Kenya/Tanzania Photo Safari:
Part 7: The Maasai Mara
©2002 Corbin Ball Associates
Friday 22 March 2002
Aaron and I repacked our
luggage again for the safari (leaving the business suitcase with Henrietta). She
picked us up at 9 in plenty of time for our 10:30 flight to the Maasai Mara, one
of my favorite places in Africa.
The 40-minute flight in the a
48-passenger Dash 7 landed on a dirt airstrip with a gift shack and another
shack with the sign “lounge” in front.
Two Land Rovers were there to pick up 8 guests and their luggage and in
just about 10 minutes we were pulling up to the front of the lodge.
The Mara Safaris Club, a Lonrho property just off the actual game park, is in beautiful green grasslands with solitary acacia trees spotting the landscape (Mara is Maasai for “spotted”). The property (about 55 acres) is triangle shape with the Mara River forming two sides of the triangle and the other side is an electric fence. The café au lait colored river is teaming with more than 2,000 hippos. There are about 50 “tents” (12’x30’) each with decks along the riverbank with shower, bathroom facilities, and very nice mosquito netted beds.
reception area has eating facilities, gift shop, large lounge, bar, resource
center, built in rustic exposed wood and with lots of couches and seating areas.
On the walk past the reception building, I mentioned to Aaron that Charlotte
last year had seen an animal that lived on the roof. To my surprise, Aaron
looked up and said, “You mean that one.”
We looked up to see a tree hyrax staring at us with its beady eyes
looking like a gerbil the size of a house cat.
Related to the elephant and the anteater, we found later and much to our
amusement, that this cute little animal made one of the wildest sounds on the
savannah. It starts out what sounds like wooden cogs being ratcheted up (as in a
rack torture device). Then is starts emitting about 20 blood-curdling screams as
if someone was being pulled apart in that same machine.
The staff has grown used to this “banshee from hell” sound, but it
got our attention every time.
Cosmas, picked us up at 3:30-6:30 for an excellent drive. The Mara affords some
of the best game viewing around, especially lions.
We saw 6 Maasai giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, Thompson’s gazelles, warthog, eland, slender mongoose, a male impala and harem of about 20, Grant’s gazelle, elephant (13), ostrich, brown crane, black-backed jackal, buffalo, and topi.
The highlights were 4 lions (1 male and 3 female) very close and interacting.
The other was two baby elephants came to greet us from a herd of about 13. With the bravado of children showing off for their parents, they trumpeted and mock charged the vehicle. This didn’t last too long before one of the large female started walking directly toward us with a “what’s going on here?” look, so we didn’t hang around and got back to the lodge just as the sun was setting.
The sky is so beautiful here at
sunset. The golden grass, the green of the hillsides, and the cobalt blue of the
darkening skies portending the rain that was to come during the night.
Before dinner, I was pleased to
see Mike, the naturalist, was still here from last year. Somewhat like a tall
Santa clause, whose hair quite hasn’t fully grayed yet, his full white beard,
and jovial red cheeks were a sight, but he was chock-full of great info about
the flora, fauna, insects and anything else you can think of. He moved from the
UK 33 years ago to study insects for the British Museum and stayed. His
30-minute slide show was entertaining and very informative.
Then for dinner at 8 and off to
bed by 9:30.
It poured through the night,
the rain drum-rolling on our tent along to the loud bass grunts of the hippos.
Aaron didn’t sleep well as the sound of the hippo sounded like Star Wars
“Jabba the Hud” was going to barge in any minute.
Saturday 23 March 2002
The in-person wakeup call came
a 6am knocking outside our tent. About 5 minutes later the very welcome coffee
The morning game drive was
superb with great sightings of jackals, warthogs, topi, zebra, banded mongoose,
The highlight was a pride of
about 8 lion, feasting on what looked like a small gazelle. Their coats
glistened in the new morning sun, while a young male and female played and
sparred with each other like kittens.
