Saturday, January 29, 2011

KENYA Part 3: Simba is swahili for Lion

An antelope named Barati roams freely in our camp at Mara Siria

After 47 years I finally made it to the Maasai Mara Reserve, King of the Safari experience in East Africa, the Crowned jewel being across the border in Tanzania known as the Serengeti. Actually the Maasai Mara is the northern extension of the Serengeti Plains into Kenyan territory.

The African savanna is just how I pictured it would be and more. This area seriously delivers what it promises the visitor. Awe inspiring scenery right out of a Hollywood Academy Award Winner like "Out Of Africa" (some of the movie scenes were actually filmed at Maasai Mara), tireless hours of game viewing through the open top roof of our jeep, a well informed guide capable of explaining animal behavior, approaching them respectfully and getting daringly close to them.

After a total of 5 safaris in a 3 day period we were lucky to see a huge variety of gazelles, lions, hyenas, cheetahs, giraffes, buffalos, crocodiles, wilderbeest, cranes, elephants, impalas and more.

A pride of lions is resting under an umbrella acacia. The only male is sleeping while the two lionesses are keeping watch. There are 4 cubs in the middle

A lioness is tearing the warthog pray she just killed. Her lioness partner is keeping watch a few feet away (out of the frame). Lionesses always hunt in pair or in group of more than two individuals. She started tearing up the softest part of the warthog (the rear) and worked her way inside.

Viewing cheetahs in the wild is quite rare since they are an endangered specie with fewer than 15,000 Worldwide. We were very fortunate to have 3 sightings during our visit to the Mara.

Plains Zebras are the most common specie of Zebras. They are found throughout tropical Africa. Here at the border of Tanzania, they graze the fresh open grassland of the Serengeti Plains. Skittish, they swiftly gallop away when pproached.

A solitary animal, the cheetah gazes at the horizon for potential pray. This is the World's fastest land runner. Cheetahs can speed up from 0 to 64mph in 3 seconds and reach a record 75mph in short bursts. They lack the strong climbing ability of other big cats, are able to purr while inhaling but cannot roar.

This is the warthog, Africa's only wild pig specie adapted to grazing and to savanna conditions. They live in groups called sounders. They do have a home range which they freely roam in search of food.

An Agama lezard in Maasai Mara.

The Savanna of Maasai Mara is sparsely planted with umbrella acacias.

Water Buffaloes are fierce and dangerous to humans. In Africa, they kill 200 people a year and are nicknamed "widow makers".

The Mara river is witness to the annual Wilderbeest Migration from Maasai Mara to the Serengeti National Park accross the river in Tanzania.

KENYA Part 2: 2 teenagers, supplies for 3 days and Pepe Kalle

We leave Nairobi, Kenya's bustling capital city located at 1850m, to drive the beautifully maintained road leading to the Great Rift Valley. It's 630am and at this time of the day, the fog draws gentle misty figures over the tea plantations of the highlands. The roadway is lined with shacks and makeshift stores which sells a variety of products, most of them made in a land far far away we know as China. The road gradually climbs the gentle slope amongst eucalyptus trees to a view point at some 2190m high. The view is breathtaking.

The Great Rift Valley

I am engulfed with a feeling of freedom and space. Like some invisible chains have been lifted and I feel a sense of timelessness. I am on top of a ridge where, as far as the eye can see, spread the homeland of the Australophitecus afarensis who once thrived and evolved here. The land is open and wide, planted with volcanic cones and seeded with umbrella acacias. Not a thick forest, just here and there to make sure living beings are able to shade themselves from the intense heat of the day.


Crossing the valley surrounded by ancient extinct volcanoes bathed in hues of pastel greens and yellow, I can see clearly why humans thrived here. The land is rich, sheltering and generous. We all know that volcanic ground is very fertile and yield amazingly abundant foods. Villages and small towns are strung along this lifeline highway leading to Narok, a ethnically Maasai city. The Maasai are the most recognizable ethnic group in Kenya. They seem to pop up on every tourist poster at airports or along the highway. They are tall, wear bright red colors and are adorned with multicolored beaded giant necklaces. They are a pastoral society which tends to cows and goats. Their diet is limited to animal blood mixed with milk which is fermented over a few days and drunk as a meal. No I didn't try. I wouldn't dare drink milk laced blood in the heart of Africa.

Roadway to the Mara

We reach the turn off from the main highway towards our tented camp in the Maasai Mara triangle. The safari starts here undoubtedly. We are on an unpaved, barely marked country path which seems to resemble a river bed rather than a road. The deep crevasses, carved by rainfall from the day before, are like canyons on both sides of the road. And by road I mean to use that term very loosely. The path, occasionally shaded by umbrella acacias and giant succulent thorny cactus like trees, crosses the savanna, hillside villages, pastoral scenery which leads to a great plain called the Mara. Once we reach that area, wildlife appears as if it was placed here for our enjoyment. Suddenly appear, gazelles, zebras and wildebeests.

The Mara from Mara Siria

The road continues to the Mara river, passing traditional Masai villages leading to a hill side muddy and rocky road to our luxury tented camp, Mara Siria. We are now on top of an escarpment with a view of the Mara below. This is a glorious moment. The Mara stretches its legs across a wide, flat plain to the volcanic cones far in the distance. We can almost see game running around from our tent. After settling into our luxuriously appointed tent, I relax by listening to my Ipod fully charged with the beats of African drums and soukous beats. I loaded songs by Pepe Kalle, a Congolese soukous star from the 1980's who since died because he was obese. Yes unfortunately they have obese people in Africa too.

Mara Siria Camp. Tent number 12
It's now the end of the afternoon and the skies are painted with bright yellow colors. Tomorrow is the big day when we go inside the Reserve. I am so excited, like a 5 year old in a candy store.

Leshao is a Maasai from a nearby village.
He wears this outfit daily.
 He works at Mara Siria Camp in the Maasai Mara Triangle