Masai Mara: Kat goes on safari

Day 1

I washed away the red dust from the day and now I am sat on the porch of my tent at the Ol Moran Tented Camp. I was listening to London Grammar but I switched it off, as I’d rather listen to the choir of crickets and million other bugs residing on the grassy grounds around me. I’ve got another couple of hours of generator electricity before it is switched off until tomorrow evening. Hot water on the other hand will be available all night until 10am tomorrow morning. Go figure!

I arrived in time for lunch and after a filling meal and a restful nap, I was back in the van and on my way to the Masai Mara National Reserve. As soon as we stopped in front of the gates our van was surrounded by Masai women selling local handmade crafts – there was various jewelry made from colorful, cheap beads; there were ebony figurines of animals; handcrafted wooden cups and bowls and red Masai blankets. Their prices were actually good but I had to keep shaking my head ‘No’ and turning them down as I didn’t want or need anything. I was trying to strike a balance between getting them close enough to look at them, acknowledge their presence and crafts so that I don’t appear impolite while also turn them down as politely as possible. Phew! By the time we’d entered my neck was hurting from all that head shaking.

Once in the park I remembered what a friend of mine told me about the elusiveness of wildlife. ‘Enjoy the little things, the termites, the scenery. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t see any animals.’ he said. Well…I am not sure what safaris he’d been on but this most definitely does not apply to Masai Mara. The place is teeming with wildlife! We hadn’t even driven for 500m when we were greeted by a herd of wildebeest and Thompson antelopes calmly grazing by the road we were driving on. I was amazed by the quantity of animals and also by their extreme proximity to us.

I thought I'd better take a picture so people believe that I was on safari

I thought I’d better take a picture so people believe that I was on safari

We drove on and soon enough we saw a herd of zebras running across the road. ‘Aaaaa! Zebras! Can we stop?’ I exclaimed clapping my hands like a child in a candy shop. Although I had already seen zebras at Nairobi National Park I never get tired of them.

Zebras!!!

Zebras!!!

We nearly drove past an elephant in the bush when I turned around and spotted it ba chance. ‘Elephant! Elephant!’ I screamed. It turned out to be a whole family – mom, dad (dad’s back right leg was shorter than the others and he was limpingL) and two young ones of various ages. They walked into the bush and I could barely seem them for a while before they decided to come out and slowly walk in our direction. At some point they were no further than 50m away if that! And they were doing their elephant noises as an added bonus. There is no way to describe what I felt at that moment. The proximity of the animals, the fact that it was a whole family, the sounds they were making, how comfortable they were with us, being able to observe them in their natural environment – it is all very surreal. I was mesmerized.

Family of elephants

Family of elephants

Then as if this wasn’t enough we saw even more elephants before stopping in the middle of a herd of giraffes which were calmly going about their grazing business. They were even closer than the elephants. At some point one of them was at no more than a couple of meters away from the van. Amazing! Giraffes are very cool. I could just stand there and observe them all day long.

A couple of female giraffes munching on some bush

A couple of female giraffes munching on some bush

We drove on and we saw a couple of very old male buffalos. One could barely move. Later we saw many more buffalos walking around alone, in pairs or a herd. ‘Why is the buffalo one of the Big 5 and the giraffe isn’t?’ I asked. ‘Because killing a giraffe is very easy’ replied my guide. ‘The Big 5 are those animals who are very difficult to kill. It will take 4 or 7 lions to kill a buffalo, it is very strong’ he added.

A very old buffalo and a slightly less old buffalo

A very old buffalo and a slightly less old buffalo

We casually drove through herds of zebras and gnus when all of a sudden my driver was in a rush to get somewhere. He didn’t say anything until we had maneuvered in between a lot of other vans and pointed to something in the bush. It was a cheetah! Wow! What a treat! I had completely forgot about cheetahs with all the other animals around but seeing it made me realize what a rarity it was and how fortunate I had been. It was quite literally chilling under a bush completely undisturbed by the multitude of vans surrounding it. It attempted to rise but I guess it was a it too much effort at lunchtime and it plonked itself back under the bush all along maintaining a super casual attitude. 🙂

Cheetah! Just chillin'...

Cheetah! Just chillin’…

Then we had our first lion alert. A couple of young males hiding in the bush. We were one of the first ones to get there and got a prime spot before all the others arrived. We saw a bit of the lions as they too were taking a siesta and preferred lying, hidden in the grass instead of parading themselves for the safari enthusiasts. We waited around for a while but they really had no intentions of showing themselves so we moved on.

The view from the van while we were waiting for the lions to move

The view from the van while we were waiting for the lions to move

A couple of young male lions resting after lunch?

A couple of young male lions resting after lunch?

The multitude of safari vans accompanying a lion sighting

The multitude of safari vans accompanying a lion sighting

The day was nearing its end and we were driving back. I was enjoying the stunning scenery when I spotted another lion, a lioness actually lying in the distant bush. We watched for a while she was resting and casually stretching.

