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Megan and I just got home from a four-day Safari in Kenya. We left our little home in Kakamega, Kenya and headed to Nairobi where we would embark on our journey. We met up with Moses, our tour guide, and headed off into the wild. Our trip included: Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru and Masai Mara.
The drive from Nairobi to Lake Naivasha is at the least thrilling and at the most down right scary. Winding down into the rift valley is a small two-lane highway that carries local traffic, semi trucks and the occasional mzungu (white people) filled safari vans. The lines in Kenyan roads tend to disappear every so often, giving way to close encounters with oncoming traffic. Even if the lines were present, dividing the jousting cars, it wouldn’t change much. When a semi is groaning under the weight of its load, or a tractor complete with a goat filled trailer is inching up and down the hills, traffic slows to a crawl; in which case it is every vehicle for himself. Drivers swerve into the other lane, playing chicken with the oncoming traffic. At the last moment, they always seem to make it back into their lane. It’s enough to make one’s blood feel like a gazelle being chased by a cheetah through their veins. But at the end of the day, as long as the destination is achieved, without death or serious injury, then it was worth the ride.
Nestled off of the Nukuru-Nairobi road, Lake Naivasha boasts many of Africa’s unique animals. Boat rides delve deep into hippo-infested waters, often passing half naked fisherman standing waist deep water casting their nets in hopes of bringing home some food. Sometimes the boat drivers get a little too close to the 2-ton hippos for their mzungu passengers liking. Our boat driver says that a hippo can easily flip a boat and thankfully maintained a comfortable distance for most of the ride.
Hippos were sunbathing on the banks of Lake Naivasha while the waterbuck and wildebeest looked on. The Lake is a serene oasis and a pleasant break from the dusty roads. We set out on those dusty roads again, after finishing at Naivasha to head to Lake Nakuru.
Over the last few years, the level of Lake Nakura has risen, submerging roads and even a few of the office buildings at the park entrance. A line of trees surrounds the lake itself; which give way to golden savannah grass. Monkeys hang from the trees while zebras graze along the road.
We entered the park and bumped along the dirt roads. Even the monkeys here are curious about mzungus. They came as close to the van as they dared, if only to get a peak at the funny white people, but the baboons shied away. While we were in Nakuru the animal population didn’t want too much to do with us, except the monkeys of course. At one point there was a lioness with cubs far up on a hill. However, they just lay lazily in the sun and wouldn’t move. Buffalo and wildebeest dotted the fields. Impalas danced across the fields majestic and free. An occasional flock of flamingos stood knee deep in ponds in search of an evening meal.
Half way through the park we rounded a bend and standing one hundred feet away was a rhino. Seeing a rhino in real life gives a little perspective. It is a massive beast that resembles a tank. I certainly would want to see him in the wrong mood.
As we were getting ready to leave the park we did happen upon a family of giraffes. Most of the animals we saw were pretty far away except for monkeys and baboons. Over all, Lake Nakuru was a beautiful. The scenery was gorgeous. We saw some beautiful amazing animals to boot!
After Nakuru we started down the road to Masai Mara. The road to Masai mara is bara bara mbaya sana (a very bad road). The Masai people have been pleading with the Kenyan government to pave the road but have had little success thus far. Moses our driver explained it as an African Massage. I don’t think any other description quite explains it. Try to imagine off-roading in a 1990 minivan. That is pretty much what if feels like. If there has been rain, which there had been the night before, the two-hour drive is traversed over washed out roads and through rivers. I have never had my brain more jostled by a drive.
Halfway through the drive, we hit a muddy patch of road and slid right off into a ditch. We were wondering how in the world we would get out of the ditch when a camouflage Land Rover pulled up. Ten Kenyans got out of it armed to the teeth. The rifles on their backs made us a little unsure of there intent. However, they quickly began smiling, laughing and taking pictures of the mzungus. It turned out that they were park rangers and pulled us out of the mud. They were extremely nice and wished us luck on our journey.
We finally pulled through a wooden gate and into a safari camp. As soon as we pilled out of the fan and stood on our wobbly legs, we could tell that the drive had been well worth it. The Manyatta Camp is beautiful. The main building is made of stone, with gigantic wooden pillars holding the thatched roof in place. A dinning area is set towards the back with about twenty tables. Just passed the dinning area a patio of stonework holds a fire pit, which is lit by Masai warriors every night.
