They did provide some good drama, however. There were a couple of times when we parked ourselves by a river to watch the zebra and the wildebeest tentatively drink water. Tentatively because they had no idea whether a crocodile was going to jump out of the water and take them as prey. The first time we sat and watched zebra drinking from the river, we were the opposite side facing them. Despite there being nothing in sight, they were very skittish, spending as little time at the river's edge as possible. They knew something we didn't. We watched them for a bit, taking shots of what is a beautiful cliché of African nature, before driving across the river and sending them scattering.
We didn't see many hippos, so when we did see them it was always exciting. Our lunch during our second big safari was spent in their company; a herd of them lay in the water nearby, lazing in the sun.
We watched the young ones, almost cute despite their size, clambering over the older ones as we eat our sandwiches by the riverside. It was here I saw my first croc as well. A French guy we were with, one half of yet another just married couple, seemed to have a keener eye than the guides and spotted the croc on the other side of the river, seemingly sleeping in the shallow water by the river's edge. It's back looked just like a rock half submerged in the water, you really wouldn't notice it if you stepped on it, except of course you'd soon know about it.
We thought we were going to get some croc drama later that same afternoon. Driving around we noticed a load of jeeps parked further up the river. Herds of zebra and wildebeest were on the other side, tentatively approaching the water's edge to drink. Just to their right was a crocodile, its head submerged in the water while its tail snaked towards the river bank. Overhead, vultures circled. The croc was deathly still, seemingly uninterested in the potential prey nearby.
And perhaps it was, perhaps it had had its fill that day. For, while the wildebeest and zebra mostly remained cautious (some did get frighteningly, thrillingly close to the croc), it just didn't move. Eventually, after a good 45 minutes of the sun beating down on us and very little happening at the river's edge, we decided to move on.
Looking out for bunches of jeeps parked up together was a good way of finding animals. It was this way we got our best lion experience. We saw none in the Amboseli Park, but in Maasai Mara we got up close and personal with the handsome cats. We followed a mother (the guide pointed out her teets were swollen) lion for a while, her destination unknown, before overtaking and leaving her behind.
Then we stumbled across her destination – a group of cubs sitting in the shade of a bush, waiting for her to return. They were surrounded by three or four jeeps, seemingly unperturbed by the human presence.
They frolicked and dozed and we watched them awhile until they suddenly became alert at a noise. We listened carefully and heard the mother calling them.
They went running towards her, one of the cubs being particularly playful and wrapping his front legs around her neck. It was a beautiful sight to see, a privileged snapshot of their life in their natural habitat.
Our guide with the loose grasp of the rules got us up close with a male lion as well, albeit one without a mane. He too was sitting in the shade of a bush, his female companion rolling around in the shade of another bush nearby.
The hyenas were a big surprise. We came across a mother sat by the road at one point; her cubs sat together a good 100 metres further up. They are much more appealing-looking animals in the flesh, much cuter and bear-like (particularly the cubs) than the evil-looking animals you see in Disney films. The mother seemed unperturbed by our presence near her babies and we spent quite some time taking photos, a couple of the cubs even coming up to have a look at the jeep.
We soon found we were lucky to be in an open jeep, Gamewatchers Safaris being one of the more pleasant some experiences in comparison to some. We saw some poor visitors driving around in what were little better than the matatus we saw in Nairobi. It made us appreciate that there were no windows or a van roof restricting our views of the African plains and the animals that inhabit them.
There were so many animals we saw – some sleeping cheetah hidden in a bush, bushbuck, the romantic dik dik who have the same partner for life, eland, gazelle, impala, oryx, topi, the wildebeest with their hilarious parping noises, ostrich, the huge and intimidating buffalo, jackal, baboon, vervet, the comedy warthog and its apparent three-second memory (why am I running again? Oh yeah), the massive grasshopper that jumped in the jeep and scared the living daylights out of me before our Maasai guide calmly picked it off my shoulder and threw it out. But none were more majestic and awe-inspiring than the elephants.
They were a welcome sight on the morning of our safari in Maasai Mara, which had started with two hours of seeing nothing at all (this can happen sometimes, the plains are unimaginably huge and the animals don't work to any timetable). It was a relief to stumble on some elephants half concealed by the tall grass they were feeding on.
But more fun to watch was a herd of these huge but graceful animals trekking across the plains, and across our road, as they headed towards water.
Our elephant experience only got better, however, when we came across two males on heat having a violent fight. As we drove up they were in the middle of clashing, before they spent a long time circling each other. It was awesome to watch, nature at its most fierce and unforgiving.
So of 'The Big Five' we saw three – buffalo, lion and elephant – the rare rhino and the leopard evading our company for long enough that we were heading off to relax on the Kenyan coast before we got to see them. We'd seen enough, though, to fill our heads with some scarcely believable memories, and our cameras with some incredible photos. Plus we got to see one animal very few do – a venomous black mamba snake taking an early morning slither before noticing us and retreating into a bush. It wasn't the first time I was glad I was in the jeep and not out walking around.And so off to Galu Beach, just 40 km south of Mombasa, where we would spend a couple of nights relaxing at Pinewood Village. We got there by plane, a small but sturdy-looking contraption that flew like a fairground ride at times thanks to some particularly violent turbulence.
The resort seemed dull in comparison to the experiences we'd just had, and we felt restless sitting by the pool, the only drama coming from watching the hotel staff scale the tall coconut trees with little regard for gravity.
The mass-produced food was average in comparison to the home-cooked feel of the meals we'd eaten at the camps, and it was even strange being surrounded by white people again. Taking a stroll on the enormous white beach was a pleasure tainted a little by the insistent beach boys trying to entice us into their shop. Still, it was good to chat to some locals, even if they were just after our money.