Day 11- Masai Mara

We heard plenty of hyenas in the night, not very far from where our tents were, but we were also in an enclosed area with 4 or 5 camp dogs to keep us safe. They all looked a bit like a golden retriever with something else mixed in. All were very sweet and were even polite when they begged for food- from a respectable 3 feet away.

It also rained a bit in the night, pretty hard actually. The tents held up well and no leakage, so it was a pretty good test of them! It started raining again, which worried me a bit because if it rains, all the animals hide….

I was feeling a bit better this morning- the cipro was starting to take effect. I wasn’t going to chance it however, so i just had toast with peanut butter and bananas, while the others got eggs and sausage with fruit.

We had to pack everything up (Moses did most of the camping supplies) and hop on the truck for our first game drive (with this group). We were headed to the mara, about 30 or so minutes from the campsite, on the bad roads though, so it is probably more like 10 miles!

Mat did some briefing and discussed some of the animals we might see. He said our truck weighs 6 tons- which iit is a monster of a beast, bigger than a garbage truck- and he said an elephant weighs about the same?! Holy crap. Plus he said the elephants since the 60’s have started getting smaller- and evolutionary adaptation for their shrinking world…he said they used to weigh in at 10- 12 typically. I can’t even imagine how big that must be as we have been very close to bull elephants and they are giant…nearly 2 times that size would be amazing and truly unbelievable.

At the gate, there are a bunch of very persistent Masai ladies selling bracelets and goods. They really don’t like to take no for an answer either. I don’t think anyone really gets away not buying anything. I somehow got out to go to the bathroom when there weren’t really any ladies near the door- they had followed others off- but then one lady jumped in front of me and started trying to get me to buy. I was on a mission and although I didn’t need to go that bad, I did the “pee pee” dance and she laughed and waved me on. You’re welcome for that gem of a tip if you need to get away from persistent vendors in foreign lands 😉

First thing we saw were pumba and zebra- and also a topi, a different kind of antelope we’d never seen. They are pretty but look a bit more like brown wildebeest with grayish stains on it’s forelegs and hind quarters, like it laid in gray paint.

We saw a second kind of antelope we’d never seen as well called the Koke’s hardabeest- I thought we’d seen them all…although I think there are 79 different kinds so maybe not 😉

Mat is really into birds so we get every bird pointed out to us too. It is funny because he will say, “Coming up on the right we have…” like when the pilot on a plane tells you what mountain or such you’re flying over. It always seems like he’s going to point out a landmark or building or something (obviously not a building in the mara) but it is always a bird. I am not sure why but I just never expect it and then have to readjust my focus to the trees or sky.

We came across a lilac breasted roller, which has to be one of the prettiest birds ever. It’s beautiful pastel rainbow colors, almost unbelievable really. We learned from Harbil at the museum that this is the official bird of Kenya as well.

One of our main goals of this game drive was to see the great wildebeest migration where MILLIONS of wildebeest all follow the rains and in a long line, walk from here to Tanzania and back. If you have ever seen on the nature programs, the wildebeest trying to cross the river as they get picked off by crocodiles, it is extremely likely it’s here. Actually, I recognized one of the bluffs/ typical crossing areas that we have seen on tv.

So wildebeest aren’t that bright- but they can do some amazing things. They pretty much do what the one in front does, so if one runs, the rest will start. If that ones stops so do the others. We watched a line of them traipsing across a hill doing this, like clockwork. 

So despite that, they can sense the rains from more than 60km away. It is still unknown how they do this, but they know where to go…and they know how because each has a gland in their hooves, that leaves a scent on the ground for others down the line to follow. Nature is really amazing sometimes, and the fact that so much of it is still a mystery to us makes it even more awe inspiring!

As we proceeded further, everywhere we looked there were black spots, groups, dots- all wildebeest. There were tens of thousands all hanging around waiting to decide when to cross the river. 