At 10, we visited a Maasai
village, an interesting, but somewhat commercial look into a nomadic tribal life
style. About 150 people lived a ring of about 30 mud and twig huts.
These were larger than the Samburu huts, about 15’x15’ and about 5.5’ high, dark and hot inside with a small wood cooking fire inside. There were actually 5 “rooms” or areas inside. A central cooking area flanked on each side by small sleeping alcoves, and a “hallway” leading outside. The 5th room was by the entrance, a place to keep the young calves.
After lunch, I decided for the
first time to forgo the game drive, to chill out by the pool, read, and write
this journal. Aaron came back from the drive excited to have seen two lions in
the process of their rough, short (about 30 seconds) and frequent (every 20
minutes for 2 day) mating ritual.
The evening’s entertainment was the Maasai dance troupe, about 10 warriors dressed in traditional red, who performed several songs and dances. All were typically a leader chant, followed by group response chants, with individual, unique vocalizations that were grunts, low tones, and huffs. It sounded very primal and almost chilling in its primitiveness. The warriors also demonstrated standing jumping similar to the Samburu.
We were then in for an evening
surprise. Mercy, the activities coordinator asked us if we would like to go on
an evening drive to see the hippos. It
didn’t take us long to decide yes – absolutely!
We met at 8pm with about 9
other adventure seekers picked by the hotel and departed into the night in three
rigs. The young couple that joined us in our van was on their honeymoon from San
Diego. They were both keepers at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and were here
to see the real thing and were having a wonderful time.
We quickly saw the eerie,
ghostly look of giraffes in the moonlight and the headlight beams of the truck.
Then we saw two hippos, out of the water, on the prowl for grass, looking like
giant, wet, and ungainly pigs.
We then arrived at the real purpose of the outing, a bush-dinner. A large bonfire, and a near-by canopy covered seating and cooking area, to be greeted to a fine dinner, under the stars and the half-moon African sky with the sounds of creatures all around. An armed guard stood unobtrusively to the side just in case.
Sunday 24 March 2002
Cosmas was waiting at 6:30 for
the dawn game drive. The birdlike was especially good this morning including
European white stork, Nubian vultures, superb starlings, and an excellent view
of a secretary bird, ostrich, Montague harrier, Jackson’s widow birds, and
brown crested cranes. There were
also sightings of zebra, tommys, 2 lions, topi (30), and a nice view of a hyena,
wart hogs, giraffe, elephant and impala.
The 10am drive provided hippo, a Nile crocodile lying motionlessly on a bank until a thoughtless young man from Montreal threw a stick at it driving it into the water. The largest group of giraffes seen (21) lions, white rhino (2 males and 1 female) tame on the hillside with their guards, reintroduced from S. Africa., and 15 elephants wading and taking mud baths.
After lunch, we had the good
fortune of Henrietta joining us (flying in from NBO) for one of the best game
Included were giraffe, tommys,
Grant’s gazelle, tope, eland, 2 elephants, wildebeest, zebra, impala,
waterbuck (defassa race). Birds seen were tawny eagle, black-shouldered kites,
Jackson’s widowbird (about 400, male and female popping out of the grass and
back in unison), cucai, crowned plovers. Henrietta
pointed out that the locals say that the wildebeest was made by committee: the
tail and neck of a horse, the body of a buffalo, the legs of a topi, the beard
of the lion, the horns of a cow, the head of a grasshopper, and the brain of a
The highlights included 5 lion
(4 females and a cub), one of them munching on a snout of a warthog, shading
themselves under several small bushes. One
of the lionesses was one of the handsomest that I have seen with a beautiful
coat and no scars.
The major event was seeing a family of about 6 elephants including one baby. We stopped the vehicle about 100 feet away from them. Then the dominant female started walking in our direction – slowly but firmly facing us and getting closer with every step. The baby tagged behind here almost out of site. Se was 75 feet away and walking. 50 feet away and walking, 25 feet away and still walking toward us. We were all holding our breath with the only sounds being the steps of the elephant and the click of the shutters. Then 20….15…..10 feet away – standing there facing us! What was she going to do? The tension was great. Suddenly the rig two-way radio crackled a message in Swahili breaking the trance. She reeled a bit from the sound, turned to her left and walked past the front of the rig, nearly grazing the fender as she passed. We collectively exhaled as we what her and the rest of the herd saunter stately off into the golden dusk skies.
