Last safari, I had a cranky day and I think it happened right around this point in the trip. Five days in, things are settling and I'm a bit tired. I woke up this morning feeling ok but just cranky. It happens. But today was the excursion to Masai Mara, so I needed to bounce back and enjoy one of the wonders of the animal world.
"The fuel pump is going..." Oh those are really not the words I want to hear when I'm en route to a day-long journey to a 100 sq mile national reserve. Really. And how self-fulfilling those words would be. We were up at 6:00 for my now usual breakfast at 6:30 and hitting the road at 7. The "only half hour to the gate of the park" was well over an hour due to the Land Rover never really wanting to get out of first gear. Start, stall, drive a bit. Over and over. Once inside the park, a friendly guide stopped and all three guides looked under our hood and tinkered, and we were good for a while. Until we started to leave the park. But let's cover the wildlife first.
Being in my cranky mood today and already irritated by both late vehicle-mates and the failing vehicle, I wasn't holding high expectations for the reserve. Once we got there and the sun started to warm the day up, it was really quite enjoyable, and warm, and sunny, and not a drop of rain in sight, which was a joy after Ol Pejeta and all of its mud. Truth be told, Masai Mara is really just the same as the Serengeti was last year, what with all of its expanse of yellow grass, gorgeous blue skies and big white puffy clouds hanging over low acacia trees. This was the Africa I'd been dreaming about since I got home from last year's safari. That Masai Mara is virtually identical to Serengeti is no surprise really, as they share a border and are commonly referred to as being part of the same ecosystem.
One thing I was struck by was the number of elephants we came across. Not necessarily huge herds but handfuls here and there which really added up to a lot of elephants. When I mentioned this to Jimmy tonight, he said that they migrate too and the recent rains have made this area favorable for them. In fact, as I type this, I am hearing the huffing of elephants right behind my tent. When we pulled into the driveway tonight, right outside the common tent was an elephant walking away from camp. I supposed he'd tried to get in for dinner.
Anyway, we spent some time following a family of five elephants of varying ages, including a little one who appeared to be following an older sibling everywhere. The male in the group used his trunk as a siphon and a hose to suck up water out of a shallow puddle and then turn it on himself as a shower. Pretty smart, these guys.
We passed by some hartebeests, which are still sort of interesting to me and always good for a photo with their heart shaped horns. We then snuck up on a cheetah sleeping under a short bush. Yay! Big cats!!! But as soon as I'd started taking a few photos, Amos declared that we'd spent plenty of "intimate time" with a cheetah yesterday and he moved on. This didn't sit well with my cranky mood but I needed to pick my moment.
What I haven't seen much of around here are Cape buffalo and today we came across them in a very large herd, and managed to stop in the midst of them which is kind of fun. I love how they stop and stare back at us, sniffing the air as if that will help them determine how worthy we are. I learned today that if I see single of a couple of older buffalos alone, those are "widowmakers", old crotchety buffalo who have left their herds because they can't keep up. They are widowmakers because they become so volatile that they have a history of aggression that led to the death of many humans.
Speaking of which, Amos said that a human was eaten by a lion here last week, apparently a guy out tending his cows. All that was left of him was his forearm and hand. Honestly, I can't make this up.
And along the same lines...driving to the Mara this morning, we saw a huge development going up on the hills right outside the park, which appeared to be all Asian architecture. It's going to be a huge complex for Chinese tourists. Because when you leave your home country to visit a foreign country, you want it to look exactly like home?
We stopped for coffee/tea in a clearing quite near where a herd of topi were hanging out. It is still somewhat disconcerting for me to get out of the vehicle when there are animals milling about. Sure, you haven't heard of a topi mangling a human lately (or ever) but I am trying to take steps to ensure I'm not the first. I have photos from this coffee break which help prove I was here, but also show that I did brave the plains, topi or not.
