In life there is safari-ing
21.12.2016 - 23.12.2016 80 °F
Start time 8am. I was the first of five to be picked up.
The night before had been spent with Peter and his family. Dinner was Ugali (a very dense bread made with maize flour and used in place of utensils to eat), spaghetti noodles, rice, cabbage, beans and stewed beef. Breakfast was milk-tea, toast, bananas and a fried egg.
The vehicle for this trip was a bona fide pop-top Land Cruiser. Old school. Not the preppy U.S. versions with low differentials, the one's you see in movies. Seven seats in back and a bench up front. This thing was amazing. Beat up and well used but I can't imagine better ride for the area. Which is why they use them of course. It was a beast. One section of the 5-6 hour trek to Mara consists of about 100kms of nothing but rocks and washboard and we were pulling 80 clicks an hour on it. As you can tell I was very impressed...lol
But I need to back up a bit. The next stop from Peter's house was an orphanage close to Naivasha to pick up a 19 year old Israeli girl by the name of Achinoam. Make sure you do the middle-east hawk-some-spit deal on the "ch". She had been volunteering there for about a month and with only a week or so to go was treating herself to a safari. She is of the Messianic Jew persuasion so we had some interesting talks about alcohol and drugs and Christianity/Judaism. For those unfamiliar a Messianic Jew believes both the old testament ways and accepts Jesus as the Messiah. Thus the Messianic.
After her stay here she will return home to fulfill her mandatory stint in the Israeli Army. Two years for girls, three years for boys.
Next were a Kenyan family consisting of what I assumed was a single mother, Agnes, and her two boys, Derek and Mark (23ish and 16). The safari was the boys' Christmas present. Agnes is a nurse working for an NGO based in Nairobi. Derek is a finance/economics major who already owns his own cab company with 7 cars, advancing to 9 in January. This was very opportune as Timothy (remember Timothy?) had written to ask me to help find him a job. I had told him I have no idea how to do that but I'll keep my eyes open. Then here's Derek who will need two new drivers at just about the time Tim finishes his classes. I gave the necessary contact info. I hope it works out.
Then it was off to the Mara.
On any journey of length in most countries I've been to it is customary to stop for breaks at either craft shops or roadside restaurants. We did both. I bought a couple souvenirs for folks at the first and while the prices were obviously outrageous I have to take comfort in the fact that I haggled enough to get the salesman to hide one of my purchases within another, pocket some money, and show the clerk that I was buying one item for 3500 while I was buying two. My guy clearly knew the prices were silly and we both won a small battle against the Man I think....lol
Lunch consisted of a buffet and was included in the safari cost. Chapati, rice, cabbage, beans, stewed beef, and potatoes. Sensing a trend here?
At this point I should name the price. Judging by the number of readers, which is very modest but still more people than I know, they might be looking for specifics. Unless you all are reading more than once...lol
Three days and two nights in Masai Mara, including getting there and back, all meals included, water and alcohol excluded, cost $450. It is customary, if you can, to tip the driver as well so keep this in mind. The $450 also includes the park entrance fee. This will be fully twice what Kenyans pay for the same service but what the hell. Mostly makes sense to me.
You will stay in very well appointed tents with affixed bathrooms which include a shower, toilet and sink. If you have paid for a private tent (which you have unless you are a group) make sure you argue for it when you get there or you'll be stuffed wherever they'd like to put you. Agnes did this for me as the host had originally put me with her boys to save a tent. I ended up with my own. Yay Agnes!
We arrived at the campsite around 5, took some tea and freshened up. You will be covered in dust from the trip. You and everything you own that is not cinched up so mind the electronics. Then it was off for our first game drive, a short stint before sundown.
We drove on to the Mara just in time for John (the driver, sorry, good man and turns out Peter's little brother) to get a tip on two cheetahs with fresh kills. They had nabbed two of the Maasai's goats and we watched them for a good time. Eventually the two got tired of guarding both against the buzzards and jackals and gave one up to the masses. This allowed them to fully enjoy the other at their leisure and allowed us some good photo ops. I also saw my first Wildebeest that night if I recall. Then there were the ever present giraffe (Masai Giraffe this time though, not Rothschild), buffalo, Thompson's gazelle, antelope, rats (I mean Zebras), and a faaaar away parade of elephants.
After returning to camp we had some buffet dinner; rice, cabbage, stewed beef...you get it. Don't get me wrong it's really good wholesome food and I've not tired of it yet. Later I broke out one of the bottles of whisky I had purchased along the way for Derek and myself, and John for that matter but he never did join us. We got to know each other and some of the other guests around a bonfire that night while a Maasai man cooked Nyama Choma for someone who had paid for it. I think it essentially means just "roast meat" but most often I think it's goat.
The stars there folks....just the stars. As soon as the electricity goes off in camp, around 10-11, the whole view-able galaxy just goes HELLLLOOOOO!
If I've ever seen that many stars I can't remember where it was or how I felt. It was just simply amazing to behold. I taught the bonfire group about Orion the first night and kept looking for the Southern Cross as we are below the equator but I couldn't find it for the trees. Derek is an amateur wannabe picture taker as well so we fiddled with my camera both nights trying to capture the majesty, to the amusement of the Maasai night guard out side our tents, but we fell grossly short. I could have looked all night but wake-up call was 6:30 so I tore myself away around 1am.