I really wish we got to see this aspect of it, but people wait for hours- sometimes all day- just to wait and watch and hope they do. I don’t have the patience for that- and certainly on this trip, we’d not do that…but I wouldn’t want to just sit and “waste” a day hoping for lightning to strike…though I am sure it is a true spectacle if you do wait.

Up a ways from this bluff, we found some crocs waiting in anticipation! The one was about 12ft long for sure, the other much smaller…and where there is one, there are always a few more.

Around the bend were some hippos, one was out of the river walking along the rocks, but most were huddled together blowing bubbles and splashing- and one went swimming off, slowly disappearing below the surface.

I was really excited to see banded mongoose, which are northern Africa’s meerkat. I love meerkats and we never did see them on our last trip- and they don’t like around here, so we wouldn’t again…but the mongoose are similar (though bigger) and will stand up on their hind legs to get a better look. We saw a few groups of them run and stop, stand up to check us out and then scamper off again. They make me laugh- they are too cute.

We saw some cars stopped ahead and realized there were 3 lions in the brush a ways off the road. You could see them although it was a bit hard as they were a tad too far for pics and trying to hide. Everyone was very excited at their first lion spotting- but we wished it was a little closer for everyone…as we are jaded with our past experiences! Everyone was pretty excited and it was a good find indeed.

A short drive later, we spotted elephants! A whole herd were making their way across the grassland, headed our way! We quickly maneuvered our truck to be right were they were headed and sure enough they ended up walking right by us! It was a group of about a dozen with some really cute little babies thrown in. The herds are lead by the eldest female, the one who has learned the most- usually the biggest. It looked like the one in front was not the largest female, but she was certainly in the lead and when she paused they all stopped…so maybe she’s just a little smaller or took over for the matriarch if she passed.

Elephants are pretty amazing and they have a culture. Each herd knows different things and passes them along down the line. This was shown when a young male elephant who lived in an area where they elephants ate bitter aloe- something other elephants left alone. 

When he got to his new home he started eating the aloe in the area- and the other elephants watched. Within a few months, he’d taught the other elephants to eat aloe- and from then on this was a thing that herd did! They remember everything and when a matriarch dies, it is really devastating- especially if there are only young ones left. They don’t know all the information they need to survive and their behavior actually changes too- they lose typical elephant social skills that take time to learn…I guess think, Lord of the Flies. What would happen if teens were in charge?

If you are interested in a great book about elephants and conservation, read Anthony Lawrence’s, The Elephant Whisperer. It is a great insight into the plight of the animals here not just elephants) as well as a really interesting, first person look at elephant behavior over many decades.

As the elephants walked off, a few of us had to go to the bathroom. There was absolutely no brush in the area, so it was boys to the front of the truck and girls to the back…

I made sure I went last because I didn’t know what was going to happen…It was all liquid of course but when I saw what came out I was shocked. It was, no joke, fluorescent green…like toxic slime in a movie green…

Poor Alma had struggled to actually go despite needing to so she came back for a second try- and I warned her it wasn’t pretty. The look on her face…and I just said, “WTF is THAT”?! She looked so concerned and frightened, frankly as she asked, “What did you eat”?? I had only eaten rice, but at the time I had forgotten about the bright blue Power Aid drink I had gotten to keep from getting dehydrated…I guess what would have been yellow otherwise, mixed with bright, artificial blue, makes bright freaking green that will make you exclaim out loud! 

I feel bad for anyone trying to figure out what the heck happened should they come upon it later…

We saw plenty of giraffe, a few off in the distance and one pretty close to the car. She was a bit shy but we got some good pictures before she slunk back off into the brush. You’d be amazed how they can hide despite being so large.

Some of the birds we saw were ostrich, stork and the lappet and white backed vultures- which are very large. We saw a couple of the white backed tending to their nest. I was wondering why vultures had no feathers on their head and it’s because they reach their heads into carrion and would get the feathers all bloody and gross if they had them- so evolution has made them bald! Pretty clever.

