Thursday, July 21, 2016

African Adventure - Part 2: Masai Mara

Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
July 2, 2016 - Arrival in Maasai Mara

Every day of our trip to Kenya and Tanzania was special, but nothing will ever top the thrill of our first two days in the Maasai Mara National Reserve.  It was as if we had stepped off of our little plane and into a National Geographic nature film.  We were right in the heart of the African savannah, a huge plain surrounded by low hills, cut by small rivers, and dotted with the umbrella acacias that give this region its name.  This region is the homeland of the Maasai who call this land Mara, or "the spotted plain."
Umbrella acacias dot the landscape of Maasai Mara

We learned later that these make good resting spots for leopards!

We were greeted on the dirt runway by our Maasai guides, Solomon and Javin, and our guide-drivers, George and Ole.  Solomon and Javin were splendid in their Maasai shukas, and we soon learned that these were not costumes for the benefit of tourists.  Most of the Maasai people we saw were similarly dressed as they went about their daily lives.
Our group arrives at Maasai Mara

Solomon, Javin, and George greeted us at the airstrip

We twelve tour members boarded the two safari vans with pop-up roofs and we set out for the drive to our lodge.  Within five minutes, the wonders started.  Our first sighting was a herd of elephants, including several babies which the mothers attempted to keep hidden from our view by keeping them uphill from our van.
First animal sighting!

A nursing baby.  (I still can't figure out how a baby elephant can nurse with that big trunk!)
We learned to say "Se mama" when we wanted the driver to stop for an animal viewing, and to say "Sawa sawa," (OK, we're good,) when we were ready to move on.  These two phrases got a good workout during our drives!

Our bodies also got a good workout!  The roads in Maasai Mara are dirt tracks cut roughly through the bush, with rocky and rutted surfaces.  We had a flat tire soon after leaving the airport.  I got a laugh out of the sight of our Maasai warriors in their lovely red shukas changing a tire.  Not a sight one sees every day!
Changing a tire.  This was the first of two on the trip...I'm surprised we didn't have more on the rocky roads!

Solomon, our wonderful guide, with Rob
The drive to our lodge, the Sentrim Mara, provided our first views of impalas, herds of the tiny Thompson gazelles, zebras, and - just before we arrived at the lodge - a large family of baboons.  I was like a kid in a candy store - eyes wide and squealing (quietly so as not to disturb the animals) with delight.
Male impalas keep watch


Zebras were everywhere

A family of baboons near our lodge

Daddy, Mama, and babies
Just outside of Sentrim Mara was a small village, and as we approached in the early evening, the Maasai were herding long lines of cattle into the thorny acacia lined pens inside the perimeter of the village walls.  Many of the herders were small children with long sticks who barely came up to the cows' knees!
Maasai villagers bringing in the cattle

Villagers gather to share the news of the day.
We were greeted by a group of staff members singing and dancing a Jambo Mara welcome song, with some Hakuna Matata thrown in.  Yes, they really do say hakuna matata - no worries!  We heard it frequently throughout our tour.
The Sentrim Mara staff greeting us with song.

Sentrim Mara's main lodge building

We were all escorted to our tent cabins...big roomy canvas tents on stone platforms under metal roofs, with a nice deck looking out into the forest.  Each tent had a stone bathroom attached at the back, so it was quite comfortable.
Rob at the door of our tent cabin

Joan on the deck

A nice bath and shower are behind the stone wall.
Rob and I settled in and returned to the main lodge for the buffet dinner, where we were entertained by a group of Maasai men who danced through the dining hall, surrounding each table and singing remarkable harmony with high voices and eerie deep guttural hums.  They ended with a jumping competition...and when we saw the high grass out on the plains the next day, we could understand why the jumping dance had become so important to their culture.
Maasai men serenaded the diners.

July 3, 2016 - All Day Game Drive

I woke several times during the night to the sounds of animals quite near our tent - the loud huffing of a lion and the weird call of a hyena - but I felt quite secure under our mosquito net in spite of nothing but a canvas wall between us and the lions!
Mosquito netting kept us safe at night...but it was kind of a hassle to get out of in the middle of the night!
In the morning, we were awakened by a myriad of bird call - song birds, squawking birds, hooting birds.  It was quite a symphony!

After a very early breakfast, we piled into our vans for the most amazing day of game viewing of the entire trip.  Global warming is changing the normal patterns of the great migration, and with abnormally dry conditions in the Serengeti to the south, the wildebeest had headed north to the grassy plains of Maasai Mara earlier than usual.  We quickly found ourselves surrounded by literally tens of thousands of the large creatures, standing in great herds or lined up single file as they moved even farther north.
Wildebeest on their great migration

Thousands of them lined up as they moved north.

