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Masai Mara safari

Written on: Monday March 9th, 2009

It had been roughly six years since I was last on an African safari.  As departure from Nairobi approached I found myself significantly less interested than I remembered being all those years ago.  Why do I feel differently?  Is it because I am alone this time?  Hmmm...guess we'll see what happens. 

Seven other tourists sat behind me in the pop-up-top 4x4 vehicle as we left Nairobi en route for the Great Rift Valley.  Sitting to my right, driving the buggy, was George, a Kenyan from the Lake Victoria area who had been working as a guide for Big Time Safaris for over eight years.  We quickly left the clamour of the city behind us and entered the dry, dusty countryside, where animals abounded, but not of the variety that we had come to see.  Heaps of sheep, heards of cattle and the largest donkey population in Africa grazed along the roadside as we made our way deeper into rural Kenya.  

Our first stop was at a viewing point overlooking the Rift Valley.  Although a worthy stop, the constant peddling from local vendors took its toll on the group as a whole, and we anxiously continued on our way.  A few hours later we disembarked at a similar waypoint for lunch.  An extraordinary amount of time was spent waiting to get back on the road, in an apparant effort to give the local craft merchants a chance to work their magic.  Eventually we left, sans the trinkets we were so agressively sought after to purchase.  Finally we made it to the Mara.  Our permanent tented camp looked nice enough, and we quickly dropped off our bags, eager to begin our first game drive before sunset.

The excitement began immediately upon entering the park.  Zebras, wildebeest, gazelle, impala and giraffe were easily spotted and happily photographed within minutes of being in the Mara.  Continuing further into the bush we came across my favorite animal: the cheetah!  In fact, there were three of them...a mother with two one year old cubs.  They played and rested and lazily checked the area for prey, but didn't seem overly interested in showing off their famous 70mph overland sprinting ability.  Continuing the circuit we came across a couple lionesses just starting to come to life after a day spent in obvious slumber beneath the shade of an acasia tree.  Yes, the multitude of species viewed in just a couple short hours quickly brought the excitement back and made me happy to once again be on safari.

Evening in the camp was a chance to meet the other travellers over dinner and a beer.  There was the athletic, Swedish couple who opted to stay at the more luxurious Sopa lodge, two wonderful German co-workers who were in the area on business, an Italian currently living in Germany who turned out to be my tent mate, and two French ladies who, sadly, could only communicate via Isa, as French was the only language they spoke.  But we all got on well enough and reminisced about our first day together on safari.

The next morning we departed for a full day in the bush.  The opening attraction once again featured our cheetah family, as they had made a kill and were enjoying their breakfast.  We watched them devour the gazelle before retiring to what remained of a termite mound, sitting just high enough above the savannah to keep an eye out for other unfortunate grazers who may come across their path.   Soon after, the radio blared and we sped across the acres to a rocky outcropping where our first (and only) leopard was seen perched high atop his lookout.  Although the park had many leopards, they were quite independent and elusive, so seeing this one was a welcomed treat!  The morning progressed and the animal sightings continued.  Cape buffalo, elephants, warthogs, ostriches, topi, hartbeest, secretary birds, vultures, cranes, dik dik and waterbuck were all seen at close range.  George had a keen eye and was a good driver, but even despite his skill behind the wheel we managed to get a flat tire.  No worries, as he changed it we were allowed a chance to stroll around the grounds a bit, always being carefull not to stray too far from the safety of the jeep.  As the vast majority of the morning was spent watching large cat species hunt and eat prey, we showed them ample respect.  The tire was fixed and we ventured further, eventually arriving at the Kenyan/Tanzanian border, where we were able to officially cross into Tanzania and step foot in the Serengeti. 

When lunch time arrived we opened our boxed lunches for a picnic amongst a troop of wiley monkeys.  They were quick and managed to make off with several items that were meant for the stomachs of my fellows safari mates.  Upon stuffing our bellies with chicken and fruit, we set our sights on the hippo hangout.  This particular section of the Mara River was home to approximately 70 hippos, all wading in the muddy waters until the sun would go down.  As is so often the case, crocodiles, too, were present in these waters, although most eluded our eyes.  A three hour journey back to camp gave ample time to relax and check out more wildlife, including our first hyena sighting!  The Masai burned the dried grasses at this time of the year in anticipation of the coming annual rains.  The smoke from the fires added an irie mystique to this already beautiful and exotic place.

