Exploring the Masai Mara

Day one of our African adventure began at 3:45am when we arrived at Nairobi Airport after 22 hours of travel from Morocco. We were certainly relieved to see our tour company waiting for us and it wasn’t long before we were tucked into bed catching up on sleep. When we did rise later in the day we decided to pay a visit to the Langata Giraffe Centre run by the African fund for Endangered Wildlife. Once there a guide informed us about the 3 different sub-species of giraffe found in Kenya, focusing mainly on the Rothschild variety that live at the centre. She also taught us about their exceptionally long tongues and necks giving us the opportunity to hold a variety of bones including some vertebrae from the neck. It was here that we learnt giraffes only have 7 cervical vertebrae just like humans. We were then allowed to hand feed these amazing creatures from a raised platform and pat their heads all while trying to avoid a lick from that long sticky tongue. We were also given the opportunity to put some food pellets between our teeth and kiss the giraffes but we politely declined, maybe another time.

The following day was spent traveling from Nairobi through the Great Rift Valley to the Masai Mara Reserve. The closer we got to the reserve the rougher the roads became slowing us down but we eventually made it to our campsite just before sunset. While the majority of our time in Africa will be spent sleeping in our tent the Masai Mara campsite consisted of permanent tents set up on foundations with thatched roofs to keep them dry. The other bonus is that once inside the tent there were actual beds, very luxurious and we were thankful as we were staying there for 5 nights.

The Masai Mara is the most popular wildlife park in Kenya and its easy to see why. It’s the classic Savannah setting that you see in almost every David Attenborough documentary complete with an abundance of wildlife. We spent all day Friday on a game drive and saw a wide variety of animals including wildebeest, zebras, hippopotamus, baboons, mongoose, warthogs, gazelles and antelope. We also saw a large group of giraffes, too many to count and every time we tried another would suddenly pop it’s head out of the tree tops leaving us unsure of how many were actually in there.

People venture to Kenya to see the “Big Five” (elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard and lion) so we finished our first day happy as we had seen 3 of these including some young ones only a few months old. Our favorite was a family of lions that we passed twice in the day. The first time we saw them they had just eaten so they were sleeping under a tree and it was difficult to see them but the when we came back they had moved closer to the road (most of them still sleeping) but we could see them really well.

That afternoon we paid a visit to the local Masai Mara village. The Masai are a very well known Kenyan tribe that have managed to avoid mainstream development and instead spend their time maintaining their large cattle herds. The woman wear large beaded necklaces the size of plates and the men a distinctive red checked blanket. The tribe is also well known for their ritual of drinking milk mixed with fermented cows blood. The Masai men often dance at ceremonies in which they jump abnormally high on the spot and they performed this for for us before asking the other men including Matt to join in. They also showed Matt how to start fire with only wood similar to how the Australian Aborigines do.

After the demonstration they explained the Masai warrior process where at age 15 boys undergo a circumcision ceremony in front of the tribe before receiving their first cow and heading into the wilderness to live for roughly 5 years. During this time they practice hunting with the other boys before eventually spearing a lion and removing one of its teeth which they then wear around their neck. After this they may return to the village to marry. One warrior showed us into his house which was roughly 4m x 5m made of straw, mud and cow manure There was barely enough room for him and the two of us but as he explained he lives there with his wife and 2 children. His calf also sleeps in there at night to keep warm. The house was dark and small inside with one tiny window but he seemed happy there as did his children who we later met. He explained that he hopes to marry a second wife soon and add an extension to the house but he can’t do that until he gains another 10 cows (at the moment he only owns 4).

We really enjoyed the village visit, it was really fascinating to see such a different way of living to ours.   The Masai people are very friendly and happy even though they live such simple lives. Most of them stick to the traditional ways although some do own mobile phones (we are still trying to figure out where they charge them) which they use to conduct business in the tourism industry acting as guides or camp guards. It was one of these Masai warriors that we hired to take us onto the reserve the following day as our official African tour wasn’t due to begin for another two days.

David as he called himself collected us from camp at dawn on Saturday in a Range Rover that would most definitely fail its safety certificate. He took us deep into the reserve getting us much closer to the animals then the day before which resulted in great pictures. A real highlight of the drive was lion brothers who had a similarity to Mufasa and Scar from the Lion King. They had just had breakfast and were out on a morning walk. They eventually acknowledged each other with a nuzzle before lying down for a stretch and then a nap. We continued driving and later in the day got right in amongst a family of elephants and even saw a cheetah!

Our tour group arrived from Nairobi that night and the following morning we went back out for a final day of animal spotting. The Masai Mara has the highest Lion population in Kenya and once again these majestic animals didn’t disappoint. A pride of lions had just killed a Zebra and were tucking in for breakfast. Such an amazing sight! We also struck gold in the afternoon when we saw a group of 5 fully grown males lying in the shade. This is fairly rare as adult males can only stay in the same pride if they are brothers. Even Fathers evict their sons from the group when they reach 4 or 5 years old as they are seen as a threat.

We’ve had a great few days in Masai even though we couldn’t find a leopard (not from lack of trying). Known to be elusive and difficult to spot we weren’t expecting to find one so soon in our adventure so we aren’t too disappointed. Tomorrow we leave for the Ugandan border and after that we still have 30+ days left in Africa, plenty of time to find a leopard. Until next time, Hakuna Matata!

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