Anyway, back to the animals. We did finally come upon some lions, in a mini jackpot we found seven together, about two years old. Asleep of course, but we did manage to convince one or two to raise their heads. See, this is the danger in going out for game rides any times other than early morning or around sunset. The lions are doing pretty much exactly what I'm missing in my own home: cat is asleep. We managed to stay with this sighting for a bit longer, until other vehicles realized we'd stopped and crashed the party. Then we left.
Not too far from that, we came upon four lionesses also lounging about lazily. Since it was nearly noon I really couldn't blame them for being totally sacked out. This was sort of a funny sighting because I'd been shooting photos of this very tree when all of a sudden Amos dropped the binoculars and headed right to it. I'd no idea who was under it, but he saw right away. Again, other vehicles copped on to us being stopped off road in the middle of the grass and came charging down. This is the hazard of being in the reserve which is open to the public and not the conservancy which isn't. I almost felt bad stopping to look at what we'd found, because it would do nothing but cause more traffic for the animals.
We stopped for a picnic lunch in a small clearing which was well shaded and cool. Jasper set up the table and chairs and all the fixings. Lunch was tomato and cucumber sandwich, carrot and raisin slaw, pork (I did not partake; the picnic basket wasn't thermal or chilled) and bananas. They packed Tangwizi for me, so that was my treat. It was a tasty lunch and we had a good chat amongst ourselves, talking about crazy politics and travel. I had my first bush pee of this trip (I'm always so proud of myself when I do that) and off we went.
The route after lunch took us along the Mara River, the scene of some of the violent river crossings of wildebeest and zebra when the migration hits this part of the Mara. It was sort of neat to see the same paths they use year after year carved into the sides of the river. The river itself has more than a few crocodiles who look a lot like logs and many hippos who keep to themselves under water, eyes breaking the surface the only real hint they are there.
Our next cat sighting was a pair of cheetah brothers under a bush, again sleeping. Both managed to raise their heads to at least acknowledge us and get the requisite photos taken. They appeared to be somewhat young since they still had that soft fuzz that runs up their necks to the top of their heads. But sticking together in the coalition with each other is good for them and they looked well fed and healthy.
As we started to head back toward the gate (and the Land Rover started to fail again) we spotted three lionesses lying out on a rocky outcrop. Why they'd think that lying on hot rocks with no shade is a good idea is beyond me. They looked darn hot though. Ultimately two of the three moved to some shade before we pulled away. I think perhaps they were part of the four lionesses we saw earlier today as it was somewhat nearby where we'd seen them under a tree this morning.
And then....as if I'd not had enough lions for one, day, we spotted six more, I think all female, but they were sprawled out in and around hedges so I'm a bit unsure of that until I can look at the photos. A couple raised heads, but for the most part it was flat out lions with the occasional paws in the air or bellies up. So indeed, the Mara is delivering on the cats.
Even with not being able to move more than a few yards without stalling, we still managed to spot a cheetah that was right under the nose of other vehicles and totally missed. We pulled up and stalled right next to yet another solo cheetah (unsure of the sex) who was just sort of hanging out there until he got annoyed with us and promptly rolled over to show us his very handsome back view. Ah yes, cats.
I realize in reading this back that it seems like I had an awful lot of cat encounters that seem a whole lot the same. But bear in mind that this is the cat capital of Africa. No other place really has the density of cats that the Mara does, which is specifically why I chose to come here. So to tally up my day and see how blessed I've been to be so darn close to so many of them really turns my cranky day right-side up again.
Long story short with the vehicle, it died for good about 15 km from the gate. Our guide had already called for a rescue, so at 6:30 we got picked up and made it back here around 7:45. That was about 2 hours longer of a day than I'd expected, but it still turned out really good, at least for me as a cat aficionado. Still no leopard though, Porini Lion better deliver on that!
Had a quick shower on our return and a gin and tonic before dinner. Tonight we had cream of celery soup, curry chicken, rice and mixed veggies and an apple crumble dessert. Pretty good, I must say.
Early to bed to be ready for another early game drive, then transfer to Porini Lion for my last three nights. Hope these elephants don't keep me up!