Wildlife. East Africa is full of it, perfectly beastly animals going about their daily chores in huge parks. Millions of them, mooching and munching, fighting and fleeing, it's all go in this animal kingdom. And East Africa's hotspot is Kenya's Maasai Mara (aka Masai) National Park, a brilliant place to watch wild things en masse that can't be surpassed - except perhaps by Namibia's Etosha National Park.
Comparisons can be made with neighbouring Tanzania's massive Serengeti reserve that shares the same 10,000 sq miles (25,000 sq kms) eco-system, but most tourists who have done side-by-side safaris (including us) or traveled both in different years have concluded that Serengeti's game viewing is good but the Maasai Mara's is better, while the selection of camps and hotels is also a step up.
Nairobi bus station.
However, if you want to see colourful, exotic, genuine cultures it's better to head for Asia or Latin
America, where traditional cultures are more treasured and preserved and less corrupted by the dollar god.
The Maasai, for example, are an attractive and interesting people with a relaxed and noble air if you encounter them in the right place at the right time in the right way, but sadly, travelling with a budget tour operator is not going to fulfil those criteria.
Samburu women in north Kenya's Samburu National Reserve, either carrying water from the nearest well or cooking oil from the market. These are the genuine article, as opposed to...
... young Maasai beggars betraying their rich heritage for a few dollars more. It's difficult to blame them for acquiring easy money by posing at the side of the road. But.
One of East Africa's most depressing sights is tourist-dependent locals - who are not poor by African standards - endlessly standing by roadsides, dressed-to-ill in gingham tablecloths, plastic sandals and blunt spears, waiting patiently, rain or shine, for their prey to appear, heavily pregnant Land cruisers lurching majestically to a halt to deliver litters of frantic photo-wallies desperate for a few local culture photos to enrich their Kenya Facebook pages.
This may be where most travellers hear for the first time the ubiquitous cry of the lesser-cultured African love-money bird, 'Give me money, give me money,' or its ex-French colony variation 'Donnez-moi l'argent. Un euro!'
A really close encounter with a giraffe at the Nairobi Giraffe Centre. Giraffes eat by curling their tongues around something and pulling. This nosy beast took a fancy to the camera but might have had some difficulty digesting it.
The Giraffe Centre is at Langata, about 3 miles (5 kilometres) from the centre of Nairobi. It's purpose is to protect the endangered Rothschild giraffe, that is found only in the grasslands of East Africa.
And finally, on Safari
A gorilla family in a nest high in Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo, aka Zaire.
Elephants face down our Land Rover in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park.
(apart from shooting wildlife with a zoom lens (hint: never use the digital zoom, only the optical! And it had better be long, at least 400mm equivalent)
• take an early balloon ride ending with a champagne breakfast. Sounds terrific but actually cold, noisy and expensive though the panoramic views are pretty good.
• if you're lucky enough to be in a luxury camp or lodge there may be a wellness centre, massages, swimming pool, jacuzzi and so on.
• visit Maasai villages. This can range from pathetic, dress-up charades by village kids for budget tour groups or really fascinating excursions to meet and learn about the real thing. The difference is cost and connections.
• and that's about it. Mostly you can't take a walk, bike ride or go jogging. This is wild life, red in tooth and claw! At our tented camp in the Mara we had to walk with an armed guard at night. One guest that took a moonlit stroll a few months earlier was killed by a Cape Buffalo.
• The Migration
A traditional breakfast of wildebeest tartare in the Maasai Mara (also Masai) National Reserve, Kenya.
Lions often eat gazelle, antelope and zebra when they must, but wildebeest sashimi, as above, provides a big, tasty meal for the whole pride without too much hassle. Good enough until the next unwary, cat loving photographer jumps down from a jeep.
The climate in the elevated Mara-Serengeti plains which are at an altitude of 1,500m-2,200m (5,000-7,000ft), is generally mild and comfortable compared to the hot and humid coastal areas.
The best months to visit are January - February and June - September, the dry months. January and February are hotter months and the grass will be shorter and wildlife therefore more visible (we went in January), while June to September is cooler. The huge migration of wildebeest, zebra and attendant carnivores from Serengeti north into the Maasai Mara takes place around July and August every year.
Avoid the rainy months of March-May and October-December, though the days are still warm. The plains get very muddy and difficult to tour, visibility is right off, high grass conceals animals and mosquitoes flourish.
Most nationalities including children and citizens of USA, Canada, UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, are advised to apply for a visa before arriving in Kenya, even though some Kenya Embassies say the problem is with airlines refusing to take passengers who lack visas! Best to check.
A few nationalities don't need a visa at all (generally African nations and a few smaller countries including Singapore, South Africa, Malaysia, Cyprus).