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My time with the Maasai People of Kenya

In this travel guide, I will tell you about my time with the Maasai people of Kenya, an authentic and ethical adventure with a traditional African tribe. This is one of my most treasured experiences, so much so that I almost want to keep it to myself!



Why Kenya?

Kenya was the first stop on our 80-day trip overland from Nairobi to Cape Town. This was mostly a low-budget affair, as Joe and I pitched our tent when we could, and took public transport almost the entire way.

I mainly wanted to go to Kenya to go on safari in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, and I chose September because I knew that the Great Migration was in full flux and that the 1.5 million Wildebeest plus all of the other animals that follow them would be crossing the over from the Serengeti to the Mara around this time.

The safari was incredible, and we were lucky enough to catch one of the dramatic river crossings that the Great Migration is so famous for. You can read more about that in my post: How to see the Great Migration on a Budget.

What I didn't expect though, was how much the Maasai people would amaze me, not just the wildlife. 

It's my two days staying with the local people of this region in South-West Kenya that this post is about.

Zebras and hot air balloons at the Masai Mara
The Maasai Mara


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Maji Moto Cultural Camp

I stumbled across Maji Moto Cultural Camp purely by accident, while I was perusing Workaway for volunteering options in Africa. You can read more about how I have used Workaway to extend my travels in my post: How to Travel for Longer.

I didn't end up applying to volunteer there, but I did happen to read that they accepted paying guests and I was intrigued. Normally the phrase 'Cultural Camp' kind of fills me with dread, ever since a shockingly tacky experience at Chokhi Dhani Cultural Village in India. However, Maji Moto had only 5* reviews, and I really wanted to immerse myself in the fast-disappearing world of the Maasai. We booked an experience called Olpul Bush Camp, which involves a trek into the forest, sleeping outside in the bush, roasting a goat on the fire and listening to songs and stories from the Maasai.

This experience will go down as one of the most astounding and memorable adventures of my life.


How to Get to Maji Moto

We arrived in Nairobi by air from Milan, you can read about our pre-trip-trip in my post: A 3-day mini road-trip through Northern Italy.

After resting up in the wonderful Teresita Homestay, we took a Matatu from Nairobi to a town called Narok, about 2.5 hours away, into the Great Rift Valley.

Matatus are shared minivans that seat about 14 people - but they only depart once they are full. I think Joe and I timed our arrival at the bus terminal in Nairobi quite unfortunately, as we had to wait 2 hours in the van until it was full enough to leave.

It was kind of nice to watch the comings and goings at the terminal, being fresh in situ this kind of stuff is fun when it's still a novelty, and it was only 300 Kenyan Shillings (£1.50) - so we saved ourselves more than £100 by opting for public transport instead of private transfer.

*EDIT: The Matatu was 300 Shillings in September 2023 - I have been told this has increased due to fuel price hikes.

As we were running late to camp after the long wait in the Matatu, we got picked up from Narok by private transfer for $40 for the last 45-minute drive to Maji Moto.

We would have liked to wait around for another Matatu going that way, but it's a good job we didn't, as we would have missed the chance encounter with the Maasai Warriors, and we also would have missed the only dry night we experienced that week, which is kind of essential for sleeping outside!

As you can probably tell, travelling in Kenya can be very, very expensive, or quite affordable - you just have to be willing to give up your time to keep it cheap. For me, this is normally OK, but in this instance, everything worked out in the most serendipitous way, as did much of our travel around Kenya.

We were picked up from Narok by Susan, one of the Directors of Maji Moto and a white face I did not expect! She is American, and as it turns out, married to Chief Salaton, who is the owner of Maji Moto and one of the respected leaders of the Maasai people.

Just from our 45-minute drive, it was obvious she was very passionate about Maasai culture, and filled us in on some things we could expect from our time at camp.


At Camp

Once we pulled in we were greeted by the staff, all dressed in the traditional clothing and performing their famous jumping dance - along with what was to become a familiar hoot-grumble story song.

