As I said before, Sallie’s visit was much more laid-back and mellow, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m lucky that Sallie wasn’t expecting to be jet-setting throughout the continent because, as it turns out, we were lucky to go on a safari at all.
I originally planned for us to go to Amboseli and the Masai Mara. Amboseli, home to very famous elephant herds and a picturesque backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro, is a drool-worthy safari destination. I had even found a superb deal at a camp there, but, as it turns out, miscommunication with the booking office forced us to cancel.
Hakuna matata! I thought another fun alternative was to have Hudson drive us to Lake Nakuru, which is a gorgeous national park in the Great Rift Valley. We were able to stop along the Rift Valley photo viewpoints and luckily for us, the clouds dissipated right as we arrived. Nakuru was very warm, especially compared to being up on the Rift Valley rim.
I had been to Lake Nakuru before but this trip was a lot more fun and we were spoiled with the many rhinos (white and black) that we saw. Within 15 minutes of entering the park and hitting the safari trails, we saw about five dozing white rhinos. Lake Nakuru is somewhat of a sanctuary for rhinos, both black and white. How can you tell the difference between the two? White rhinos have square, flat lips on their mouth and their horns are a bit lighter or whiter in color. Black rhinos have a narrower, pointed upper-lip used for grabbing individual leaves from trees and bushes.
We cruised around the open plains, lake in the background and saw lots of other herbivores, such as giraffes (particularly Rothschild), zebras, impalas, gazelles, buffalo, waterbucks and warthogs. We were looking for lions and leopards but were unable to find them; luckily, the park rangers said that no one had been able to find them that day.
But we ended our tour with a very rare treat: A black rhino mother and calf! That was very special. Although they were quite far away, they were unmistakable. We also drove up to the “Out of Africa” viewpoint to take in an overhead look at the lake. We headed back to Nairobi and continued our relaxing holiday.
Later that weekend, we went with Tricia, Oluniyi and his friends to see the Kenya national football team, the Harambee Stars, take on the Malawi national football team in a 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying match. It was very exciting! So many vendors were hawking Kenya memorabilia: Vuvezelas, flags, scarves, face-painting, and more. We were in a hurry to get through the queue into the stadium and to avoid those who were enjoying the football day too much; we were in our seats about two hours before kickoff.
One would think that at a football match, there would be souvenirs and at least beers inside the stadium. Well, much to my dismay after investigating the compound, there wasn’t a single vendor selling any souvenirs or concessions, except for sodas.
The match was underway and it was very exciting. It was certainly a defensive battle and man of the match undoubtedly was Kenya’s keeper; he made some remarkable saves. Luckily for us, the match ended in a draw—better than Malawi beating Kenya on its home pitch. But the lack of a win seems to have thrown Kenya out of the running for the 2013 African Cup of Nations and quite possibly the 2014 World Cup as well. It’s best that Kenya continues to dominate the running circuit and now I have the London Olympics to cheer on two countries.
The next few days were spent frantically trying to organize a proper safari for Sallie and I in the premier park in Kenya: the Masai Mara.
After several exasperated phone calls, emails and even popping into the booking office in Westlands, we were all squared away for an epic journey. The next day we were on our way to Wilson Airport in Langata (suburb of Nairobi). This is a light-craft airport, catering to Flying Doctors, safari outfits and UN and other aid-organizations. We felt very posh flying into the Mara. The flight was definitely a wild ride; I really enjoyed seeing Nairobi from the air, however, that also meant I was able to see the full scope of some of the heartbreaking sides to Nairobi, namely Kibera (largest slum in Kenya, often disputed one of the largest slums in sub-Saharan Africa), which is just across the road from the airstrip. The photos I took from the plane could not even begin to show the sprawl or the immense guilt I felt in my heart.
We landed at one of several all-weather airstrips in the Mara and were greeted by Kerore, who turned out to be our driver-guide at the Mara Intrepids tented camp. The camp is located within walking distance to the airstrip, so driving seemed a bit unnecessary. We checked in and settled into a delicious lunch before our afternoon game drive.
We were located right near the Talek River and the camp’s proximity to resident lion prides was obvious. We found one pride of lions lounging in very tall grass after surveying the savanna. On our way to our first pride of lions we had close encounters with elephants, topis (a kind of gazelle/antelope), gazelles, impalas, warthogs and jackals. The proximity of the lions to the grazing impalas, gazelles and topis was certainly an example of “the circle of life.”
After we had ample time with the lions, we continued a search along the riverbank for any leopards who may have been out for a drink. We didn’t have any luck on our first drive, but we did make a new friend. Allison, who had been studying abroad in Tours, France for the year, was in Kenya on an extended holiday, traveling Europe and into Africa and was wrapping it up in the Mara. She was supposed to volunteer in the Kisumu-area near Lake Victoria, but that did not pan out…sounds oddly familiar to many times something did not pan out here the way it was supposed to in Kenya.
