By Simon Reeve
It can be hard to fully understand a creature unless you encounter it in its natural environment. The same can be true of friends.
I’ve known Paul Goldstein for years and admired his photography for longer. But I’d only ever heard stories about his exotic migrations between his safari camps in east Africa, and also the Pantanal, Antarctica, India, and, er, south London.
Paul had long promised me the Kicheche camps he co-owns in Kenya were perfectly placed to see the finest wildlife on the planet. Nowhere else can match it, he kept telling me. I confess I was a little sceptical. “I’ve been around a bit, Paul,” I tried to suggest.
Yet his enthusiasm and encouragement eventually persuaded me to take my wife and son to Kenya to stay with Paul and his family at two stunning Kicheche camps in conservancies around the Masai Mara. The whole trip was a complete revelation.
Both the Kicheche Bush camp and Kicheche Mara camp were incredible – total perfection – with magnificent staff and stunning food. Each morning we were lured out of bed by golden sunrises and a 4-course bush breakfast picnic topped with warm scotch eggs.
But it was the wildlife in the conservancies around the camps that was the real draw. It was as if we had wandered into the Garden of Eden. Each day there were elephants, hyena, leopards, baboons, topi, eland, and hundreds of giraffes. Everything was stunning, bright, sharp and raw. I saw lion cubs chasing and yawning, and iridescent birds plunging into water for food. There were creatures that crawl, fly, rocket and leap. I saw six separate successful cheetah hunts. And four more that failed.
My spot of the week came when we spied a family of five cheetahs, a mother and four cubs, ambling across a plain. Mum perked-up as she saw a large herd of skittish impala, packed with young fawns. She trotted slowly forward, staring at them intently, and they scattered.
I thought she had blown her chances, but the cheetah kept her gaze straight ahead. She had actually been looking through the herd of young impala to a couple of larger rutting impala bucks hundreds of metres in the distance. They were locking horns and heads, and focused intently on their territorial battle.
The cheetahs spotted weakness and went from trot to sprint in a second, shooting long distance across the plain and bearing down on the distracted impala like fighter jets. Only at the last second did the impala spot the threat. They broke from each other and raced-off, one impala feinting left and right with a big cat right on their heel. The chase lasted a moment, and then the impala was tripped, the cats leapt on top of it and quickly took it down. The whole scene, the bloody drama, was astonishing to behold.
I have travelled to some of the remotest corners of this planet, but I’ve never been anywhere quite like the Masai Mara. Every single day I stayed at the Kicheche Bush and Mara camps I saw wildlife scenes that were beyond my greatest hopes. I took more than 3,000 photographs. There was so much to appreciate and enjoy. Now, finally, I can appreciate the natural wonder that drives and inspires Paul’s photography.
“You see?” he said to me towards the end of the trip. “I knew you’d love it. This is such a special place.” And he was right.
A trip to a Kicheche camp is the ultimate safari. It is a grand prize, a front-row ticket for the greatest wildlife sights you can enjoy anywhere on this planet.
Simon Reeve is a bestselling author and award-winning broadcaster who has travelled extensively in more than 130 countries.