Tuesday, February 26th, 2002

Masaii Mara, Kenya


Rain. Rain equalled doom! Rain meant the roads into the phenomenal land known as the Masaii Mara could be washed out, cancelling our plans to see some of Africa’s greatest wildlife. We arose early at Kericho, in hopes of beating the rain, and were on the road by 7:30am. The road started smooth and the sky looked clear. Of course this meant something would go wrong. Sure enough, after ten minutes on the road, the Ghetto bus had some issues with its engine. Its passengers ended up having to relocate to the Buzza truck, sitting, hanging, and squishing all of 32 people onto two short benches. The Buzza’s handmade window sign proclaiming “MARA or BUST” took on a literal meaning. Luckily, the rain held off and we succeeded in reaching the Mara. I'm so glad we made it because his is definately one my favorite place we've been while in Kenya.


Upon arrival, Brian Hartwick gave us his usual “this is what can kill you” talk, nonchalantly mentioning the lions that like to hide in the long grasses which surrounded our camp on all sides. He also introduced our red-garbed, spear toting Masaii askaris, who would protect us from the lions (and possibly scare us to death on our way to the bathroom at night). Despite these very real and present hazards, our excitement of exploring the Mara could not be quelled. We are camping inbetween a patch of trees in the middle of the savannah. We're not actually staying on the Masai Mara Game Reserve but we're staying just outside of it about 7km from the home of one of our staff, Kasoi (who can like immitate any animal call and actually make it sound like the animal he's immitating, there have been times where we're like is that a hyena or kosoi???). anyways, he set up the whole thing for us which was nice. but apparently it's easier to spot animals outside the reserve because the grass isn't as long and have we ever been spotting a ton of animals! the grass is still pretty long and it's so green here which is really unusual ... it's usually yellow in color but they've had lots of rain.


The Mara is beautiful! It’s located on the border of Kenya and Tanzania. It is a land of vast blue skies stretching over an endless, rolling, savannah dotted with acacia trees, with some hills/mountains in the background. Game drives galore, in the early morning and late afternoon, opened our eyes to an amazing display of nature’s spleandour. Our first game drive in the Mara departed at 6:30am. The rising sun streaked the sky with pink and orange. Within five minutes we spotted our first animals…lions!!!... not more than a few hundred yards from our camp. Two lionesses lounged in the grass about 20 feet from our truck and right in front of our truck was a male. He was so low to the ground you could barely see him, all i could see was a small bump of yellow. The only reason we knew he was there was that he rose his head when we stopped behind him. I now understand how these carnivores hide in the grass before pouncing on their prey! Later he got up and walked over to a bush nearby where another lioness was sitting in the shade. He was huge and his mane was really beautiful!


We've see lots of hyena's as well, close….I heard them laugh! :) they're actually a lot cuter than i thought they were, very furry looking. We found a den with cubs in it at one point. Their cubs look like little bears, very small and furry.


There's another type of giraffe here, the Masaii giraffe. It's pattern is different than the reticulated giraffe in that it's more abstract and kinda looks like leaves on its body whereas the reticulated has thin white lines between its dark red-brown patches.


On a couple game drives we've see cheetahs, always the same two, a mother and her cub, always really close too (about 20ft). the first time we saw them a jackal was near by and he was yipping away being kinda annoying to them I’m sure. They walked away after a while and the jackal followed them. The mother then crouched behind a bush in the pouncing position and in a while she leapt out from behind the bush and chased it, while her cub helped corner it a bit. It didn't look like she wanted to kill it though just tell it to get lost. It was still cool to see her run though! The jackal then came back for more ... heheheh We also saw another cheetah chase, this time towards Thomson’s gazelle. But once again it didn't look like she was trying to kill one, instead we think that it was a training chase where she was teaching her cub how to hunt. This was because her cub was standing upright in clear view for a long time before she ran and she was really far away from the gazelle, there's no way she'd have the stamina to keep the chase up. But it was neat to see the whole herd of gazelle run across the savannah with 2 cheetah's running after them. Wow are they ever fast! And they build up their speed so quickly too!


We saw tons of hippo's in the Mara River!!! :) They're enormous!!! They tend to spend their days in the river so that they don't overheat or get sunburned (they have no sweat glands). They spend their time in the water submerging themselves for about 2min at a time and them resurfacing. They make a big "air" noises as they resurface sort a similar to the sound that whales make when blowing air out of their blowholes. As they resurface their ears spin around really fast spraying water everywhere. At times they would get out of the water and waddle around a bit. There was one that was swinging/shaking its head to one side, I swear it looked like it was going to topple over!!! But it didn't of course. Their bodies look oversized for their already extremely large head. There was a little baby that came out of the water at one point and scurried along the bank really quickly after its mother. Very cute!


After one rainfall we saw an elephant giving itself a dust bath. It basically takes its trunk and sprays dust all over itself, it even got a huge chunk of grass on its back. It does this because its skin is sensitive to the sun so the dirt/dust protects it.


On another game drive we were trying to get back to camp for dinner but there were 3 lionesses sitting in the middle of the road creating a lion road block! We couldn't get our trucks through and even as we approached them slowly they wouldn't get up and move. It was pretty funny. We eventually ended up going back a longer way. They were like 5min away from camp though! Crazy! :)


Saw many other animals including gazelle (both Thompson’s and Grant’s), Oryx, elephants, jackals, hartebeests, wildabeasts, cape buffalo, baboons, hammercrops, impala, crocodile and zebra. 


The noises here at night are awesome!!! It's sorta like it was a Chololo, hearing the lions circling our camp and the hyenas calling out to one another at night. It’s awesome to listen too. The lions are the best, it's not a roar that we hear but a grunting sound that repeats like 4 or 5 times each time they do it. Last night it was especially loud, I swear it sounded like they were by our trucks or by the cooking area. It was around 4am when we first woke up and heard them (the night before it was 3:30). We knew they must've been really close because we could see the Askari's (armed guards) rushing towards the sound with their flashlights. One morning, after a night of hearing lions we went out on the morning game drive (there's one before breakfast and one before dinner each day for about 2.5-3 hours each) and all we had to do was drive out of camp and around the corner before we saw 2 male lions, probably the ones from the night before!


It’s neat to watch the Masaii walk through the land in their red clothes past all the animals. They’re definitely part of the land. The animals don't even take notice of them. This morning we watched a small group of Masaii children walking to school past a herd of zebra and 3 adult hyena's that we were watching. They were heading in the direction of a huge herd of elephant which was the area where we saw 3 lionesses roaming around the bushes. It's amazing to watch, because it's so normal to them, just another day with the game in the beautiful Mara.


Local Masaii men and women, along with their handiwork, created a market lane on the road leading out of camp. Their colourful red blankets wound like a red ribbon through the green grass. Friendly bartering took place over beaded jewellery, gourds, metalwork, weapons, and wooden carvings.


A boisterous CFSIA (Canadian field school in Africa) tradition, the “No Talent Show” was held. Long minutes of preparation were endured for this display of professor impersonations, juggle-whistling, imitations of animals, singing, music, Masaii traditional dancing, and some not so traditional dancing by the staff.


Most of us took the opportunity to visit a cultural village, or manyatta, where the Masaii lived. Upon arrival, we were invited to dance with the Masaii. It was a sight to see the Canadian students mixing with the colourfully dressed, gracefully moving Masaii. Later that same day, we visited Mara-Rianta Primary School. Here we were treated to an exhibition of dance on the field in front of the school. Girls and boys in costume formed geometric lines that criss-crossed, split and united.



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