We had dinner together and then called it an early night since we were going to have an early-morning extended game drive with a picnic breakfast. Gideon, our tent attendant, who brought us tea, coffee and some biscuits to help wake us up before the drive, waked us up. Then we met up with Kerore and set out, on the hunt for rhinos and leopards, the remaining of the Big 5. Cheetahs were also a priority for us, since the Mara is home to the endangered species.
We saw in the distance some hot-air balloons rising…Sallie and I were certainly jealous of that, but it costs about $500US/person! Take note future husband, that would be soooo romantic.
We saw hippos in a nearby creek and then some lions lounging about. Lions are definitely the one of the most social animals in the Big 5, along with the elephants. This was a different pride from the previous day and there were three generations of lionesses and cubs. One of the cubs was nursing and receiving a bath from its mother, you could hear the click click click of all the safari-goers’ cameras.
We had a nice breakfast picnic and drove back to the camp to rest up before lunch. As we drove through a massive herd of buffalo, I had a sneezing attack that would not quit! Dr. Sallie determined I must be allergic to buffalo, ultimate #africangirlproblem.
After lunch and tea, it was time for our afternoon game drive. We were really on the hunt so to speak, and it started off very excitedly, with Kerore chattering on the Walkie Talkie. We asked him what was going on and he said that there was a Maasai stalking a lion. We seemed a bit confused because the Maasai live on the outskirts of the national reserve, so as wacky as this scenario sounded, it also seemed quite plausible.
After driving frantically around and around, we came upon only two other safari LandCruisers, so we were skeptical about what we would see. But little did we know that we would have front-row seats as we watched a cheetah, minutes after taking down a gazelle, gorge herself on her kill.
It was awesome to see this cheetah up close, but as more LandCruisers came over, it became obvious she was feeling threatened as she was eating. Cheetahs, after expending so much energy in the hunt, often have to surrender their dinner to more over-bearing carnivores, such as lions and hyenas. Cheetahs have to eat as much as they can as quickly as possible if they are to survive; the good news is that usually they will not need to hunt until three days after a kill.
After we took far too many photos of the cheetah, we continued on for our search of the leopard. We didn’t see any leopards but once again, we came across some very social lions. There they were, hanging in the tree, lazing about. We searched and searched but no luck with the leopard. We came back to camp to catch the sunset over the Mara before another food coma-inducing dinner to finish our last night of safari.
We decided to do one final morning game drive and were witnessed something most safari guides rarely see. We started off by seeing a hippo out of water, having a morning snack. Hippos usually graze on land at night and head back into the water during the day.
We drove along to a lookout point where Kerore surveyed the savanna with his binoculars. Much to everyone’s surprise, we were close enough to catch a glimpse of two male black rhinos, battling for territory.
We quickly drove down from the viewpoint to cross the river and pulled up alongside only two other safari LandCruisers. It was a very intimate gathering. One rhino, the loser, left the clearing with visible gashes from the tussle. The other seemed to be strutting and marking territory before disappearing into some vegetation.
Although we did not end up seeing the leopard on our game drives, we were thrilled with perhaps a more rare occurrence with the rhinos. It is hard to see it all on these game drives: Even if you do a week-long safari, you may not come across something!
After the morning game drive, we bid farewell to our new friend, Allison. Then Sallie and I packed up and checked out but we weren’t flying back to Nairobi until that afternoon. We had time before lunch to visit a nearby Maasai village. I did the same thing with Erica in Tanzania and was feeling a bit skeptical again, but Sallie wanted to and what else were we going to do while we waited?
Upon arriving at the village, I could already tell that this village was much more affluent than the one I visited in Tanzania. That got me thinking; perhaps the Kenyan Maasais are better at managing the tourism industry since it is relatively new to Tanzania. Regardless, we had a great time being total mzungu tourists. We enjoyed the crazy jumping from the warriors, the welcoming dances from the women and an inside-look to the Maasai way of life.
Soon enough it was time to fly home to Nairobi. This flight was very turbulent; every gust of wind sends a jolt into your system! We were happy to be back on the ground. We enjoyed an Asian dinner before watching (or at least watching some before falling asleep) “Out of Africa” since Sallie was leaving the next morning.
And just like that, my safari holidays came to a close. It was one of the best times of my life: Traveling through splendid works of God’s natural beauty, observing the animal kingdom during life and death and spending time with friends and family. I certainly am grateful for the opportunity and lucky that I had the time and funding to take some much-needed “me time” to commune with nature, and to pretend that I was on my own wildlife documentary in National Geographic.
Now, I am excited to delve into some different blog postings. Since my time in Kenya is dwindling, I have been thinking about doing some observational/social commentary. Stay tuned.