Another dinner and fun evening ensued as we were getting to know each other better.  Drinks and laughs were shared while comparing photographs of the day's adventures.  There was even a girl in camp from Wyoming, who managed to kick my ass in a game of rumy 500.  But by night's end I was toasting beers with my new German friends, thoughts already brewing for a reunion in Deutschland as I passed through Europe this summer.

Our final morning in the Mara was highlighted by witnessing a lion hunt.  Two sisters stalked a pack of warthogs in the distance.  As they got closer, they separated, with one lion hiding downwind beneath some scrub, while the other came around an outcropping toward the hogs.  It was perfectly devised as lion #1 expertly hearded the prey toward the waiting jaws of lion #2.  The chase began and the entire scene unfolded right in front of our jeep!  Lion #2 sprung from her hideout and surprised the warthogs, which abruptly changed direction.  She sprinted and zeroed in on her target, and just as the kill was about to be made, the hog dived into a borrow, narrowly escaping a gruesome death right before our very eyes!  Damn!  Oh, how I wanted to see the kill!  Oh well...sometimes the fun is only in the hunt...I guess this is one of those times.

The missed lion kill was not the only frustration of the day.  My attempt to geocache in Kenya had proven extremely difficult.  In Nairobi, there were only two caches in the entire city, mostly do to the fact that it was a dangerous city to be wandering about by yourself.  So when I identified three caches that existed in the Mara, I was hoping to bag at least one of them.  As it turned out, one was too far away.  The second got under my skin a bit:  it was 1km away from our lunch location the day before.  But, for whatever reason, we were not allowed to go beyond the picnic spot, and consequently came up a bit short on the find.  The third one was near camp; in fact, I tried to bag it the evening before, but we arried back from safari too late.  After walking 500m through the bush at dusk I had the strange sensation that I wasn't alone, and quickly made it back to camp.  But today was supposed to be different.  I shared my private agenda with my German friends, who took a keen and immediate interest in the activity.  So, with their excitement and encouragement, the three of us decided to make a quick attempt to find the cache: after all, it was in an amazingly beautiful location and I was salivating over FTF honors.  We hiked across the land and up the hill to ground zero, but found nothing.  We looked throughout a 50m radius but came up empty.  Upon our return the only thing we had to show for our effort was a rather large collection of scratches from the thorn trees and a pissed off group of safari mates, as the hike and search took about 30 minutes longer than anticipated.  Sorry guys!  But like the lions, at least we tried...hopefully our results in Nukuru would yield more positive results.


From Mom on Mar 24th, 2009

Boy, does this bring back memories. I would give anything to be with you right now. I'm wondering if the Sopa Lodge your friends went to was the same one we stayed at. If it was, I'm sure they enjoyed themselves because it was beautiful. Enjoy the rest of your time in Africa and stay safe. I'll be looking forward to the next "installment" of African adventures. Love you.

From Angie on Apr 8th, 2009

Hello Allan, Odingo George and Charles, Happy New Year to you all too! Thank you for making my holidays in East Africa such a memorable one. Adeline,Alvin and myself really enjoyed ourselves. Especially to Big Time Safari limited www.bigtimesafaris.co.ke and Big Time safaris Camp in Masai Mara National Park - We really enjoyed our Safari and the 3 game drives that we did each day with George our guide . We saw lots of animals like Zebra, Wildebeest, Gazelle, Topi, Dik-dik, Elephant, Lion, Hippo, Impala, Buffalo, Warthog, Hyena, Serval Cat, Cheetah and not forgetting my favorite Giraffe! Other than animals, we also spotted various birds and beautiful plants and trees. George Odingo is a great Safari guide as you did say and indeed he knows what he is doing, very respect full and client oriented, patient and steady driver guide; good English like that of the Britons my advise to Big time safaris director is to maintain George - Our accommodation at Big Time Camp was excellent with clean beds, toilets and beautiful surroundings. The dining hall was lovely and the food we had was fantastic. I still miss the Kenyan potatoes - be it fried potatoes or boiled potatoes. The staff at the camp was helpful and friendly too. - The Masai village was very interesting too. From: Angie Yap Singapore

From isa on Jun 5th, 2009

Oh God, yes, we had a great time in Maasai Mara. But despite the magnificent animal wild life, my favorite experience was the unsuccessful cache-hunt. And of course the balmy evenings chatting with you.