Nairobi, Maasai Mara
02.06.2011 - 05.06.2011
Well I hope I can remember everything that I have seen in the last few loooong days. I’ll try to start at the beginning. My accommodation at Karen Camp, Nairobi, where I stayed the first night that I arrived and tonight isn’t too bad. The first night I had a dorm room all to myself which was nice. There is hot water (when you time your shower right) and electricity so I am happy. Everyone has been very friendly so far, and happy to give a bit of a guided tour when I am picked up/dropped off. Nairobi city centre is pretty urban, plenty of traffic though I haven’t spent time actually wandering around, maybe when we head back through on the tour. As modern as the city is, while you are sitting in traffic it is like a drive through supermarket. You could be offered anything from fruits and veggies, newspaper, school world maps and body charts or balloon animals. I was driving down the highway on Friday and Shakira’s Africa song came on, I nearly cried I was so happy to be here finally….or maybe it was the dirt in my eyes.
The Maasai Mara tour…..
There were 6 in our van for the Safari, from 6 different countries (Australia, USA, France, Latvia, Ecuador, Kazakhstan and the driver Kenya, quite the variety). They are all here on some sort of work as well so it has been interesting hearing different opinions and experiences depending on where their work is based. The drive to Maasai was about 5-6 hours, we drove through the Rift Valley which was hard to capture in the morning fog. “Looking is free” seems to be the main catchphrase here to lure you into the shops.
The last 2 hours of the drive was … not relaxing. Let’s just say you know a road is bad when you are driving next to it instead of on it. My first “African Massage”. Entering Maasai land either side of the road there are herds of cattle or goats being looked after by kids in their red dress, no older than 10! How easy I had it growing up in Sydney!
We arrived at our tented lodge in the afternoon, had the local Maasai men who work at the lodge take our bags to our tents (with its own BATHROOM!) and went for an afternoon game drive. It has lived up to all of my expectations of a safari and more. We spotted a couple of prides of Lions, Zebra, Wildebeest, Hartebeest, Dobi, Gazelle, Thompsons Gazelle, Mongoose, Impala, Elephants, Giraffe and Buffalo – not bad for a couple of hours. And this isn’t just spotting them from a distance. As we were able to go off road we got so close and the animals were completely unphased. (Being parked a few metres away from lions and elephants was very cool). Our driver, Nathaniel, was great and could tell what an animal was from the horizon – Maasai eyes! The drivers are all on radio so when a rarer animal is found you can see vans and 4wd’s speeding from all directions. We got bogged and had to lift the van out of the ditch, which was part of the fun…just keeping an eye out for lions. The sun going down over the park with the dark clouds on the horizon was beautiful.
At night you can hear footsteps on the gravel outside the tent as the Maasai patrol the camp. It is actually comforting as the camp isn’t entirely fenced (fences are tree branches).
Day 2 was a full day game viewing starting at 7:30. Besides the usual Wildebeest and Gazelles, our first exciting find of the day was a Cheetah, which along with Leopard and Black Rhino, are one of the hardest to see. The reserve in the morning is pretty spectacular and everything I imagined when I think of the African savannah. As well as everything we saw the first day, we were lucky enough to see a Leopard up in a birds nest, Ostrich, Hippos in the Mara River, Crocs, Crown Prince bird, some bird of prey and Lion cubs. Very cute, and yes I do want one. There were 30 or so Hippos in the river, in 3 groups, and to hear them communicating was pretty funny. One group would make these noises like a man with a really deep voice chuckling, then the 2nd group and then the 3rd group down the river would respond. I am sure they were laughing at us and daring us to come closer to the edge of the river. We were able to get within 10m of them. We drove to the border with Tanzania, this marks where the Maasai Mara (Kenya) becomes the Serengeti (Tanz) and 2m either side of the post is no mans’ land. We ditched the usual designated lunch spot for an acacia tree away from everyone else, with a view over the savannah. In the afternoon, while watching some giraffe’s with their babies we found 2 males fighting. Fast Fact: Giraffes don’t have vocal chords. So it was a silent fight watching them swing their necks in what seemed like slow motion and slam into the others neck. The only sound actually was the necks hitting. They would take it in turns hitting the other, a very polite fight, and then stand there calmly for a while as we took bets on who would be first to swing again. This went on for over 10 minutes and was still going as we left. Men! Also saw some baboons and Secretary birds, some sort of feral little monkeys and warthogs. We arrived back to the camp around 6 and headed straight to a local Maasai village.
IN the village there are about 200 people, 20 families. The chief has 4 wives. It was very interesting and they were really friendly and encouraged us to ask questions and take as many photos as we could. I of course did. They are open to anything, someone even asked about Female Genital Mutilation and whether they still practise that, which apparently they stopped last year. The kids go to school from 5-10 (apparently, though I find this hard to believe when you see all the kids with the animals all day) – I think it is much to the parents discression whether they want them to help out with the chores or send them to school. Also, the big holes in the ears is a sign of beauty though it is up to the parent whether or not they have them stretched. At the age of 10 the boys are circumcised and at 15 they go off into the mountains along for 5 years, to practice their jump and become a man. They will try to kill a lion to return to the village to prove this. The chief’s son, Alex, introduced us and several men performed a welcome dance, but I was more distracted by the kids jumping about following along behind them. They showed us how they make fire and assured us they don’t use matches or lighter (but mobile phones are common haha) and showed us leaves they use as nail files, plants used as Mosquito repellent, which actually smell like aeroguard, and the plant used to dye the blankets they wear red (the traditional ones, I am sure the ones they were all wearing were made in China). They took each of us into separate homes, I felt a bit intrusive. I wasn’t sure I’d fit through the front door hole. The mud huts are VERY warm inside as the fire is going and the heat is contained. There is a room for the fire, and a room separated by a cooking fire, and the family sleeps either side. Then behind where I sat was an inside stable for the calves to be kept away from lions and hyenas.
So 750 photos down I was ready for the final day. The dogs in the camp were going crazy this night so I didn’t sleep much, not so much from that nose, but more what they were barking at. The mind wanders………..
Today we started our game drive at 6 and had a couple of hours. My 5:30am cold shower really woke me up. First sight was a couple of jackals. Then all the usual gang. The pride of lions we saw today were actually on the move which was nice for the photos, as they are so lazy apparently sleep 20 hours of the day, so happy to catch them awake.
Then the bumpy ride back to Nairobi. The camp the last few nights only had hot water for a couple of hours morning and night, which we never experienced and now learned you have to ask them to turn yours on, and the electricity is also only on for a few hours, so I am on the way to developing night vision.
Back at Karen Camp now and having an early night before the Oasis tour starts tomorrow. Looking forward to it!