If you're a woman considering going on safari in Kenya, I have two pieces of advice for you: do it, and wear a sports bra.
Those parks aren't meant for human comfort. They're wilderness, with wild animals and barely tamed landscape.
So prepare to be bumped, jostled, and bounced as your Jeep makes its way through the park. And prepare for it to be worth it when you see a pregnant lioness step out of the bushes, a magnificent sunset behind her.
Kenya, in East Africa, is home to all of the "Big Five" game animals that frequently attract tourists: lion, leopard, buffalo, rhinoceros and elephant.
• Kenyan wildlife safari: Hot air balloon ride over Maasai Mara
• Under African skies: In search of adventure on Kenyan game safari
• Kenyan game animals: Protecting jewel in Africa's crown
• Kenya with the Samburu: Lion Kings
It also has numerous zebra, giraffe, gazelle, birds, hyena, the list goes on. Bright, beautiful, big. The wildlife here is impressive and plentiful.
These animals can cause problems for locals, but the tourism provided by safaris helps protect them. Where lions were once proactively shot in order to protect villagers, many will now try to coexist. Many natural parks have electric fences to protect farms.
The Kenyan government promises monetary compensation if someone is attacked; a necessary protection in a country where, if you don't work, you probably don't eat.
Inside our Jeeps however, we are safe. We bounce and jostle across the uneven landscape, everyone's face pressed against the window, waiting for a sighting of these well-camouflaged animals.
When I see my first elephant, it steps out of the bushes to drink from the river. It's accompanied by two others, ears waving in the heat, huge and grey with impressive tusks.
I'm so overawed by its size and beauty that I almost forget my professionalism and fail to take a photo for this article. I tear up, my hands shake and I try to take a pic to remember the moment.
In the next few days I see so many elephants at close range, I start to simply smile and watch, making sure to enjoy the moment.
We're told that elephants befriend warthogs, letting them eat some of their food.
It's not pure charity from the canny elephants. We're told a warthog has a terrible memory. When a lion attacks, at first all the animals run.
But after a short time, the warthog forgets what it's running from and slows down – only to become a handy snack and distraction for the lion. The elephants and their babies escape.
Back at home, I'm unable to find anything that backs this story up. But I don't much care if it's true, or simply Kenyan folklore. What a tale.
I spend most of the day keeping my eyes peeled for a lion. Before I left home, I discussed vaccinations with my travel doctor.
"If you're attacked by a lion – and survive – your next concern will be rabies. So that might be something we consider," he told me.
I laugh, only to be met by a frown.
"I'm not joking. I've had patients deal with that before."
Right. Okay. No lion bites for me then, please.
Despite this conversation in the back of my head, I'm desperate to see a lion in its natural habitat. The king of the savanna, reigning supreme in his home, instead of being reduced to a zoo sideshow.
We almost see one; a lioness and her cub, just barely visible in a tangle of bush where they're resting for the day.
The branches make a photograph impossible, and even our eyes struggle to make out the pair when they hold still.
But still, we console ourselves. The memories that you can't take pictures of are almost more special. They're the moments only available for those who were there, with friends and family back home unable to even share in the pictures.
But as we leave the park for the day, the sun setting behind us, we see something far more spectacular.
A heavily pregnant lioness, lounging in front of bushes, the sunset silhouetted behind her.
The Jeep stops at a respectful distance, our group inside hushed as we drink in the sight, making sure not to startle her with overexcited squeals.
The lion eyes us, unbothered. She calls to someone, a deep, low grunt, but nobody answers her.
Eventually, she tires of our staring and walks in search of whoever she was calling. In a masterstroke display of dominance, she saunters right past our car, giving us no attention as she passes within centimetres of us.
She doesn't care. We're no threat to this queen.
I fold my hands inside my lap, consciously checking I'm not too close to any windows, the conversation with my travel doctor on my mind again.
Even the people who have made their home here have a streak of wilderness in them.
One of the ways some people see the Maasai Mara is by hot-air balloon. The view from above stretches for miles, the silent transportation meaning that elephants, gazelles and lions continue about their business unphased.
Captain Lea Zeberli, from Hot Air Safaris, is one of only two female hot-air balloon pilots in the Maasai Mara, and got her start young.
She and her brother regularly saw hot-air balloons around their home town in Switzerland. Eventually they built their own, using a discarded balloon, a hang-glider harness, and an LPG bottle that was cranked by hand.
Zeberli was the smaller, so was quickly attached to the contraption. Laughing, she says she has been bitten by the ballooning bug ever since.
As we travel, she laughs again as she tells us of the time she saw a group of lions as she was preparing to land the hot-air balloon.
That, she says, was a fast switch to take off again.
Days later our tour comes across a group of cheetahs. They're brothers, we're told, known as the Fast Five for their teamwork in hunting.
One of our group dissolves into tears on seeing them. The cheetahs are to her what the elephants were to me. An animal she never thought she would see in the flesh, their beauty and grace proving too much when coupled with the surprise of suddenly seeing them lounging in a warm patch of dirt.
Their bellies are round and full, and we guess that they recently killed. But now they simply lounge and groom in the sun like an overgrown house cat, their wild violence tamed for the morning.
My friend continues sobbing as we drive away. A memory that she'll treasure for a lifetime.
Swahili phrases to help you in Kenya
Hello – Jambo
Slang hello – "Mambo", and reply "poa"
Thank you - Asante
Yes, all right, okay, all good – Sawasawa
Welcome – Karibu
Beautiful – Mrembo
Hot tips for enjoying your safari
- If you take photos of animals, particularly endangered ones, or big prizes like elephants, don't geotag where you are on social media. Poachers don't need a signpost.
- Pack snacks for the drives, and always have a water bottle with you. Drives can go for a long time, and you're out of options if you're suddenly hungry.
- If you find a rare animal, the general rule is that you get five minutes to enjoy it and take pictures. After that, if others are around, you should get out of the way so others can enjoy it.
- Don't get your vehicle too close to the animals and don't chase them if they try to leave. For one thing, they're wild and could turn on you. For another, harassing animals can stress and upset them. Don't be that person.
- If you stay in a lodge within the parks, don't leave shoes or anything else outside. Hyenas and baboons have been known to steal them. If you do lose your shoes to wildlife, at least snap a funny picture through the window.
- People are not tourist attractions. If you meet local people and want to take their photo, ask first, and respect their answer. If you want to take a child's photo, ask a parent first.
Intrepid Travel's 10 day Kenya Women's Expedition supports local women's enterprise and empowerment throughout the destination. Highlights include staying in a locally run eco-lodge providing direct employment and income to more than 145 families, visiting the Kazuri bead factory which employs more than 300 women, meeting the woman who has championed Maasai women's rights for more than 20 years, and game drives through the Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru and Samburu National Reserve. Priced from $3920pp twin-share, including transport, accommodation, a local female leader and driver, some meals and most activities. intrepidtravel.com
- Frances Cook travelled on Intrepid Travel's women's expedition to Kenya.