In our latest interview in our Local Knowledge series, we get insider advice from locals Caroline and Tira, a guest relations manager and guide from the Sarova Mara Camp in the Masai Mara in Kenya.
After spending 10 months in holiday rentals, it made a nice change to stay in a hotel again — especially a rather luxurious one. We checked into a hotel on just one other occasion this year, when we had a night in London after Venice and before we flew to Tokyo. The hotel had just opened and featured in all the travel magazines as the hot new hotel yet from the sterile rooms to the Fawlty Towers-like service, we found it terribly disappointing. It didn’t make us miss hotels one bit.
The Sarova Mara Game Camp, on the other hand, which fell somewhere in between a resort and safari camp, restored our faith in hotel-style accommodation. From the beautiful tented rooms to the stunning natural setting, it was a delight to spend a few days here.
The thing that we really appreciate about good hotels that we often miss about holiday rentals is the service, and the Sarova Mara really excelled at it with some of the most welcoming, hospitable and friendliest staff we’ve found in a resort.
It was impossible to walk anywhere without someone, from a cleaner to a security guard, calling out ‘Jambo!’ (hello) and stopping to teach us some Swahili. Nothing was too much trouble and anything and everything seemed possible.
For our Local Knowledge series, we usually interview a local we’ve met who has made a difference to our experience of a place — someone who has given us great insider tips, made brilliant suggestions as to things we should do, and has connected us with other locals. We don’t usually interview hotel staff, but this time we’ve made an exception.
At the Sarova Mara, there were three people: Edward, our superb guide, who shares his African Safari Tips here; Carolyn, the guest relations manager, who answered loads of questions and organized all of our activities; and Tira, the Sarova’s senior Maasai guide who leads nature walks, walking safaris, and cultural visits.
It was Tira who drove us to his village and, along with Denies, during the course of our stay, gave us great insight into Maasai culture. Therefore, we decided to break the tradition of interviewing one person for Local Knowledge and talked to both Carolyn and Tira.
Carolyn, 28, is originally from Nairobi and has worked at the Sarova Mara for three years, while Tira, 35, from the nearby village, has been at the Sarova for four years. When I sat down with Carolyn and Tira for the interview, I expected them to each answer my questions but instead they preferred to propose one answer that they agreed upon together for all but two questions.
Q. So, what do you most love about your work?
A. We get to meet different types of people from all around the world and we get to tell people all about this beautiful and unique place.
Q. Why should people come to the Masai Mara?
A. To see the beauty of the nature and the unique savannah landscape, and because it’s the best place in Africa to see all of the Big Five.
Q. 3 words to describe the Masai Mara?
A. Unique. Wild. Natural.
Q. 3 ways to describe the people?
A. Friendly. Colourful. Generous.
Q. Your top recommendations for visitors?
A. Visit a Masai village to learn about the Maasai culture; go on a couple of game drives and do a walking safari so you can see the Big Five, all the birdlife, and enjoy the scenery; and try to come here during the Great Migration because it’s spectacular, especially the animal crossings.
Q. Best souvenir?
A. Beaded jewellery made by the Maasai people.
Q. Must-do eating experiences?
A. Make sure to visit the Sarova Mara on a Saturday when we serve local traditional food with many dishes that are difficult to find anywhere else. Also, book a bush dinner where you can dine with the animals under the stars!
Q. An essential thing to know before coming here?
A. Understand that you’re coming to an area with wild animals, so don’t walk out of the hotel area unless accompanied by a Masaai guide or you’re in a vehicle and going on a game drive.
Q. Most important phrase to learn?
A. Carolyn: Jambo — hello in Swahili
A. Tira: Supa — hello in Maasai.
Q. Any other advice?
A. Carolyn: Try to stay in the Masai Mara for at least three or four days; some people come only for one night, and it’s just not enough, and they always leave wishing they stayed longer.
A. Tira: Show respect to the local people, especially when you’re taking the photo as many of the people who don’t work in tourism still believe that the camera is taking away their soul; always ask permission first. And don’t give sweets to the children — they’re bad for them. We appreciate gifts but it’s better to give them toys or books and materials they need for school.