We suddenly saw some trucks parked around a tree and came across FIVE cheetah males snoozing under it! These are notorious in the area for banding together- which is unusual for so many- to be able to take down bigger game, like zebra, when normally they only take on a smaller gazelle! This was the famous five!?

They had clearly eaten something very recently as they rolled over and showed their round, silky white lumps in their bellies. One had his head propped against the other and the other 3 were all sprawled in different directions. Actually, it was undetermined how many were there- as some people could not see the 5th…but there were definitely 5 and eventually the matter was settled when all were able to understand the configuration of spots.

So all big cats can retract their claws, except cheetah. They use the claws to help propel themselves along as they run; it gives them traction. Also cheetahs don’t have a kill bite like a lion or many other big cats- they must suffocate their prey by hanging onto them and crushing the animals’ windpipe. They are also not known to be a threat to people- they are too “wimpy” to bother…they are just fast and take on the smaller animals- except these 5. Maybe you don’t want to test that theory and run across them in a dark alley 😉

As we’re finishing up and heading back I see a lilac breasted roller on the back of a zebra! The crazy contrast of pastel rainbow and then black and white swirl was just too much and I shouted out, “Stop! stop! Lilac breasted roller on a zebra”! Mat was like, NO, definitely not…as in his entire life he’s never seen such a thing. Add too that, behind that zebra was an egret sitting on a zebra- also another first. Normally these birds don’t hang with zebras at all…so Mat was totally floored, especially that I had correctly identified it because he couldn’t believe his eyes. I think we got some cool pics of it, but our stopping made the zebras move back further- and shortly the roller flew off. Mat just shook his head and couldn’t believe it even after seeing!

On the way home we were stopping at a Masai village (boma) to visit. This is really fun and I could do it all the time. We do pay to enter- the equivalent of about $10 USD, which isn’t much and totally worth it. 

One of the guys met us and the event started with a tribal dance- which was a bit different than we’d gotten before. They invited all the guys to join. Enzo was a bit shy but Bryan was thrilled to join and even got one of the “skull basher” clubs they have (remember, they are known as warriors) and was jumping and dancing around.

They then invited everyone to join in and I got Jillian to do it with me, although she was embarrassed. I told her she will never do anything like this again and she will look back on it and be glad she joined. Maybe she wanted to punch me, but she did it and smiled 🙂

We went into the village and I heard another dance starting- this meant another tour group showed up and there was a “traffic jam” at the village. Of course this was the large group of Chinese tourists, who even annoyed the Masai. It is unfortunate but they really are like a plague when they come in- they land, decimate everything in their path and then they’re gone…

Again, I have nothing against people of ANY kind, but the Chinese have given themselves a terrible reputation- around the world- for being difficult, careless and annoying to the locals. I am not sure if you remember, but in Borneo, the guides were so frustrated because they constantly touch and stand on the coral, which totally kills it. Either they don’t understand, or they don’t care…but they are not well liked anywhere we have been thus far.

In this village there are 63 people total, about 36 of them are kids. The guy doing the tour was the son of the chief and had a wife and 2 kids…he noted that hopefully next year he’d be able to have another wife. This is because it’s based on wealth essentially- and the dowry is hefty: 10 cows, 5 sheep, 5 goats and 10 Masai blankets. The dowry is the same no matter who the woman is, no matter her status or beauty, which is kind of nice.

This village was made of three families of the chief and his 2 brothers, which was exactly as the last one, so maybe this is pretty common?

At this point they broke us off into smaller groups to show us the houses they had. The houses are made by the women and typically take about 3 months to construct. They pile sticks and make a lathe like series of columns and then fill in the gaps with cow dung. Yep, poop homes!

The kid in charge of our group started to take us into a house and upon opening the door, smoke poured out. He noted he thought it was too smoky for us because they’d just started the fire. I figured maybe we could still give it a try and I said I would test it out. I took one step inside and one breath and it was overwhelming. I really hope there was no one inside?!