The tents are of true safari fashion. The tents are made of heavy green fabric with a triangular top. A thatched roof sits above the tent and the back flap opens up to a private bathroom with HOT water and a toilet with a seat!!! I can’t imagine a better setting for a safari!
We went for an evening game drive after a quick bite. Moses, our guide, said, “It is called a game drive because it is a game. We will either win or lose. Keep your eyes open so that we can with this game!” Minutes into the park we got an up-close view of giraffes, zebras and wildebeest. Moses’ radio began to emit a crunching sound as a message came through.
Moses said, “Cheetahs have been spotted across the park a few kilometers away, should we go?” Everyone shouted in unison, “twende, twende! Go, go!” So we bumped around over the hills to see the cheetahs and oh was it worth it! It seemed like all the safari trucks in the whole park were gathered around one spot to see.
On top of a little round mound were a momma cheetah and her cub. IT WAS AMAZING!! There we were, 20 feet from wild cheetahs! It was sensational.
After leaving there we happened upon a small heard of elephants. African elephants have ears in the shape of Africa! There were several baby elephants nursing and playing together. The heard passed right in front of our van. Two of the bigger elephants started pushing each other with their trunks and grinding their tusks together. It was like being in a national geographic film. The radio cracked again and Moses exclaimed, “Lions have been spotted!” Off we went again.
As it turned out, it wasn’t a single lion. It was an entire pride of lions! There were baby lions, lionesses and two full-grown male lions. Everyone said that we would be lucky to see one lion, let alone twenty! The lions were beautiful. We were able to get within 10 feet of the papa lion who still had his dinner between is front paws. This was one of my favorite moments of our trip. To see a lion in the wild was, well, wild.
The terrain in Masai Mara is like no other place I have been. Some areas of the park have rolling hills. Some parts have trees. Large areas of the park are flat and covered in savannah grass. Honestly it is a place that you have to go to experience its the beauty. The scenery alone was worth the journey into the park.
The next day we saw hippos, crocodiles as well as more elephants, giraffes and zebras. Impalas are such graceful animals. We watched them outrun cheetahs! I can’t say that I can ever get enough of seeing such amazing animals!
We headed far into the park to catch a glimpse of the elusive leopard. We saw him just as he was coming down from a tree he had been perched in. He walked gracefully in front of our van and off into the grass. I don’t think I have ever seen a more majestic animal. He was so muscular and powerful. I think I would rather face a lion than a leopard.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch under a classic flat top African tree. It was seriously a magical moment, sitting in the grass thinking about all the animals we had seen.
After we got home the second day in Masai Mara I went on a cultural safari. “Jack,” the son of a local Masai elder, came and walked me into his village. The Masai have not broken their traditions to accept western culture. They still live off of the cattle and goats they raise. They drain blood from the cow’s neck without killing it and mix it with goat’s milk. When the time comes, they kill the cattle for meat. They only eat the meat they raise; they don’t eat wild game. They are nomads and migrate to where the grass is good for their animals.
One of the girls that came to the village with me said, “Are the Masai afraid of lions?” Jack just laughed and said, “No, the lions are afraid of the Masai.” He said that the only animals they are afraid of are the elephants. He said that the elephants come and attack their villages and they drive them away with bow and arrows and spears. The men make their shoes from old tires and they were the same pair of shoes their whole life. Jack, who is around 26, said he made his shoes when he was 13 and they are still going strong! The Masai amaze me for this reason, if the rest of the world had a major apocalypse the Masai would continue like nothing ever happened. They would just continue the traditions that they have been observing for hundreds of years.
Masai Mara was absolutely the best part of our trip. I highly recommend it to everyone. The drive there just adds to the adventure of it!
I just want to give a shout out to our driver Moses. He was so amazing and made our Safari very special. He was always attentive to the radio to make sure we got to see all of the animals that there were to see. A friend recommended the tour site we went through. We trusted them a lot and after the trip was done, I can say I highly, highly recommend them.
If you are at all contemplating a trip to Africa, come to Kenya and hire Bongo Safaris! Make sure that your trip includes the Masai Mara!
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