Typed up: at Tas Hotel in Nakuru, at Merica Hotel Restaurant in Nakuru
Posted from: AGX in Nairobi
On Tuesday September 2nd, we started the second safari of our trip, to Masai Mara in Kenya. We were picked up from the hotel after breakfast by "Big" Sammy, our driver/guide. To save money we were on a group safari, but we were relieved to learn that our group only contained 4 people total. There is room for 8 people in the minivan, but it would not be comfortable when standing up and actually viewing the animals. The other 2 group members were Blair from Scotland and his girlfriend Marije from The Netherlands. We enjoyed their company and talking to them for the duration of the safari.
That first day we spent a lot of time driving to the park. We left a bit after 9am, and we got to our campsite just outside Masai Mara at 3:45pm. We quickly ditched our stuff and went on an evening game drive. The next day we spent almost the entire day in the park. On our final day we did an early morning game drive before starting to drive back to Nairobi. I felt a little bit like a lot of our safari was spent driving to/from Nairobi, but I also feel that, given the 3 day time constraint, we spent as much time in the park as we possibly could have. Most of the roads we drove, both in and outside the park, were dirt but not terrible.
At the camp we stayed at we got a private permanent tent, which came complete with beds and bedding. Thanks to a wood fire under a water tank, there were even hot showers. At night, after the generator was turned off, we saw some of the best stars I think I've ever seen. Food was provided by our cook Joseph, who we didn't interact with very much. The camp was run by local Masai, who also patrol the camp at night to keep out wild animals.
Masai Marai is quite different from Serengeti. First off, it is much less flat. The best way to describe it would be rolling hills. There was more grass, and the grass was taller. We also saw more trees, even to the point of tiny forests. The roads were a bit nicer too. We drove mostly on hard dirt tracks, instead of the full on dirt roads in the Serengeti. They seem to get less traffic and thus be in better shape. Some of this may be because tourism in Kenya is way down due to the recent election violence. Everybody we talked has mentioned how tourism is maybe half of what it usually is.
We saw most of the same animals we had already seen in the Serengeti. However, we saw quite a few Topi which we hadn't seen before at all. We saw many lions again, and quite a few cubs. The most interesting sight was probably a sleeping female lion who was hugging what was left of a wildebeest. We also saw a pair of young males drinking from a creek, and some females that passed right by the minivan. We of course saw quite a few zebras, giraffes, and others.
But the real reason we came to Masai Mara was to see the wildebeest migration. I don't think we saw it at its best, but what we did see was amazing enough. Our first real look was when we drove into a field with 100s of wildebeest just streaming by. There was a small creek which they crossed, which made things look even more spectacular. I want to convey more about the experience, but I really don't know what to say. Check out pictures and movies once they're uploaded.
Later on that same day we saw a similar scene at a bigger creek. Here the wildebeest really got quite wet when crossing, and they just kept streaming by. However, when a second car showed up to watch, that spooked one of the wildebeest enough to stop coming across. Wildebeest can't see well at all, so if they can't follow the one in front of them they're lost. We saw them kind of try to cross in a few places, but none crossed. Usually what happens is a zebra, which can see well, cross somewhere and the wildebeest follow them to get the train going again.
On top of these scenes, we also saw a fair number of "paradise scenes." Just imagine an animal movie where they have to make it to some valley, and they crest the hill and there it is: water, green grass, and lots of different animals. That's what parts of Masai Mara look like. Never mind that the ground is also littered with bones, and the zebras in the distance are fighting instead of dancing.
Perhaps the most special was our black rhino sighting. There are only about 3500 left in the world, and maybe 10 to 20 of those are in Masai Mara. As we drove around a hill, we saw another car parked. Of course we all tried to see what they were looking at, and almost simultaneously we all saw the rhinoceros walking across an open space. It was quite close to us, maybe 50 feet away. It continued walking up the hill and then disappeared into one of the tiny forests.
The last day we went to visit a local Masai village. I wasn't thrilled by the idea, but didn't want to be a spoil sport, so I went along. It was actually really great. We really were just taken on a tour of a local village. We got to see the inside of a home that people actually lived in, as well as ask all the questions we could. There were just a few staged events for us: First there was the men's welcome dance, which Blair and I participated in. Part of the dance is some kind of jumping competition, and I did well enough to get some positive comment. Go CrossFit. You indeed never can tell what challenge life throws you.
Then some of the men showed us how they made fire out of 2 bits of wood (cedar and sand paper tree). The first attempt failed, and they cut a new notch in the cedar, but even with that it was less than 5 minutes before they had a bit of kindling lit. The final event was the women's dance, which Marije and Danielle participated in. After a while Danielle joined in the repetitive chant, and got quite a funny/surprised look from the woman next to her.
Actually that was only the penultimate event. For the final one we were led into a large pen, the sides of which were completely covered in gift shops. The women bought some souvenirs, while I resisted the temptation to buy a small Masai spear (it even came apart for easy shipping), and declined offers to trade my watch for a Masai bracelet.
While our visit was a bit touristy, I do feel we got a real glimpse of life inside the village. If we had just wandered in without being guided, then we would have attracted much more attention and probably been kicked out. Some more random detail is that they have a large space in the center of town where they keep their 200 head of cattle. Inside each home there's a special room where they keep baby animals at night, because occasionally leopards do get into the village for an easy kill.
The car we did this all in was a Toyota (what else?) minivan, with a roof that could be raised. One day one of the roof supports broke in half, but Sammy had it fixed pretty quickly with a piece of the jack and some rubber tubing. My initial impression was that the car was a bit under-powered, but really it's just not geared to go up hills quickly. On our way back to Nairobi we came across a car that was stuck in a pool on the road. Some water had gotten into the engine, and it had a flat. On top of that the driver had left with the key, and the steering was locked to one side. Despite all this our van had no problem towing this car out of the water. It was full of women dressed up for the wedding they were going to, too.
After pulling them out, we continued on only to meet the driver, a mechanic, and a group of boys from a local village. The boys had come to help push the car out of the water. But with the key we turned around and pulled the car through the water in the direction it actually wanted to go. After a little fussing the mechanic declared the engine fine but the starter busted. So we towed the car a bit to get the engine running. Declaring we'd done all we could, we continued on.
Late that afternoon we were dropped off at Mt. Longonot Transit Hotel in Limuru, because we didn't want to go all the way to Nairobi and then back track. Here we had the best showers of our trip so far. The water pressure was good. The temperature was perfect. It was quite clean. It was also comfy and really quiet at night.
We found this safari company through Zipporah, who owns Sakani Camp where we stayed in Arusha. We really enjoyed the group and our guide. "Big" Sammy was passionate about the animals and about getting us the best view of them. He's also quite the story teller. If you want to do something similar, contact Bush and Beach Safaris (?) at email@example.com. The only thing I'd make sure of is that your group isn't going to be any bigger than 5 or so.
More working out... 9/3 (one day late) I did 50 partial range pull ups (jump up to tree limb, and then pull shoulder to the limb), 50 push ups, 50 sit ups, and 50 squats. 7:08, 4:29, 2:15, 1:06 for 14:58. One of the Masai guards watched me for most of it, and he asked if I was a football (soccer) player. To my surprise he has a hard time doing squats, which I always think of as something that people in Africa can do easily.