Masai Mara

[Not a valid template]INFO: The Masai Mara National Reserve (also spelled Maasai Mara, and known by the locals as ‘the Mara’) is a large game reserve in south-western Kenya, which is effectively the northern continuation of the Serengeti National Park game reserve in Tanzania. Named after the Maasai people (the traditional inhabitants of the area) and their description of the area when looked at from a viewpoint – “Mara”, which is Maa (Maasai language) for spotted: an apt description for the circles of trees, scrub, savannah and cloud shadows that mark the area. It is famous for its exceptional population of Big Cats, game, and the annual migration of zebra, Thomson’s gazelle and wildebeest from the Serengeti every year from July to October, a migration so immense it is called the Great Migration.

YEAR: October 2010.

[Not a valid template]STORY: After breakfast we checked out and met up with Wilson who was going to transport us to our next destination. We had received information before hand that this morning we had a long and exhausting drive ahead of us, until we would reach the Masai Mara National Reserve. Approximatley after 30 minutes drive we spotted a Crested Eagle on a tree top along the road and we decided to pull over to take some photos. It was a huge bird and according to Wilson it is not very common these days, so it was a rare sight. The road which we had to take in order to reach Masai Mara was heavily trafficked, and the vehicles around us was quite loaded. For instance, we saw one truck who was packed in three layers; at the bottom layer was live sheep’s standing almost on top of each other, above them was a layer filled with cut up bushes and branches, and finally it was topped off with 4 persons balancing in the four corners trying not to step on the animals. One could easily imagine that such a over-loaded truck doesn’t stop easily in case of an emergency. Besides all of this they often drive very fast and in my opinion quite recklessly. Unfortunately we happened to arrive at the scene of an accident approximately 10 minutes after we had spotted the crested eagle. It was a petrol truck which had collided frontally with a minibus, which was completely loaded with people. There were great turmoil and people on the scene tried to stop passing cars since they needed help with separating the two vehicles, in order to try and assist the people in the minibus. It was impossible to help the people that was trapped in the minibus without separating it from the petrol truck. They saw us coming and since our vehicle was a huge terrain jeep, they started to run towards us and begging us to stay and help them. We could see people bleeding inside the minibus, and there was a woman crying and screaming heavily out of pain and chock. It was a very traumatic situation for everyone involved. We pulled over and a rope was tied onto the rear of our jeep and the other end was fasten onto the minibus, and then we tried to pull the two vehicles apart. Unfortunately the rope wasn’t strong enough so it broke without having any effect on the collided vehicles. Luckily, another enormous truck came by and had proper equipment to assist with the pulling apart. Wilson said that now we can leave, and we were relieved to hear this. The next couple of hours of our trip was spent in silence, since we were all pretty chocked and saddened by the whole incidence.

During the last part of our trip the road got really bad, it was filled with big holes, and we were also a bit late due to the accident, so Wilson decided to drive a little bit faster. Unfortunately, the hard seats in the jeep didn’t really absorb the non smoothness of the road, so we were bouncing around for an hour. When we finally arrived, Wilson said that we had gotten true African massage.
We ran into the main building just in time for lunch.[Not a valid template]

Our lodge was really beautiful, and built in traditional African style with lots of tree ornaments and Masai decorations. The hotel was surrounded by a large garden flourishing with flowers and birds. We asked Wilson to pick us up after a couple of hours for our late afternoon safari. Unfortunately we were unlucky, since after only 30 successful minutes it started to rain, and we spent more than one hour closed up in the jeep waiting for the rain to stop. It was already late afternoon and after the rain had stopped we hadn’t so much time for further exploration before it became too dark. However, we saw elephants and many wildebeest and plenty of beautiful feathered friends. Masai Mara is a really huge reserve and so we decided that we would start really early the next morning. We went back to the hotel, and after a quick fresh up we went down for dinner. They had a big buffet which we enjoyed greatly. After dinner we returned to our room to download the photos and to do some writing.

[Not a valid template]Day 2: It was an early, cold and humid morning after a whole nights rain. We started our safari at 07:00 AM with hopes of seeing several more birds and animals than yesterday. The first animals we saw was a dik-dik family, and it turned out that we would see them every time we passed their “habitat”, since they had chosen a rather small passage with lots of vegetation which we had to drive thru in order to reach the open planes. The first animals we came across entering the open planes was a large group of mongooses, and we saw them since we where trying to photograph a Hoopoe, and they where running right into the picture. Wilson pointed at a group of jeeps which had gathered at a point and appeared to search for something. We decided to drive over there, and it turned out to be a lion family comprised of four lionesses, several cubs and one younger male. They where hungry and looking for a suitable prey. Within less than 10 minutes so many vehicles had gathered that the lions choose to hide in the bushes, and the whole event was over. We decided to drive on and later we came across elephants, ostriches and a warthog family.
In the afternoon we drove back to the lodge to have a late lunch and to get some rest. One doesn’t really picture that it could be quite exhausting to drive around in a jeep, but it is. The terrain is quite inaccessible and you have to stand up the whole time in order not to miss any action.

