Rocks” is now on Apple TV+. Supplied

“On the Rocks” — on Apple TV+ and set in New York — is just as sentimental and sweet as “Lost in Translation.” As Coppola’s latest adventure begins, we see Felix, who has made his millions as an art dealer, in the lap of luxury with a chauffeured Mercedes, first-class hotels and sensational magic in his persona. But having divorced his wife many moons ago, he longs to nurture the relationship with his daughter Laura, who is married to the very successful Dean (Marlon Wayans) with two lovely daughters. 

However, in a kind of mid-marriage crisis, Laura begins to have doubts about Dean’s fidelity, especially after he gets busy with his new professional venture that takes him away on frequent trips. His “leggy” assistant, Fiona, accompanies him, and Laura confides this to her dad, who weaves stories of all that could be happening between Dean and his assistant. Felix suggests that they follow the possibly philandering husband, and a troubled Laura gets talked into it.

“On the Rocks” has great moments, and is compelling to a great extent. Supplied

All this leads to hilarious situations with Felix always being in command, even when cops catch him speeding as he is trying to tail Dean’s cab. Wittily calm and composed, he is the sort of guy who will unabashedly say to a passing stranger that she looks ravishing and get away with it, much to his daughter’s consternation.

“On the Rocks” has great moments, and is compelling to a great extent, with Murray engaging us with full-of-life banter. Jones matches up to him, a nervous wife tottering on the edge of what has been a great marriage. She hides her angst with remarkable alacrity, trying to play a good mother to her kids, while her dad leads her up the garden path. “On the Rocks” is happily no weepy tale, and Coppola spices it up.