Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Maasai Mara: Part 2

Previous post here.

After finishing up our large breakfast, we digested while watching the hippos. Some monkeys were chasing each other up and around the roof of our cabin, and a monitor lizard even emerged close to the edge of our deck. Ngerende, in addition to its luxury, is known for being very eco-friendly. The cabins were built without the removal of a single tree, so they blend into the environment. All the better for animal observation.


Because it was Joe’s birthday, we scheduled a joint massage at the spa. It’s not something we’ve ever done on vacation, but how often are you going to get a massage overlooking hippos in the Mara River? We blissed out while we were exfoliated and massaged and then were led to our lunch set up under a tree, again overlooking the Mara. We had just enough time to rinse off and change before it was time for our last game drive.


Why did the giraffe cross the road? To visit the rhino sanctuary!
Due to poachers, there are only 2 remaining rhinos in the Maasai Mara, and they are guarded by a guy with a large military-style assault rifle. Their names are Queen Elizabeth and Kofi Annan, and they were very sleepy when we saw them.


Our other goal for the game drive was to find a leopard, which – spoiler alert! – didn’t happen. Also, the skies were cloudy, so the light wasn’t as good as the previous game drives. However, we still managed to snap some good pictures, and we found a 2 day-old baby giraffe hidden in a bush with his anxious mother circling nearby. Also, hyenas are mean and give me the creeps.



I was disappointed that our last game drive was a little underwhelming, but you can’t really control nature. Fortunately, we were able to drown our sorrows in some Pinotage and another delicious dinner. I had mentioned to Walter that it was Joe’s birthday the next day and asked if he could put a candle in his dessert, but dessert came and went with no candle. I figured the intention had been lost in translation so I let it slide.

The next morning, we headed out for a bush walk with Daniel, our Maasai culturalist. He was extremely knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the area and explained to us which plants had medicinal value, including one that they use as a kind of deodorant. Then he brushed his teeth for us.


That particular tree’s branches have antibacterial properties. And it seems to work; all the Maasai we saw had very clean and white teeth. As we trekked across the landscape, he would stop to ask us questions. When we came upon a pile of perfectly rounded animal scat, he asked which animal it belonged to. I remembered Philip telling us on Crescent Island that giraffe poop was always perfectly rounded, so I answered, “Giraffe,” in the midst of other people shouting out, “Gazelle! Topi!” I think that Daniel was impressed.


It was getting to be breakfast time, so we headed back to the lodge after a brief stop on the banks of the Mara. This is where the hippos come out at night and walk up to 5 km for all the grass they need.


We worked up an appetite on our bush walk, so we happily ate our fill of fruit, granola parfait, eggs and sausage, and fresh bread. While we were finishing our coffee, Walter approached with a smile on his face and told us to stay put for “a surprise.” Not long after, we heard the characteristic whooping and chanting that signaled the arrival of the Maasai warriors.


They circled our table before the chef arrived with a large cake, complete with one trick candle that refused to go out.


Then we partook in a ritual that involved Joe feeding me some cake and me feeding him cake while everyone clapped and chanted. It was wild and WAY more involved than anything I had imagined the lodge would do.


I don’t think Joe will soon forget his 31st birthday celebration thanks to the wonderful staff at Ngerende Island Lodge. Unfortunately, we had to leave our little slice of paradise. The plan was to stop down in Maai Mahiu for some nyama choma and beer for a late lunch/early dinner.

We pulled into a very busy parking lot in the Kenyan equivalent of a strip shopping center. There were a lot of storefronts, and it was unclear where we were going but Philip and his brother Nicholas led the way through the door and a narrow corridor, past the grill where the goat was roasted and to some seating. I kid you not, Crystal Gayle and Kenny Rogers were playing overhead. Very quickly, our beers and roasted goat arrived.

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Joe asked Philip when the goat we were eating had probably been killed, and his answer was, “This morning.” Very fresh. The little piles of salt on each corner added a lot of flavor to the meat, and shortly after the guy had finished cutting up the goat, some pieces of ugali (a kind of cross between grits and cornbread that you eat with your hands) arrived. We demolished the goat and our beers and ordered another round. We were all in a very happy place, and I think Joe got more of a birthday celebration than he did last year in Kenya.

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The stove where the goat is roasted. Everyone seemed very surprised when we told them that we don’t eat a lot of goat in America. I support bringing back goat as a sustainable meat source. Another guy sat down at a table across from us and a strange cut of meat appeared in front of him. When I asked what it was, the answer was, “sheep’s head,” and I nearly did a spit take. Hey, more power to you.

Our trip to the Maasai Mara was unbelievable – not just the animals but our accommodations as well. It’s a total bucket list trip, but if you ever find yourself in Kenya, I highly recommend Ngerende Island Lodge for your Maasai Mara lodging.