[Not a valid template]For our late afternoon safari we had planned to visit the Mara River and hopefully see some hippos. It was a really long drive on some really bad roads, and so we got some African massage again. We arrived at the Mara rivers well known crossing over point for the wildebeest and zebras when they migrate from Masai Mara to Serengeti into Tanzania.  It started to rain again and the sky was really dark, which was to be expected since the rainy season was literally standing on the threshold. We saw a group of hippos swimming in the water, and bit further down we saw several dead wildebeests which had been washed up on the river bank. It was plenty of scavengers around having a great feast on the cadavers. We decided to only make a short stop at this rather gruesome display.

On our way back we saw the beginning of the formation of the great wildebeest migration. Groups of wildebeest and zebras were aligning themselves in big columns comprising of hundreds of thousands of animals. We also spotted a type of ” Serval – wild cat” and a pair of Southern Ground hornbills.

When we returned to our hotel, we freshened up and went to dinner. After we had completed our dinner we came across a posting in the lobby which announced that it would be Masai dancers performing that evening. We found a nice place to sit and enjoyed a cup of coffee while we waited for the performance to start. The dancers arrived and they were a group of approximately 15 masai men who where singing and doing their characteristic jumping. After they had completed we went back to our room for a good nights sleep.

[Not a valid template]Day 3: This morning was our last in the hotel, and even in the national reserve. After we had enjoyed our last breakfast we checked out and packed our stuff in the jeep. The roof was opened and we hoped to see and photograph yet more wildlife before we had to leave the reserve. We had had lots of rain during our days of safari, and we hoped to have better luck at least this last morning. Unfortunately after only 15 minutes it started to rain again, and we had to close the roof on the jeep. We continued to drive around but visibility was not to good sitting down in the jeep, so spotting small animals where ruled out. Therefore we decided to try and find the cheetah and hopefully be able to photograph it. After 45 minutes of searching we saw an old lion male lying alone beside the road. Wilson explained that he probably had lost a fight to a younger and stronger male which had taken over his flock. He was still in good shape considering that a male lion are not as good hunter as a lioness, but thanks to the hundreds of thousands of wildebeests present in the area, he could still hunt with rather ease. We left him and continued our search for the cheetah. Wilson communicated with other drivers in the reserve to hear if they had seen cheetah or leopard, and finally we got some information about their possible location. After approximately 15 minutes we found tree cheetahs laying in the bushes 30 m from the main road, trying to take cover against the rain. It wasn’t an easy task to try and photograph them considering that it was a lot of branches in the way and heavy rain, so I had to handhold my heavy camera and lens. After some examination I found out that we were to close, and since we couldn’t back up our jeep, I had to switch to my second camera with 100-400 mm lens. I made a few shots and a little video clip with two playing cheetahs, and our “mission” was completed.

[Not a valid template]It had been raining a lot the last few days making it problematic to drive around on the roads, they had become muddy and very slippery. It felt almost like we were driving on ice, and it was very easy to get stuck. We had planned to take a shortcut to the entrance of the reservate to avoid having to drive all the way around. We searched for a small passage to cross over the river and to continue our trip, but we couldn’t find it. We got in contact with a local who tried to help, but when we arrived there it turned out to be impossible to cross over due to the heavy rain which had literally turned the road into a mud-hole. We had to try another way and the local guy knew the surroundings and recommended another way for us which worked, and so we could leave the reservate.
A little after 10 minutes drive, our engine died. We got a bit concerned since we had such a long way to drive in order to reach Nairobi, but Wilson was sure that it was something concerning the gasoline pump. We were in a little village and we spotted a local car mechanics and decided to discuss the matter with them. The jeep contained two separate gasoline tanks, one main and one second, and the main one was empty but the second one were almost full, so we had gas. The mechanics explained that the main tank must always hold at least 20 liters of gas in order for the engine to work. It didn’t matter if you had lots of gas in the second tank. So we fueled up the main tank and we were on our way again. It was more than 60 km to drive on very bad roads before we reached the good road, which was also in a rather bad condition. After shaking and jumping for an eternity we stopped for lunch. We had polenta made of white corn served with vegetables and a spicy tomatoe sause, it tasted wonderful.
After lunch when we were all back in the jeep it started to rain so heavily that we couldn’t see more than 20 meter in front of us, but after approximately 20 minutes the  weather changed for the better again.
Eventually we arrived in Nairobi and we checked in at our hotel. We rested at the hotel until the next day and Wilson escorted us to the airport. We flew in a small plane for 1 hour and then we reached Kenyas coast, where we intended to relax for four days, hopefully with better weather.


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