We tried a different house and a little kid came out so we could go in.These houses were square though as opposed to round and were segmented more and had “rooms”- and they are SO dark. I could not believe it, especially if she was just hanging out.

We sat around the pole that holds the roof up. Apparently the houses only last 6-8 years because the termites attack the wood pole that holds it up, and then they have to start over. There was a fire area with some pots around it; some utensils hanging in a little shelf carved out of the mud/ dung wall. To my direct right was the storage room, which was basically a small alcove where they kept wood and some other supplies. At about 2 o’clock to me, was a small offshoot “room” which acted as a bedroom. Basically this is an area just about big enough to walk out of the main circle and onto a shelf/ bed. I could not see what the beds were here, but at the other boma, they were made of hide, suspended, much like a taught hammock.

Opposite that on the other side of the fire was the other “bedroom” and then we’re back to the hallway that gets us into the main area- which couldn’t have been more than 7-8ft wide total. So the entire thing from the outside is about 12 x 12- and SIX people live in that one…I am sure more in others.

Because of the traffic jam with the Chinese group, they’d gotten a bit out of sync and we walked out to the traditional women’s’ welcome which was them singing and swinging their arms, like if they were holding each others hands, but not, in unison. Ken asked if we wanted to watch this, as they had intended to do a separate one for each…but we were fine with jumping in. 

Some of the Chinese ladies had jumped in and were having fun, so I went and joined too. I was out of sync I am pretty sure- and I knew none of the words- but it was still fun. Most of the time it seems the girls talk about my tattoos in between singing…

Next we were going to watch how quickly the men could make fire- and no joke it took less than 30 seconds, even though it had started raining. It was only light at first, but was starting to get harder. Some of the Chinese group started to splinter off and get right in front of us trying to film it so they could…this is one of the reasons they are not well liked- lack of courtesy. We all had plenty of room to see and films and this guy got down and squatted and got right in there. One of the Masai tried to redirect the guy back to his other group but he wouldn’t go and just kept filming- so we just pushed our way around him…this is very common.

In the village, kids, cows and goats were running around, along with a bunch of children. Janet and Dave were smart and brought about 50 pens which they gave to the kids. It is a common thought that kids in impoverished areas really like pens, and I am sure they do in many places…but I remember Tony Slater in his book, Shave My Spider, went to Mongolia and tried to give some kids pens and they said, thanks we have some”.

These kids seemed pretty happy for the pens though so that’s good. I would suggest some little notepads too if you can fit them, so they have something to draw on, because paper is not quite easy to come by either, though maybe they have it at school? 

The funds collected to enter the villages gets spread among the community to do things like build schools, buy books and so on- so it is definitely going to help the families find an educated path. I am not sure exactly how it all gets divided and whether each boma keeps the funds from theirs and that’s how it works, or whether the pool and or tax themselves to do this…

It had started to rain relatively hard by now so we were heading to their thatched hut gathering area, aka marketplace. We were to check out their goods and maybe buy something. Unfortunately at the prices of before, this would be prohibitive- and when I asked, at first I though the girl meant $80. When Bryan said that was reasonable I realized she meant $8. Game on! Had to get some stuff for friends taking care of our animals.

Again I won’t say what we picked because I want it to be a surprise for them, but it was a good deal and I would have just got a handful more if I had room! I found a really nice Masai necklace that was different and better quality/ state than the one i’d gotten prior, so I got this too. It’s pretty orange and blue beads wrapped around a tube with some beads hanging in a waterfall from the center. Even if it just hangs on the wall, it is really cool…I really like both, but the other was slightly rusted as they used steel wire and it’d been left out…

Now the tour was over and they walked us back to our campsite, which was only a few minutes down the road. Dinner was waiting for us when we got back. I can’t remember what it was but I am certain I only had a rice or maybe some pasts and nothing on it. 

It had been a long day so I was naturally ready for bed…


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