Above: Risasi the Mara cheetah 28 Feb 2022. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Published: Saturday magazine – Nation newspaper 19 March 2022

Heavy rains drench the Mara in the early weeks of the year. “Elephants don’t like to get their feet wet,” jokes Edward the Maasai guide at Aruba Mara, the delightful tented camp on the banks of the Talek River. The river is in spate, gushing past the tents. By lunch time we haven’t seen any of the huge mammoths, save for the elands and topis, Thomson’s gazelles and wildebeest and giraffes in the skyline.

The elephants are up on the hills waiting for the rich black cotton soil to dry up. During the rainy season, the black soils of the Mara are sticky. A novice bush driver is easily stuck in the muck.

Aruba also means elephant in the Giriama language, one of the nine tribes of the Mijikenda people who fled from the horn of Africa around the 9th century fleeing from the Galla. They found solace in the thick coastal forests that became their fortresses. Today these coastal forests of the Mijikenda are called Kaya with the sacred fighi where the talisman from the homeland of Singwaya is buried.

Siesta under the Skies

Road through Sotik enroute to Masai Mara from Kisumu. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Having driven in from Kisumu, the new silk-smooth road sandwiched between tea-draped hill slopes takes us directly to Sotik, bypassing Kericho. It shortens the drive and is picture perfect.

By lunch we’re by Talek Gate on the eastern flanks of the Maasai Mara Reserve, having driven past the homesteads and farms of the local communities and conservancies with one dedicated as a white rhino sanctuary near the Mara North Conservancy.

A few minutes later and the gates of Aruba Mara adorned with metal elephants open up. The camp is simple elegance – a grass courtyard with a round fireplace at the heart of it peppered with animals fashioned from scrap metal. There’s a verandah under umbrellas for coffee and tea that are free all day long; an al-fresco dining under spacious marquees for breakfast and lunch while dinner is served inside the dining room with a pair of mongoose acting maître d’ by the menu on a blackboard. Of course, the pair is from scrap metal.

Breakfast by Talek River at Mara Aruba Camp. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Lunch on the banks of the Talek is a refreshing with fresh salads and soup followed by the main course of minced meat and a dessert of pancakes  – after which I slip into a wonderful siesta on the lounge bed a few feet from the table under the croton tree.

“When we opened the camp, this was bare land,” tells Peter the Maasai manager. “We planted all the indigenous trees to create a cool space.”

When l open my eyes next the sun is low with a pair of bushbucks shyly appearing for the late afternoon browse.

We make our way into the world famous reserve.

Suddenly, there’s an endless expanse of grassland – lush green in a medley of shades under a beautiful afternoon sky.


Mara’s savannah grassland. Copyright Rupi Mangat

There are antelopes everywhere – the topis, gazelles, elands and impalas. The green of the grass is filled with the Cycnium tubulosum or white tissue flowers that flower during the rains.

And then we see spots low on the ground enjoying a nap under the shade of a bush. It’s a cheetah. She stares and looks away. We click away and playing citizen scientist, send her images to Dr Elena Chelysheva, founder of the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project.

Chelysheva replies: “The cheetah you saw was Risasi, daughter of Rosetta, granddaughter of Rosa and great granddaughter of Resy, who I observed in 2001. Resy gave me an idea how to identify cheetahs and helped me to develop methodology of cheetah identification.”

Risasi meaning bullet in English was named by the Mara community because the young woman has the speed of a bullet – lightning fast. Her two siblings are Ruka (Jump) and Rafiki (Friend).

Risasi in open plains in Mara. Copyright Rupi Mangat

The cheetah scientist continues to explain that identifying each cheetah helps researchers with important information on population, distribution, home ranges/territories and more which is necessary to develop conservation strategies.

And photographic identification is ideal for that, capturing distinctive features such as coloration, stripe or spot patterns and other unique characteristics depending on the species.

In a fast changing world where space is a challenge, saving a species that numbers only 7,000 in the wild is super important – so click away but without disturbing the animal.

The evening game drive ends with a pride of lions but this time the pride is in the croton bushes and we dare not drive off road on the wet cotton soil in fear of getting stuck.

But the following morning the sun is ablaze. The ground is dry and the elephants appear from the Ngamba Hills as we take a leisurely drive out through Sekanani gate and onwards to Nairobi.

Elephant in the magnificent Mara. Copyright Rupi Mangat

The Mara is always a fascinating midway drive between Nairobi and Kisumu of a world that’s so special.

Check in at Mara Aruba – it’s perfect for families and friends with lots to do – including horse riding in the wild.

Follow googlemap – it’s great to find new routes and get you to your destination.