I must say I was very embarrassed to be ushered to join in the jumping, and my ever-sceptical mind thought it could be a performance, and they may quickly change into their Reeboks when we left the welcoming area.

I turned out to be quite wrong, as everything about the next two days at Maji Moto felt genuine, and the message became clear: We are proud of our culture, we want to preserve it, and we want to share it.

We were shown to our cottage of cow dung - where we 'arranged ourselves' and were quickly shown around. First to the Hot Spring, which is the translation of Maji Moto, and when pumped on request, provided hot water for our showers.

We also went to the Women's Village, a circle of mud huts on Salaton's 200 acres of land, gifted to them, where they can look after goats and make beaded jewellery to sell to people like me.

A cow dung cottage at Maji Moto cultural camp
Our cow dung cottage

Traditionally in Maasai culture, women can't inherit land or livestock - so if they were to become widowed they would quickly become destitute. Salaton's mother requested he build a haven for such women on his land, so they would have somewhere to live and ways to support themselves. I would find out more along the way about what a top guy Chief Salaton is.

He also built a girl's school, to keep girls in education until 18 years of age (roughly, Maasai don't keep track of birthdays). This makes child marriage less likely, and campaigns against the nasty business of FGM.

The Women's Village at Maji Moto Cultural Camp
The Women's Village


A Night in the Bush

Late that first afternoon began our Olpul Bush Walk. Knowing we were sleeping outside on a bed of leaves, I was scrambling around packing a bag of things I might need, socks, anti-bacterial gel, a hairbrush, toothpaste... I felt quite silly walking outside and seeing our Maasai companions just coming along in their skin and Shuka, no extra things needed.

We walked with Koila our protector with his spear and blade, and we were also accompanied by four Maasai warriors - who were in the early stages of their 7-year boyhood-manhood stint, where they live out in the bush and learn off of the land.

They survive on milk and blood and sometimes meat and only come down to a village now and then to seek advice from a leader.

They just so happened to be visiting on the day Joe and I arrived, and Salaton urged them to join us for the bush camp. They were wrapped in 'barely there' loose cloth around the waist, and each had a Shuka (blanket/shawl – red and black for boys and multi-coloured for girls), a hand mirror, a spear, a club and a blade.

One of them also carried two old paint cans, filled with Ochre to colour their hair red, and goat fat to smear on their skin.

Teenagers from the Maasai tribe with colourful shawls
Maasai Warriors

They looked about 15 and while they spoke no English or Swahili they provided us a lot of laughs. We seemed to be equally curious about each other.

The walk to Olpul took about an hour, we did keep stopping to occasionally lob a club or throw a spear at a tree, just because. When we passed the clearing up the hill and walked between a path of trees, I was surprised to see some perfectly made-up beds of Leleshwa, a leaf quite similar to Sage.

That's right, this leaf was soft and aromatic, and we were to be sleeping on them. You can also use this leaf to wipe your armpits, a natural deodorant, like the Maasai do.

My bed of Leleshwa
My bed of Leleshwa


Dinner with the Maasai

A little later the goat arrived (our dinner), alive and bleating on the back of a motorbike.

I winced but vowed to do my best to watch the slaughter with respect and non-judgement. In the defence of the Maasai, this is not a factory farm far away, where animals are treated awfully, and you, the consumer, just receive a nicely packaged lamb chop.

No no, a small bed of sage was laid down for the goat, where it was held down and gently suffocated by the warriors. They then slit its neck and created a pool of blood with its skin to drink from the artery. They slurped it up gleefully, with cries in Maa, the Maasai language, ''it's so sweet!''

Joe also had a go, chugging hot irony blood straight from the neck. They then started carefully skinning the goat, with a quick pause to eat the raw hot kidney and the heart. The warriors were very much enjoying this part of the goat, it seemed like blood and organs to them is like toast with butter to me.