A reminder that Mother Nature is in full swing despite the surreal, fairytale feel of the place

A reminder that Mother Nature is in full swing despite the surreal, fairytale feel of the place

It was almost dark and we were close to the gates when I saw something running to our left. ‘Hakuna Matata pig! Hakuna Matata pig!’ I screamed. The driver had no idea what I was talking about and he was looking around to see the animal. ‘Haha…a wild board’ he said when he finally spotted it. I prefer ‘Hakuna Matata’ pig 🙂

Just before we left the park I turned around to see the Masai Mara sunset.

Masai Mara sunset

Masai Mara sunset

Day 2

The day before I’d had to negotiate really hard to drive to the Masai River (some 50km away from the camp on bad roads) to see the wildebeast migration. My driver was very reluctant because of the extra time he would have to put into it but at the end he had agreed hoping to make some extra money out of it. So the next day we were on the road by 6.30am.

We’d barely driven into the park when we were surprised by a herd of elephants some 10m away from the road. We couldn’t spend too much time looking at them because we had a long drive ahead and very little time but we could’t pass them by and we stopped for a bit. The feeling of having these magnificent creatures so close can not be described.

An even bigger herd of elephants! No one was limping this time.

An even bigger herd of elephants! No one was limping this time.

We continued our drive to another part of the park which was turning out to be completely different from what we had seen the day before – endless golden plains, beautiful. Then all of a sudden a lioness jumped out onto the road right in front of our van. ‘Oh f***!’ I exclaimed. It was all so sudden I didn’t know whether to be afraid or roll down the window and take photos. She was so close and so menacing. ‘Can I roll down the window a bit?’ I asked my guide. He allowed me to do it a little bit as the lioness was walking away. This is what they call “close encounters” I guess.

Rawr!!!

Rawr!!!

In the next 30mins or so we saw at least 6-7 more lions. We saw a pride lying in the grass – the young ones playing with each other, the mothers feeding. Then there was a lioness lying on the side of the road, barely a couple of meters away, resting. She was so relaxed that nothing could disturb her piece or get her to move.

Having breakfast and a roll around the grass

Having breakfast and a roll around the grass

So relaxed...

So relaxed…

Then we drove through endless grass fields, home to countless zebras and wildebeest grazing in waist high golden grass. As we were driving I saw something crossing the road in the distance and I wondered what it was. This is what safaris are all about, keeping your eyes opening, trying to guess what something might be, enjoying the wildlife when it is there. My mystery animal turned out to be a pack of hyenas. They walked through the bush and paused, looking at me as they came out as if posing. They stood there looking at me just long enough to take a photo.

Some of the 2 million zebras and wildebeest that migrate to The Mara during high season

Some of the 2 million zebras and wildebeest that migrate to The Mara during high season

Another antelope we didn't see that many of

Another antelope we didn’t see that many of

Hyenas

Hyenas

Soon after that we had reached the top of a hill which revealed stunning views of the plains below, the Masai River somewhere in the distance, chains of zebras and wildebeest slowly walking towards the river crossing point, preparing to migrate. We stopped to enjoy the view for a while, while a couple of Masai were preparing a small picnic table for a a couple who’d just arrived. It was breath taking, I was so glad that I’d insisted on driving this way the day before. It was so worth it. On the way down we saw what I call a “rainbow” antelope, a beautiful multi coloured thing.

Thought I'd document me being on a safari after all

View towards the Masai River from the top of the hill. Wildebeest migration happening in the distance.

 

"Rainbow" antelope

“Rainbow” antelope

Then we ended up in a field teeming with baboons, big ones, old ones, baby ones, and all of them funny as hell. It was so much fun watching them. The river was a short drive after that.

Baboons

Baboons

The first thing we saw was a small crocodile feeding on a dead gnu – a victim of the migration. Then there were the hippos, a great big herd of them, all submerged under water, only their pink ears and parts of their huge butts sticking out of the water. A couple of them were either playing or starting a fight. I couldn’t tell.

Mother Nature in full swing again

Mother Nature in full swing again

The river and the hippos

The river and the hippos

We followed the slowly walking gnu who were gathering by the river preparing to cross the river in search of new pastures. A  couple of vans parked near the river and right in their path of crossing had stopped them in their heels. We waited, and we waited…eventually the two “naughty” vans realised that they were in the wrong place and they were slowing things down and they moved. By then there were a lot more vans all gathered behind us. I struck a conversation with a bunch of Chinese guys who had stopped alongside our van and we exchanged safari experiences and tips. We were still waiting, I was painfully aware of the clock ticking, my guide turning around and looking at me meaningfully every now and again. I knew we didn’t have much time and the gnus weren’t bulging an inch. I had come all this way, I had fought hard for it and I really wanted to see the migration but clearly the wildebeest and the zebras were of a different opinion. When they stirred a bit and started walking back I knew it was not going to see the migration. It was time to go. “Enjoy it if you see it’ I told the Chinese and waved them goodbye.

Migrating wildebeest gathered by the river, waiting to cross

Migrating wildebeest gathered by the river, waiting to cross

We were almost at the end of our safari when Masai Mara delivered yet another treat – a male lion resting by the road, literally at the bottom of our van, not even a meter away. Is there a more perfect way to end an exhilarating couple of days and a dream come true?

Sleepy head

Sleepy head

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