The next statement should come at no surprise to anyone: I love going on Safaris. It is a privilege to be able to explore these vast wild life reserves and to see the animals in their natural habitat.
Being on Safari gives you a sense of adventure and freedom unlike any other. It truly is my happy place. From Locking eyes with a wild lion as it is running toward your car only to brush past it and chase an impala in the distance, to the sheer amazement of seeing cheetah run at full speed right before your eyes, smelling the freshness of the rain as it pours down on the plains of the Maasai Mara, hearing a hyena “laugh” for the first time, the excitement of spotting a leopard taking a nap in a tree, the rush of feeling the breath of elephants graze your skin as they slowly pass by your truck to a near by watering hole…. I can’t help but feel immense gratitude to have experienced this and cannot wait to return.
And it is not just being on Safari and basically seeing a show on the Discovery Channel right before my eyes that had me fall so in love with this the Maasai Mara, but also the people. I have met some amazing strangers I can now call friends that have been such great hosts and made me truly feel as if this place is my second home. One of those people is Pareet Shah. Pareet is a wildlife and wedding photographer based in Kenya. Ever since he was a little kid, his parents used to frequent the various National Parks of Kenya, from which his love of wildlife photography was born and now he leads photosafaris in the Maasai Mara.
Today was supposed to be my second day on Safari and we were going to film a promo video for our upcoming group trip to the Mara in Kenya – but the universe had another plan…enter a global pandemic named COVID-19.
As disappointed as I was to cancel my trip, I started to think about the staff and guides I had met at Mara Olapa camp and their families. I contacted Pareet to tell him the news that I could no longer travel to the Mara and I asked him how things were on the ground in the Mara.
He was extremely honest with me and said “Everyone is struggling.” There are no tourists in the Mara at the moment, and there is literally no income for the workers. He also fears that even though the busy migration season is from mid-June onwards that global travel may still be banned and the park would suffer from a huge deficit in tourist numbers. Even in this downturn of events, the guides have vowed to us that they will go for their local patrols just checking that the animals are doing fine and there is no intervention needed. They are not being paid for this and just truly care so much about their jobs and the animals in the Mara that they are willing to give their time and resources to ensure the animals are okay.
I began thinking of what I could do to payback for the kindness and hospitality that has been shown to me upon my visits to the Maasai Mara especially from the staff at Mara Olapa camp. Whenever we go to the Mara, they literally would be at our beckon call. They would put down anything they are doing to attend to our every little need. The passion with which they work and support the tourists is second to none. Mara Olapa supports the local community by hiring most of the staff from the local communities and also funding small projects within the local community centre. They have some exuberant staff who are never short of stories – One of their staff members was once attacked by a lion when he was herding the family cattle when he was a teenager. He luckily escaped with minor physical injuries but when he tells the story of that morning, you can see that incident has etched a permanent scar in his memory. He now goes to nearby villages and educates the local Maasais on the need for living in harmony with the animals.
Sharing these stories reminds me of the immense respect for the staff and the guides at Mara Olapa and Tosha Wild Safaris. They have taught me so much not only about the animals but about local culture. These guides know EVERYTHING – from types of trees, to different bird calls and what animals are probably around based on the bird calls, and just the excitement in their eyes when they see their favorite animal – without them, my passion for wild life photography wouldn’t have flourished.
So to give back, me and Pareet have teamed up and are hosting a print sale! You can find some of our FAVORITE images from our safaris for sale and we will be donating 50% of the profit from our print sales directly to the guides of Tosha and the staff members of Mara Olapa Camp. Click HERE to see our photos
If you do not want to purchase a print but would like to contribute you can Venmo me (@Alexsandra-Wiciel) or check out the Facebook donation campaign and 100% of that will go directly to the staff and guides.
If you cannot contribute financially, I ask if you would consider sharing this blog post to your social media account! The more people we can reach, the better chance the Mara has to recover from this! Plus who doesn’t want to see pictures of elephants and leopards?!
Thank you all so much in advance and we cannot wait to share updates with you!
Lastly, if you would like to join us in November at Mara Olapa Camp to experience Africa first hand please email me for more information and rates!