Four Maasai warriors and a mzungu drinking goats blood
Joe drinking the goat's blood

After the goat was divided up it was cooked on the fire, and Joe, Salaton and me were served the leg and the ribs, with the traditional Ugali dough, and something not too far off from a fried kale.

No salt or other herbs, just goat and smoke. A few others from the community had joined at this point and the rest of the goat was sliced off and handed out as we went on. The four warriors chewed at the raw carcass well into the night, and the hyenas came for the bones later.


Blessings from the Maasai

After dinner, we drank Enaisho, a local brew of Aloe and Honey - fermented, with chunky bits of honeycomb and a medicinal aftertaste. It was actually very nice. Salaton and Koila sang the warriors sang, and there was whooping, dancing, and a lot of grumbling.

I was grinning from ear to ear and pinching myself. It became very clear this was not a show, they would have done this anyway, they like sleeping out bush, telling stories through song, and having the treat of feasting on a whole goat.

We were just lucky to partake in what they kept saying was just 'real life' for them. The warriors were also hilarious, I can't understand a word of Maa or Swahili but laughter is infectious.

A little while later we crept down further into the forest and Chief Salaton gave everyone blessings, rubbing dirt on our foreheads and thanking Enkai (god) for our safety, and the safety of the animals we eat.

It's worth noting that Maasai don't eat wild animals - I even researched this myself afterwards, they only eat what they herd: Goat, Sheep, Cow.

That's why wildlife on the Maasai Mara flourishes. They can't always afford to slaughter an animal so instead they might make a small incision into a cow's neck, drink some blood, and then seal the small wound with a herb-clay remedy.

A campfire in the bush in kenya
Our Campfire

Later on, we crept into our sage beds and slept under the stars. One Maasai stayed on guard, and he then told us in the morning that the Hyenas came to collect the goat bones that had been tossed to the side, but being the most cowardly of carnivores they didn't venture directly into our circle of sage beds. I had heard their woo-woo calls all night.


Day Two

In the morning we walked back to camp, for a fantastic breakfast, and spent the rest of that day learning to make beaded jewellery, milking goats, and chilling with wildlife books on the balcony overlooking Salaton's land. The four warriors walked off into the savannah, perhaps not to be seen again for the next few years.

Our final activity was warrior training, where we were given shields and green branches to launch at each other. We were told that 'they cause pain but they can't hurt you', which is why they use them for training. The Maasai were very much enjoying hurling them at each other's ankles with such force that they were left with marks all up their legs.

Dinner was great too, and afterwards, we had some South African wine with Susan and chatted with her and Salaton more about their lives, about the Maasai, and Joe and I shared some of our stories too. We felt like family.

We were told when we arrived to this land that in Maasai there is no word for stranger, just family or friend, and after a mere two days, we felt it to our core.


All in all

We have since met other Maasai on safari and around, they all know Chief Salaton and speak highly of him and what he is doing at Maji Moto Cultural Camp. I have also googled the facts we were told (again sceptic mind) and this is the real deal.

I can't imagine anywhere else where you can experience a traditional African tribal culture, in such a genuine and immersive way.

This is a one-of-a-kind experience, and worth every penny and more. The money doesn't even really factor now, because this was a once-in-a-lifetime around the moon and back adventure that can't be revisited or replicated, and I applaud the sincerity and generosity of Chief Salaton and his community.

Two Maasai warriors starting a fire
The warriors starting a fire


Thank you for reading my post: My Time with the Maasai people of Kenya.

For more travel inspiration, check out my article: A 3-week budget itinerary for Kenya. If you are planning to cross from Kenya to Tanzania, check out my post: Everything you need to know about using the Lunga Lunga Border Post.

Also, if you enjoyed the read, please consider subscribing to my blog where I post articles once every 1-2 weeks about mine and Joe's current trip around the world.

Happy Travels xx



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