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This is Part III of a three-part series about an American couple’s safari in the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. Miss Part I, with the stories of cheetahs hunting? Click here to catch up! What about Part II, with our visit to the Masai village? Check it out here!
Jakob, our butler, woke us up the next morning, and we had breakfast before setting off on our all-day safari to the main Mara Game Reserve. It took us about 45 minutes to get there, and as we drove, we passed a few Masai villages along the way. Most looked like the one we had visited the day prior, and there were some villagers working outside who would wave to us as we drove by. We pulled up to the main Game Reserve, showed our passports and paid the $180 park fees, and took off on our journey to find the black rhino that made its home there.
The main reserve is a lot bigger than Mara North, where we were staying, and is owned by the government instead of the tribe, hence us having to pay park fees before entering. We drove around the grasslands for a while and saw a huge red antelope spotted with bird friends, impalas, hyenas, and tons of wildebeest. Almost immediately after arriving, we parked by a lone tree to watch a leopard taking a nap. It was much easier to see than the leopard the day before, since it was stretched along bare branches for a lil’ leopard snooze. It didn’t move around much, but that was more than fine because Jonathan later got a call about THREE leopards hiding nearby. To get into the perfect position to watch the leopards, we had to drive over a rocky creek bed; it almost threw us out of the car, but we somehow managed to get across with us all intact. This bit of info is important because of what came later. We drove to a group of trees set along a creek and sat and waited for them to come out and say hello. Two were hard to see, but one of the babies (not small at all actually) wasn’t shy about coming out for some water from the creek. We sat there watching it stretch and walk along the water for about an hour; occasionally, it would sip from the creek before sniffing around the bush. There’s not much to describe, but the simplicity of it all is what made it beautiful.
While we were driving away from the leopards, Jonathan got a call that a famous National Geographic cheetah was teaching its cubs how to hunt. Typically, a mother cheetah will catch a baby gazelle and bring it back, alive, to her cubs. She’ll then teach them how to hunt and then, usually and surprisingly, will let the baby gazelle go. As we were driving there, Antonio and Elliot both looked out of the car and saw that we had a flat tire from our rocky creek crossing. Fortunately, there weren’t any animals around, so we were able to get out of the car and the boys spent about 30 minutes changing the tire (the first spare they tried was also flat). By the time we made it to the cheetah, the cubs had already eaten the baby gazelle, and the mom was licking their faces clean. We saw a lot of eating happening that day, as shortly after we saw three lions eating a gazelle. Hunters gonna hunt.
We next watched a group of wildebeest crossing a shallow creek, and it was easy to imagine how incredible the Great Migration must look in the Serengeti. Jonathan said that sometimes the stampede across the river will kill some wildebeest because they’re all in such a hurry to avoid crocodiles. After seeing them (safely) cross the creek, we drove into the tall grass and watched a herd of elephants walking around and munching on grass. They all looked so human and peaceful, and watching a baby elephant mimic its mother’s every move was just precious. Our next stop was the main river crossing to try to spot some crocodiles. Sure enough, there were three huge ones that were partially submerged and hard to spot if you didn’t have a trained eye like Jonathan’s. Even from afar, they were scary as hell, and the pile of bones and skulls where we had parked wasn’t very reassuring.
We parked the car and while Jonathan and the boys got lunch set up, Kristina and I snuck away to pee behind some bushes. It’s not like there were any porta potties nearby, so when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. We had a nice lunch of pasta salad, a good chicken sandwich, rolls with butter, fruit, and cake with chocolate sauce, and relaxed while overlooking the river. After lunch, we waited by the river to see if a dazzle (actual collective noun) of zebras debated whether or not to cross. We sat there for an hour while they inched closer and closer, on the lookout for any signs of crocodiles (which patiently stayed submerged while they waited), before they smartly realized it’d be a bad idea and ditched the crossing plan.
We set off in search of the endangered black rhino that can only be found in the main game reserve, and saw some beautiful sights on our journey. There were graceful giraffes standing by a lone tree, elephants taking a mud bath (including a one month old baby that was so unbelievably cute), a huge group of cape buffalo munching on the grass, a red-backed antelope (which are frickin’ HUGE), baboons, and a water buck, which Jonathan told us is a lion’s last resort for food because, when cornered, it releases a pheromone that makes the lions sick. We drove to all the rhino’s favorite hiding spots but didn’t have any luck spotting one. We did, however, see a lone hippo, sitting in the middle of a field in a mud puddle and a pile of his own shit. You’re a long way from home, buddy, and you’re gonna have one hell of a rash.
It was getting late, and we still hadn’t seen a rhino, so we decided to be content with seeing 4/5 of the Big Five and headed back to the camp. Along the way, we drove past large herds of sheep that were usually shepherded by young kids who waved to us as we drove past. Some of the kids didn’t look older than six. When we were about 20 minutes from the camp, we had another freaking flat tire (the Germans were really starting to get annoyed at this point) and had to wait for another camp truck to bring us a spare. The game driver from that truck, when Antonio complained that this was the second time we had a flat, just responded with, “Hakuna Matata” and a shrug. To me, that made everything better. To Antonio, I doubt it was spirit lifting. Once we got a tire on the truck, we were back at the camp by 4ish. I worked out on our deck to an audience of baboons that watched me from the river bank, before showering and having wine and chips by the bar. Peterson, the bartender, came by and gave me beaded key ring/wine charms to “remind me of Peterson”. It was really sweet, and I now have them on my keys. We had another amazing dinner and talked with Robert for a bit before being guided back to our tent by tribe members armed with flashlights and sticks to protect us from any animals that had gotten into the camp. You know, like leopards.
The next morning, Jakob not only came into our tent but walked in and put our hot chocolate on the night stands next to us while we were still lying in bed, which was a little awkward. After getting ready, we met the gang for our last game drive of the trip. It was a chilly one, but there was no way we were going to let that stop us, especially when we saw some hippos walking around the banks of the river. While the sun came up, I looked at Elliot and sang “Nants ingonyama bagithi baba!” (actually, it was more a jumbled version of what I THINK are the words) and was immediately pissed at myself that I hadn’t been doing that the entire trip. What a wasted opportunity! We caught up with the lion couple to see if the female had “agreed” to mate with the dominant male, and watched them for almost two hours. They got up and moved around a bit before they growled at each other (apparently the signal) and started mating. It was like someone got engaged, or a girl found her gown on Say Yes to the Dress, because our car was almost in celebration when Jonathan proclaimed, “She agreed!” When the deed was done, they both fell fast asleep. Animals: not that different from humans.
On our way back to the tent, we saw a vulture showing off its wingspan and a beautifully colored bird sitting up in a tree. It was a relatively quiet game drive, but we had seen so much at that point that we weren’t complaining. Back at the camp, we had breakfast and figured out the tips for everyone before checking out (where we were confronted by the hard reality that we needed to pay $600 in park fees). We said goodbye to the friends we had made the past few days and reluctantly flew away from the Mara in our propellor plane. I think calling this safari “the trip of a lifetime” would be doing it injustice, but I really can’t come up with the right combination of words to adequately describe how incredible the safari was. To be able to get back to nature, relax completely, and see incredible animals in the wild, was an experience that can only be felt, not described. It is, after all,the circle of life at work, and I’m just a very small part of it…