8/19/05 – 8/21/05
we had shopped around for a few days to choose a company to go on safari with. in the end, we chose Sana Tours, a choice that we would come to regret several days later, after the safari was over. but, more on that later. anyways, this morning we were bursting w/ excitement. our first safari!! we were heading to Masai Mara, which is the most famous of all the game parks in Kenya. it’s rather small park, but it’s on the Serengeti plains and is bursting w/ wildlife. we had booked a 5 day safari, giving us 4 days in the Masai Mara, and then one day in Lake Nakura. everything was provided for us by the safari company, so all we had to bring was water, toilet paper, and our clothes. we were picked up from our hotel around 9am, and after a bunch of shuffling back and forth to the company’s office etc, we finally left Nairobi around 10:30 with 6 other tourists in our van. the ride to the park wasn’t very eventful, other than stopping at a lookout point to see an unimpressive view and eating at a small restaurant.
eventually, we arrived at the park and went on our first game drive right away. holy crap!! i was so totally blown away by this place. despite having been told that the park is totally full of animals, i wasn’t prepared at all for how many of them there were. TONS. animals *everywhere*!! on just the very first 2 hour drive, we saw gazelle, wildebeest, zebras, ostriches, elephants, and lions. the other thing that i was not expecting was just how close all the animals were to each other. the wildebeest would be eating grass with the zebras, totally intermingled. just several hundred yards away, you’d see elephants, and near them there would be lions. i guess i somehow expected all the animals to totally keep to themselves very far apart, but they were actually all so very close to each other.
another thing i wasn’t prepared for was just how close you could get to the animals. the vans would drive on the roads and go basically right *through* herds of zebras or wildebeest. the animals would sometimes bolt, but other times, they would just stop chewing grass for a second to peer at the van, and the go back to eating. when we saw lions, the lions would walk by *right next to* the vans often.. like literally within a couple feet! if you wanted to (and were stupid) you could probably reach your hand out the window and grab one! the vans we were in had pop-up roofs, so that you can stand up in the van and have a 360 degree view in all directions, and yet be safe from any animals nearby.
the other cool thing was just ho big the herds were. when you’d see zebras, you’d see huge amounts of them… up to 100 or so, all gathered around. it would literally be a sea of black and white stripes. the same with the wildebeest, but even more so. we had come to the park at the perfect time, during the great migration. at this time, the wildebeest travel through here looking for water, and they travel in the *thousands*. you look out over the hills and they are completely covered w/ wildebeest. sometimes, a bunch of wildebeest would decide to cross the road, and then the rest of their herd would follow.. soon there would be this endless line of hundreds of wildebeest rushing across the road. the wildebeest look really funny when they run too, often they skip and prance around!
when going on safari in Africa, people always talk about the “big 5”. this is the main attraction, and everyone always is dying to see all of the big 5 which is: lions, buffalo, leopard, rhino, and elephants. it kind of seems like a rather arbitrary list doesn’t it? for instance, it kind of surprises me that buffalo is on the list, while something exciting like giraffe or cheetahs are not. weird. it was cool that after just the first day out, we had already seen 2 of the big 5. hopefully, we’d see the other 3 soon! one of the craziest things we saw that day though, was when we saw this lioness walking near a herd of elephants. we weren’t exactly sure if the lioness was actually trying to hunt the baby elephant, or if it just got too close, but all of a sudden, the mother elephant lets out this super loud trumpeting sound and then charges the lion!! the lion spun around and started running away as fast as it could, and the elephant chased it for a while till the lion was sufficiently far from the elephant herd. it was pretty crazy to see this intense animal interaction. you wouldn’t think there would be many animals a lion might be afraid of!
the camp we were staying at was actually a really pleasant surprise. i thought they would just throw us into tiny little two man tents and feed us some toast or other slop, but the campsite was really nice with large spacious tents with beds in them. the place even had hot showers to use! all of the food that we would be fed over the next few days was quite tasty as well. wow, i couldn’t believe we were getting all this for just 60$ a day, when so many other safaris were so much more expensive!