The next day will be spoken for mostly by pictures. It was a full day of driving around a very beautiful landscape. Constantly bumpy of course but you get used to it. I think the only lull between seeing anything came that afternoon for about an hour or two. Some dozed, some looked at previous pictures. The lethargy is immediately forgotten whenever the next elephant herd or lion is spotted. At one point before lunch Achinoam had to do some "toilet-bushing" at a hilltop viewpoint. John assured her it was okay and of course it turned out fine. The only reason I mention it is that we had not driven 20 yards from her chosen place of solitude when John spotted a lazing lioness in the brush. Based on the look on Achi's face the proximity added some perspective to her 19 year old life and her next Coke might taste just a bit sweeter...lol
After the Hippo pod, also called a bloat which seems very appropriate, we chased some buzzards out from beneath one of the lonely trees you see pictured and had our sack lunches; a bit of chicken, a tomato sandwich, a banana and a juice box. It was like reliving a school field trip but with things that can eat you. I quite liked it.
The highlight of the afternoon was when another driver spotted a leopard and radioed it out. According to John drivers can go months without seeing one. For me this sighting completed my Big 5 of Africa. I think I already said this but it's Buffalo, Elephant, Rhino, Leopard and Lion.
To put some extra luck sauce on an already pleased group Achinoam spotted another leopard on the way back to camp. It scarpered quickly and only herself and Agnes saw it but she managed a quick shot for proof juuuuust inside of frame. She was very proud of this ;-)
Once back in camp we decided as a group to take a side trip to the Maasai village next to us. I say trip but really it was like a 5 minute walk. This is an extra $20 per person paid directly to the Maasai and includes a dance performance, a chance to see them make fire with sticks, a look inside one of the cow-dung houses, the option to buy Masaai made wares and the option to sleep in the village that night. We all took advantage of everything but the last bit. We were greeted and led around by William, the Chief's son. I cannot remember his Maasai name as I didn't write it down. He speaks English very well but cannot read or write it (which I find very suspect because he was able to read "Ken Onion Design" on my pocket knife later..lol). He encouraged us to join in the dance and took pictures for us with our cameras. Picture a Maasai in full dress with two cameras around his neck and another in hand, switching off expertly to take appropriate shots. I think dude knows how to use every brand...lol We were split into two groups, whites and Kenyans, for reasons unknown and Ache and I were led to meet the Chief. Actually I don't know that he's the current chief as he is very old. He is the Grandfather or father of every member of the tribe that wasn't married in. The village consists of 200 people. That's a lot of doing. They are polygamists by culture and as far as I know wives are paid for but not chosen in most instances. Wives cost anywhere from 5-20 cows. The reason you see the Maasai jumping so much is that the highest jump receives a discount of some few cows on his next wife purchase. I was offered a wife of course and asked if I could at least shop around and William said "there is no shopping, all Maasai women are beautful no matter who you are given." I passed due to a shortage of cows on hand.
The Grandfather did not want his picture taken, especially while blessing a female so I put my camera down and just kept the shutter button pressed hoping for the best. I managed a few shots Maasai God's forgive ;-) Inside the homes it is VERY dark. Only the embers of a little cooking fire light the place. Here we were offered the chance to buy necklaces and bracelets and such and bartered a bit. I feel I got a good deal on my purchases. Once outside William asked "would you like now to do some more good trade?" I asked what he meant and he pointed to my pocket knife. "I very much like that." So long story less long, he ended up with my pocket knife and my newly purchased hat and I ended up with his Maasai warriors knife...lol I feel I got the better end of the deal with the story involved but he was very happy and everyone kept playing with the pocket knife. Sometimes goats get thorns in their hooves and he felt it will be a great tool to get them out.
Back in camp we had our meal and this time Achinoam joined us to try and capture the stars. I think she did better that we did and the look of awe and accomplishment on her face was heartwarming. Good to be young!
The next day began at 6am with an short, optional game drive. The Kenyan family opted to sleep in and Ache and I went out. We saw three more cheetahs but they were awfully fat so I think at least two were the same from the goat kill. Still no Black Rhino. Very elusive and shy and seems to be the hardest to find in my short experience. Missed one in Nakuru as well.
Then back to camp around 8:30 for some tea and off on the road again back to Nakuru.
It was a great experience and if I can give any suggestions to any of you thinking about it, three days seemed enough. Especially combined with the Nakuru Park the previous Monday. At least take the safaris in chunks maybe and not for like 7 days straight. It's good to get the dust off and not be in a lurching, though wonderfully adapted, Land Cruiser for a good length of time. And definitely try to stay away from the pop-top vans for a long safari. Day trips are fine but I'm very glad to have had the Cruiser.
And yes there were plenty of families with young children on up. I kept picturing what Toby's face or Meredith's face would look like if they saw those cheetah's diggin' on some goat. Or at being a couple meters away from a Leopard or Lion in their natural environments. Judging by the kiddos I did see it might be as good a thing to witness as the wildlife :-)
Well, you have all been very patient in reading this if you got through it so I'll leave the next post for tomorrow or the next day.
Cheers and love,