We were nearly speechless, but
pressed on. We heard barking in the distance and we decided to explore what was
happening. We were very fortunate to see two young leopards (a brother and
sister) each about 2 years old, recently orphaned when the lions killed their
mother. They were being harassed by
a barking jackal, following them about 15 feet away like a barking dog notifying
the neighborhood of intruders. After about 5 minutes of this barking, one of
leopard finally got fed up, reared around and snarled effectively shutting up
A pleasant dinner, peppered
with hyrax screaming, ensued talking of life growing up in Kenya (Henrietta’s
brother used to keep giraffes as pets and father one time caught a ferocious
honey badger with his bare hands). She has a wonderful view and attitude about
her country, moving there when she was two from the UK.
Monday 25 March 2002
Our last day in Kenya opened
with a beautiful dawn on the Mara. Henrietta, Aaron and I, with our driver,
Lawrence, had a magical ride seeing a variety of creatures including: topi,
tummies, giraffe, impala (about 40 gathered around a mud hole licking the soil
– a natural salt lick), hartebeest, dik-dik, bushbuck, zebra, hyena, elephant,
warthog, and élan. Bird life included: widow bird, scale francolin, red-billed
oxpecker, ostrich, African goshawk, fiscal hike, yellow-throated long claw,
white-backed vulture, and prowl plovers.
The highlight was a pride of 7 lions, finishing up the remains of a zebra. Initially about a dozen safaris vehicles surrounded us, but one-by-one they departed and we were alone with these magnificent animals eating, playing, sparing with each other as they munched on the ribs, head, skin and you name it.
breakfast, Aaron decided to go shower and prepare for departure. Henrietta, Mike
the Naturalist, and I went for a walk around the 55-acre grounds of the lodge
spotting more than 40 different bird species. I became immediately aware of how
much there is to know about the flora and fauna of the area. Mike is a walking
encyclopedia knowing essentially every plant, bug, bird and animal that inhabits
the area. He was identifying by birdcall, by nest, by sighting a plethora of
birds. Henrietta is also extremely knowledgeable about the birds. I walked along
with the two of them in awe of the knowledge that they had about the life there.
After another lunch buffet
(always beginning with soup), we showered, packed our bags, and headed to the
dirt airstrip to wait for the plane. The 15-passenger Twin Otter arrive
precisely on time, and soon we were up to 11,000 feet in the unpressurized cabin
watching the green valleys go by with many rings of Maasai acacia bush villages
in many of the valleys on the way to Nairobi.
Soon we were in Henrietta’s
Mazda Midget on the way to the Nairobi Serena Lodge day room to repack our bags
for travel and for my next speaking engagement.
Thirty minutes later we were on
to Nairobi’s most famous restaurant, the Carnivore, a place that is definitely
not for vegetarians. On the edge of the Wilson airport, this sprawling place has
much character. Using farm-grown game animals, the centerpiece of the place is a
giant grill. The fixed menu includes ostrich, zebra, élan, and crocodile all
pretty much tasting like beef or chicken. Portions are individually sliced by
friendly waiters from a large skewer. Would you like chicken, pork, élan meat
balls or ostrich? They keep coming around until you lower the flag in the center
of the table.
Speaking of carnivores, there
are several (about 30) friendly house cats hanging to help you out with the
leftovers. Although not exactly encouraged, it was very clear those that were
sneaking bites for the feline friends as their tables were surrounded with up to
5 or 6 anticipating cats. Aaron loved this part of the meal and was one of the
We parted ways with Henrietta, and a driver took us to the international airport for the long trip home, filled with amazing images and experiences an counting the days until we will be fortunate enough to return.
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