the next day we set out in the morning and drove all day. once again, there were tons of animals. one of the coolest things we saw right in the beginning of the day. we saw a lioness with 3 lion cubs. once again, the van we were in got within a few feet of them. these things were so damn adorable. the mother would wander around and the cubs would go explore, and then after a while run back to the mom and tumble around. we were so lucky to see such a thing! the only bad thing was that, although this park has more animals than any other park, there are also more tourists. so when you find something exciting, like lion cubs, next thing you know there are like 15 other vans all driving up and soon, instead of it being a tranquil outdoors setting, it becomes like an afternoon at a crash-em up derby. when the animals move away, the vans all sputter on and race after them, only to surround the animal again. it’s hard to tell whether the vans really bother the animals, or whether they are just an annoyance that the animals are used to and don’t care about, but it still bothers me to see so many damn vans. also, though the vans are supposed to stay on the roads, none of them follow the rules, and they all drive over the landscape, doing damage to the grass. *sigh*.
later in the day, we were lucky enough to see a cheetah, which it seems are much more rare than lions. at first we saw it from pretty far away, so without binoculars (which we didn’t have) it was a bit difficult to see, but later on we saw another one just chilling on this dirt mound.
in the middle of the day, we took a hike near a river that had hippos and crocodiles in it. we only got to see the hippos from a distance, but it was still cool. the crocs weren’t very thrilling though. one crazy thing thing that happened was that we stopped at this marker that marked the border between Kenya and Tanzania. people were just wandering about and getting their photos taken. i had to take a piss, and the guide just told me to go behind some bushes, which i did. then we all got back in the van and drove off, just like 60 yards away or so, we stopped next to some trees.. and there was a huge lion under them. whoa!! i cant believe there was this lion just chilling there, that close to people who were all wandering around outside their vans! what if there had been a lion behind the bush i peed at?! yikes! so yeah, there are lions all over this park. we’ve seen both males and females, and even at one point saw two lions mating (which lasted all of maybe 6 seconds!!). we also saw a large wildebeest carcass that a lion had killed with two sleepy lions relaxing near it. it’s crazy how the male lions really do nothing. the lionesses do the hunting, and when they bring back the kill, the male eats first. the lionesses raise the cubs. the males do *nothing*. just sleep and eat!
later on in the day, we drove by this huge herd of zebras and gazelle. the weird thing was that every single one of them was facing the same direction and holding perfectly still. it was really an eerie sight.. a huge animal army, all at attention. eventually, we saw the reason, a hundred yards away, there was a lioness slowly walking through the brush. from looking at her, we could tell she wasn’t really hunting, just wandering about, but just the scent had alerted the zebras, and so they all just stood and stared, not moving, all animals acknowledging the king of the jungle.
eventually, we had enough animal viewing for the day, and we headed back to camp. on the way back, we were lucky enough to have joey spot a group of giraffes walking off in the distance. i had been looking forward to seeing giraffe, and was psyched that we finally got to see them. the coollest thing about the giraffes was seeing them run. their legs are so long, that when they run, it looks like they are moving in slow motion. it’s a pretty spectacular sight.
eventually, we made it back to camp. it had started pouring (the rainy season is coming soon) but luckily we could hang out under a roof and it was fine. once again, the food was good, and we went to bed early since we needed to get up at 6am the next day.
the next day’s game drive wasn’t all that spectacular. because of the previous night’s rain, the animals were all hiding, and there wasn’t all that much wildlife to see. we spent 3 hours or so driving, and didn’t see much. oh well. by this point, we had decided that we wanted to end our safari early. the Masai Mara had been *spectacular*, but we had already done 4 game drives now, and any place we went in the park from now on would have been redundant. we figured it’d be better to end this safari now, and then book another safari elsewhere in a nother park, just for something different. also, joey had not been feeling well (he claims it was from the goat bolognaise!) so driving around in a safari van didn’t seem all that appealing to him. so, we called the main office and talked to a few people there who agreed that we could just come back now, and apply our two remaining days worth of money to another safari.
so we drove back to Nairobbery, tired, and yet still excited by everything we had seen. we had seen 3 of the big 5, now if we could just see the final two: leopards and rhinos!!
(a few other photos)
ostrich with eggs
these huge storks are meat eaters and they are *enormous*. about 3 feet tall and with a 6 or 7 foot wingspan!
vervet monkey w/ baby