AFRICA TRIP - Part Five: Masai Mara Safari
I took the bus from Homa Bay to Narok (about 5 hours). Then I had a day to relax in a hotel while I waited to be picked up by Ben my driver in the safari van which I was lucky enough to have all to myself for the next three days. We headed to the Masai Mara which was only a couple of hours from Narok. The landscape changed quickly to the vast savannah you would imagine from the Lion King. There were Masai people tending to their goats, sheep or cows which they had in large numbers, grazing along the grasses by the road. The Masai people's livelihood relies on livestock and the amount of livestock they own is a reflection of their wealth in the community. This forms their main diet unlike other areas and Uganda where vegetables and fruits are most abundant.
I was surprised by how much rubbish was strewn around especially towards the vicinity of the more populated areas. When you see pictures of Kenya and safari destinations you don't see all of the rubbish. The plastic and rubbish increased as we pulled up to the village surrounding the tented camp where I would be staying for two nights. However inside the grounds of the tented camp accommodation it was beautiful, with tall lush trees surrounding a main dining hall and paths winding past permanent tent set ups. It felt like the perfect place to stay while on safari. My tent had an ensuite with toilet and hot shower, power points to charge cameras (electricity ran from a generator during scheduled times), and comfortable beds. As it was low season, it was only me and a German family staying there at the time.
Ben and I had a buffet lunch at the dining hall before preparing to head out for our afternoon game drive. It was my first safari experience and I was excited to see one of the big 5. The gate to the park was conveniently only a few minutes down the road from my accommodation and once we got through the gates, the expansive landscape, colours and surrounding hills were gorgeous! There was no plastic and rubbish on the ground in the game park thankfully.
My cameras were ready, and it didn't take long before we saw wildebeest, impala, buffalo, warthog, zebra, a family of elephants, then a male and female lion sleeping, a couple of cheetah's feasting and finally, a black rhino! We saw 4 of the big 5 all in the first afternoon. The feeling is unexplainable when you first see one of these amazing creatures that you've only ever seen on TV before, right before your eyes in their natural habitat. I could see how it could get addictive, chasing that feeling of excitement and awe. It felt surreal, like I was right in the middle of a David Attenborough episode as I watched the mother and son cheetah feast on a baby wildebeest while the wildebeests mother looked on from a short distance.
The next morning was an early start for a full day in the park. More elephants, a lone lion and a few baboons later, we finally heard on the radio about the location of a leopard - the last of the big 5 I was yet to see - there seemed to be every safari vehicle in the park surrounding this one tree and when I looked up I could see two stunningly beautiful leopards sleeping in the branches. A lioness was in the bushes below and the leopards would not get down from the tree until they were sure the lioness was far away. They seemed content snoozing in the meantime.
At times it felt just as though we were paparazzi chasing "celebrities". A lion seemed to not want his photo taken and was trying to escape us as each pap (safari vehicle) tailed him. He hid himself well in a bush, waiting for us to leave.
At lunchtime Ben found a (safe) tree to set up a picnic on the edge of an empty savannah where I enjoyed my packed lunch in idillic surroundings.
For the rest of the afternoon we continued our paparazzi mission and I got shots of more animals. By the time I returned to my tent I was exhausted and went to sleep not long after dinner.
The following morning we started before sunrise and I was hoping for some magnificent colours in the sky as the sun rose for my last day. But it was overcast, grey and cold! So cold that it seemed all the animals were in hiding. Nonetheless eventually we got a tip off about some lions feeding and headed straight there. They were surrounded by a few hyenas and jackals. After that we found the same cheetah couple (mother and son) snoozing outside some bushes. It was time to head back and I was more than happy with my safari experience and grateful for the opportunity to see and watch these amazing animals in their habitat. It felt very special and is something I'll always remember.
Masai Tribe Visit
I had time after the morning game drive to visit one of the traditional Masai tribe villages nearby. Two Masai men who worked at the tented camp escorted me there by foot. Although it was a $30 fee to the village, the experience was amazing and learning about their way of life was so interesting and eye opening that to me it was definitely worth the visit. The tour began with a welcome dance by the men. The same dance is performed at special occasions such as wedding and circumcision ceremonies. The son of the tribe elder explained that the boys had just returned from the wilderness of the Masai Mara - when a boy turns 16, they are sent to live out in the wilderness alongside the wild animals for three months as a rite of passage into manhood and becoming a Masai warrior. To be a Masai is to be born into one of the world’s last warrior cultures. Life as a warrior means a young man can settle down and start a family, acquire and protect their cattle and become a responsible elder. They also explained the significance of jumping in their culture as part of the dance. The boy who can jump the highest gets the girl.
Their village is surrounded by a gate to keep the wild animals out at night and keep their livestock safe from predators such as lions. The women build the houses out of mud and cow dung, and they move to a new village every 9 years or so as the termites set in. I was welcomed into one of these homes and shown where they sleep, cook and the sheep/goat’s room inside the home - Their precious livestock sleep in a specially allocated room in the house at night. They showed me how they make fire with their "special wood" and explained what each plant is used for (one for mosquito repellant, one to help with malaria and fever, one to make red dye, and even one whose leaves are like sandpaper that they use to file their nails and give pedicures!). They showed me the kind of stick they use as a tooth brush, and a special black stone apparently from meteorites that is used in ceremonies. The Masai people were so fascinating with their distinctive customs and long preserved culture. Nature really does provide everything this semi-nomadic tribe needs and they have clung to their traditional way of life, passing down their knowledge, cultural practices and customary laws through community, rituals and ceremonies.
They earn money by making jewellery and also showing tourists like me through their village. Otherwise they live off the land, use every bit of their natural surrounding and rely on their livestock. I was asked by one of the Masai men how many goats I had and I told him that unfortunately I had none, he seemed shocked that I didn't even have any sheep or cows either! Going by the look on his face I think he felt sorry for me.
I felt very welcomed and the visit with this unique tribe was a special way to end my Masai experience.
After lunch, I headed to the airfield located within the game park and took a small plane to Nairobi. This was an option provided which meant a 40 minute journey instead of a 5 hour drive and was inexpensive enough for me to justify. I'm glad I chose this option as I got into Nairobi quickly and had plenty of time to get to my hotel and relax. The next day was my last day of the trip and only day in Nairobi, which I will share in my next blog post!