Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Maasai Mara: Part 1

As I was traveling to Kenya, Joe confirmed that we would be able to take a long weekend trip to the Maasai Mara, which is essentially the Kenyan portion of the Serengeti. He refused to tell me where we were staying but would get all giggly and excited whenever I asked, so I knew it would be nice. We left early on a Friday morning for the 4+ hour drive. It didn’t help that we had a 30-minute pit stop when Philip’s car overheated at the top of a big hill. The last 40 km were on a very bumpy, poorly maintained road, and I was keen to get there. The lodge kept calling Philip to see where we were, so I figured we’d have a nice welcome.


Little did I know that we would be greeted by a bunch of whooping, dancing Maasai warriors who danced and chanted us to the main building of the Ngerende Island Lodge where we were then treated to a traditional jumping contest. I live for stuff like this, but I think Joe was a little embarrassed.


Side note: I had to turn off my over-analytical brain that felt some guilt about supporting a kind of exploitation of their traditional culture. As one of the few remaining traditional cultures on the planet, there can be some voyeurism that goes along with the Maasai. At the same time, the lodges and their tourists help provide for and support the Maasai people in the area.

After being greeted with a cool washcloth and some freshly squeezed juice, we filled out our paperwork and introduced to the staff. With only 7 tents and 14 guest capacity, we got to know the staff very well. We went over our food preferences with the chef and were led to our cabin by our “butler,” Walter. When we walked into our cabin, I tried not to totally freak out. I could’ve sworn I had walked into an issue of Travel and Leisure magazine.


That deck and nice furniture? Yeah, overlooks a hippo pool in the Mara River. Would you like to take a shower while listening to hippos grunt and splash around? You have come to the right place. Other nice amenities included blazing hot water heated by solar energy and an incredibly comfortable bed. At night, the walls rolled down, mosquito curtains surrounded the bed, a fire was built in our cabin, hot water bottles were put in between the sheets, and a hot bath was drawn. Insane.


We headed back to the main building for lunch. However, our three-course meal was not served there, but we were led to a cabana near the pool area where Walter pointed out a crocodile sunbathing on the opposite shore. The food was all prepared from the kitchen garden on-site, and the seafood was flown in from Mombasa.


After relaxing for a little while, it was time for our afternoon game drive. Since the animals are most active in the dusk and dawn hours, the game drives follow suit. No sleeping in on this vacation! The morning game drive leaves at 6:30 am! On our afternoon game drive, we spotted the “regulars” – zebras, giraffes, various kinds of antelope, etc. I was happy and surprised to see a few ostriches.


You never know what you’re going to see, and on this particular game drive, we nearly witnessed the death of a Maasai man walking home. On the horizon, we saw a herd of water buffalo, when suddenly, a group of 4 broke away and started running for the guy. Fortunately, he booked it towards a tree, jumped up in it with his feet cycling in the air, and the water buffalo passed him by. Don’t mess with these guys.


As the sun began to decline in the sky, we happened upon a group of 5 lions – a mother with 3 daughters and a teenage male.




Striking a pose.
The lions was making this group of zebras a little nervous.


Finally, we left our new friends to hunt for dinner as it was getting seriously dark. Our five-course dinner included a soup in which the kitchen had written our names in cream and a creative tofu-mushroom starter. I was pleased that the wine list was predominantly African wines, and we enjoyed a bottle of South African Chenin Blanc with dinner and then by the fire. Then it was time to retire to our hot bath and comfortable bed before our 6 am morning wake-up call and Walter’s arrival with a pot of hot tea and some coffee cake.

The next morning, we found our lion friends again, saw some elephants, and witnessed the gathering of a ton of zebra and wildebeests at a salt lick.


Zebras make some crazy noises when they fight.



The morning light was simply stunning.


The lions had been unsuccessful at killing some prey and stalked off into the bush to sleep the day away. We headed to a breakfast of fresh fruit, freshly-squeezed fruit juice, eggs, and house-baked bread.

Coming up: our Maasai culturalist brushes his teeth with a branch, rhinos, I correctly identify giraffe poop, and a birthday surprise for Joe