Always inspect campsite toilets before you use them. This is a valuable lesson I’ve learnt from many years of sleeping out in Kenya’s wild places. In a dimly lit Samburu bathroom, the soap that I was trying to grab turned out to be a scorpion. In Ol Pejeta, a large spider crawled out from under the toilet seat. And recently at a campsite in the Mara, my torch revealed a frenzy of flying bats in the abyss of a long drop.
This awkwardly sited bat cave was at the Iseiya campsite in the Mara Triangle, at the base of a ridge near the Mara Serena Safari Lodge. My wife and I were the only campers there a couple of weekends ago, which wasn’t a surprise as it’s the low season.
Iseiya is a beautiful spot with a well-maintained grass camping area within a thicket of trees. The only downside is its proximity to one of the Triangle’s main roads, so there’s a lot of safari vehicle traffic coming in and out of the Serena lodge in the early mornings and late afternoons.
But otherwise, it’s very peaceful. We arrived around midday and lay out a blanket in a patch of shade. A family of warthogs – probably used to being around people in the grounds of Serena – grazed bravely next to us. In the warm afternoon air, the sombre song of an emerald spotted wood dove soon lulled us to sleep.
At night, we were surrounded by much larger creatures. A couple of hippos plodded noisily around the camp, snapping branches and munching on the grass outside our tent. They had marched many kilometres to get there, up the bank of the Mara River and along familiar paths across moonlit plains. We listened to them for hours until a flash of lightning lit up the canvas above our heads and our wild soundtrack was drowned out by the soothing pitter-patter of rain.
Iseiya is one of three public campsites across the Mara Triangle. The nearby Eluai campsite is more exposed at the top of the ridge, with sweeping views of the plains below. The Oloololo campsite is in the north of the Triangle, close to the Oloololo Gate.
There are also eight other private campsites, which have to be booked in advance. Most are within woodlands on the western bank of the Mara River. We explored one of them on an evening game drive – the Ndovu campsite to the north of Hippo Pool. It’s a fantastic spot in the shade of tall trees, above a boisterous pod of hippos.
At this time of year, much of the Mara’s wildlife is concentrated in the conservancies in the north. And the grass in the Triangle is long, so the animals can be tricky to spot. But there is still lots to see. There seemed to be herds of elephants around every corner; they prefer to roam around the Triangle during the quieter months, without thousands of wildebeest getting in their way.
We came across two prides of lions, too – one group snoozing on a ridge near our campsite and another in the Olpunyata Swamp, in a tense standoff with a herd of bad-tempered buffaloes.
Wildlife aside, the Triangle’s landscapes are always stunning, no matter what season you visit. We followed one of the main northern loops, up along the Mara River, back down beneath the high Oloololo Escarpment and through a scattering of balanites trees. We didn’t come across many animals, but the setting sun had painted the open plains a soft gold.
So, like the elephants, it’s worth visiting this special corner of the Mara when the crowds are away. Head to www.maratriangle.org for more details about the campsites.
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