On one of our stops, we gazed in awe at a long line of wildebeest fording a river and scrambling up the steep embankment, leaping over to top at full gallop.

Wildebeest leaping out of the river gorge.

Next to the graceful antelopes, the wildebeest is an odd-looking animal, with a long horsey face, the beard of a goat, a mane of hair on the neck, and a sloping body with mismatched front and back legs.  The joke here is that God made the wildebeest from the left-over parts of other animals.
A face only a mother could love.

Many of the herds were made up of both wildebeest and thousands of zebras who tend to gather with the large wildebeest herds for greater protection.  The relationship works well for both of them, as the wildebeest eat the tops of the grasses and the zebras prefer the lower shoots.

Wildebeest and zebras are often seen together... great herds.
A dazzle of zebras!

But the wildebeests and zebras were not the only herds.  We saw great numbers of elephants, giraffes, impalas, topi antelopes - wearing their blue jeans and yellow socks, gazelles, and the Cape buffalo, with their massive horns.

Cape Buffalo

Cape Buffalo with red-billed ox pecker companions

Herd of elephants

Elephant family

Crossing the road right in front of us.

Baby elephants eat even on the run!

Sometimes the giraffes showed up all by themselves...

....and sometimes they showed up in big herds!

I love their gentle faces.

Mother and child

Topi - a type of antelope

Our guides said the topis wear blue jeans and yellow socks.

In addition to the great herds were small groups or individuals of other species:  a silver-backed jackal, warthogs, and baboons.  And the gorgeous birds were so dramatic and numerous that I am going to write a special blog post devoted just to them!

Thompson's gazelles (which we called Tommies)

Silver-backed jackal

We had a picnic lunch perched above the banks of the Mara River where we saw a group of hippos sunning on the sand and cooling off in the water.  Hippos are very territorial and this docile looking creature is actually one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.  And if that wasn't enough danger in the river, there was a lone crocodile lounging on the sand nearby.
Lunch on the savannah

Rob and Ginny search for hippos

Hippo family on the sand...

...and in the water.


Never smile at a crocodile

We soon learned why we were not allowed to get off the van without permission.  Hidden in the tall golden grass, the first lion we spotted was nearly invisible.  We saw several more throughout the day, including a lioness still panting from her chase - the carcass of a young wildebeest laid out beside her.

This is why you don't go for a walk on the savannah.

A lioness pants beside her fresh kill - a young wildebeest

Further down the road, we spotted this gorgeous couple resting in the bushes before coming out to flirt a little.
Lions in the bushes.

What a gorgeous creature!

It was so exciting when they emerged from the brush!

They seemed completely unconcerned about the cars.

Just as in Yellowstone when a bear is sighted, a lion sighting brings on a traffic jam of Land Rovers, and it is fascinating to see how the animals completely ignore the masses of people gaping at them.  Our guides said that they don't see the vehicles as a threat, but that if we stepped out, the story would be very different.  This is not a land where you can go out for a morning jog!

Lion sighting traffic jam!

 We were so entranced by the animals that we didn't mind the bouncing and jostling all day, but it was wearing, and we returned in the late afternoon quite exhausted.  Rob booked a massage at the main lodge building while I just collapsed for a nap.  We were a little surprised to find that a wooden giraffe we had bought the previous day at the Giraffe Centre had been unwrapped, with the newspaper wrapping strewn all over the floor.  It turns out that several of our tents had been invaded by baboons looking for treats!  Then it was time for dinner and an early bedtime so we would be rarin' to go early the next day for more great adventures!


Unknown said...

This is just amazing! Oh I'm so so jealous! This is my dream to do exactly what you guys did!

Joan Lindsay Kerr said...

I hope you will get to go someday, Michelle. It was the trip of a lifetime! We want to go back!

Annis Cassells said...

Wonderful shots, Joan. I especially loved the one of the herd of giraffes all lined up and moving across the frame. Also loved the zebras.

We found the tent camps pretty comfortable, too -- a pleasant surprise for this non-camper. At the time of year we went (February), we didn't need mosquito netting.

Though we didn't get to Masai Mara,we did visit a couple of their villages. Judy's still photo of the Masai jumping won her a digital camera in a contest here in Coos Bay.

Thanks for sharing this adventure. xoA

Joan Lindsay Kerr said...

Thanks, Annis! Yes, the tower of giraffes was pretty amazing! I had no idea they lived in large herds like that...although most of our sightings were of smaller groups.

Good for Judy! I never quite caught them up in the air...except in a video.

What an incredible trip! We want to go back!