I have spent the previous three days in the Masai Mara National Reserve (& on the four-five hour van ride to & from). The Mara is in south-west Kenya & borders Tanzania at the Serengeti (pretty much making it the top of the Serengeti) & Adrian had organised for me to tag along with four of the volunteers - a wonderful opportunity & not one to be passed up. The park is over 1500 square kilometres & is named for the Masai tribe that live there & the Mara river that flows it.
Hopefully this posting won't have much text as normal & lots of photos. I am pleased at how a lot of the pictures turned out from my little Canon. Sure, it would be nice to have an SLR - but this camera was bought for one function only, to sit snugly on the shoulder strap of my Camelback while riding. Hopefully I can filch some good photos from the rest of the group sometime - but they all had compacts too.
We stayed at the smallest of the camps in the park (only thirty beds) & were extremely well looked after - there was only one other group there the first night & no-one other guests the second night. The food was fantastic & I have never stayed in such a flash tent - bath, shower, toilet. We had to be escorted to our tents at night by a sentry carrying a spear as there was much wildlife wandering around at night - we saw a lot of buffalo tracks the first night & Lotte & Ansje (sp?) saw a couple of buffalo outside their tent before going to bed on Saturday. Enough of such details - while the camp was excellent, that was by no means the highlight of the weekend.
I went on four game drives over the weekend (three of the group opted out of Saturday afternoon - which turned out to be my favourite - after a six hour drive in the morning). It was all new on the first so we were very pleased to see hundreds of zebra (they are such comical looking animals with such vivid patterns; the funniest thing I saw all weekend was zebra lying on their side & then rolling over with all legs sticking up in the air to scratch their backs), impalas, wildebeest, buffalo (they do have such strange looking horns) & a few giraffes.
Source of bad joke - a zebra crossing.
That night we saw (actually were right next to some of them) a pride of at least twelve lions (including glimpses of a very cute looking cub); we watched for quite a while - as it was near the end of the day, they were still lying around keeping out of the heat. On the way back to camp we saw a small herd of elephant - the only time we were to see an elephant calf. Elephant are especially cool to watch as they grab lots of foliage off the trees & eat it - I think this was the first time I have seen so many elephant still with their tusks, so that was neat (I think in Nepal & Thailand they had be detusked). So back for dinner we had seen three of the 'Big-Five' (apparently the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot), with just the rhinoceros & leopard to go.
Saturday morning we left the camp at six with a massive packed breakfast. I still couldn't get over how many zebra there were - they all look so well fed, but I'm told they look quite round even if they don't have much to eat. The Mara had been in drought for seven months previously & has only just started to get a bit of rain & green up a bit; consequently, the Masai have been running their stock further in to the park, which means reduced feed for the wild animals & therefore lower numbers. We added a cheetah resting on a bushy knoll to our list - it was gorgeous, if a little restful. This took quite some time to find & in the meantime we had gotten the van stuck twice in mud - stuck enough for us to have to get out & push, the first time took quite a while to get out - I was glad that there were no animals around. We also a lion & lioness stalk a limping zebra for about fifteen minutes, that was neat to watch - incidentally, the zebra managed to get away.
We managed to find a good spot away from all the animals to get out & have a very large & very late breakfast, before heading off in search of the elusive rhino (apparently there only four to five hundred in the park & they are very hard to find).Before long we had found another cheetah who was out for a bit of a stroll. No one seemed interested in a sprint against it & the herd of zebra close by were pretty unperturbed by its presence.Returning for lunch, the rest of the group lounged by the pool while I tried to grab a nap in tent - but it was a bit warm - so when Yvonna & I headed out again at three-thirty I was still pretty tired. But I figured I wouldn't be here again in a hurry so, I would just suck it up & enjoy it. Which was just as well, because although the drive started off pretty quiet looking for that elusive rhino - it ended in a flurry of fantastic sightings. First was this lion just dozing in the shade & here is a photo to prove that I was actually there (there is a lion there - I assure you). Next we found a hippo sitting in a pond that looked like it had be made quarrying for roading materials - this was a great surprise as we had been told that hippos are mostly down by the river which would have required a whole day excursion, which we were not keen for.After seeing a big herd of elephants in the distance, a couple of giraffe crossed the road right in front of us. I can look at giraffes for so long - I think I've really liked them since I was quite young - the patterns on their skin are so cool & they seem such unlikely animals.Then what turned out to be my favourite sighting of the weekend - a leopard up the tree. We couldn't get quite as close to it as some of the other animals (that is what I am telling myself is the reason why I only took one photo of it - & that isn't even very good). But it was a delight to stare at through the binoculars as it lazed on what looked like some pretty precarious branches high up surveying the surrounding scrub (looking for dinner perhaps). I thought it had an extraordinarily long tail, & I now know why a leopard doesn't changes its spots - they are quite incredible to start with & not worth risking I think. It was getting darker now, but we still managed to a cheetah & two more groups of lions. The last group (a male & two females) were a bit more active than most of the others we had seen & the two females had a bit of play fight that was entertaining. There was also a nice sunset way off across the plains (it got better than this, but it was hard to take a decent photo while bumping along the dirt tracks & road).This is Edward - our Masai scout - in traditional garb, you can almost make out his ear lobe that (because it has a massive hole in it) he wears pulled over the top of his ear. You can't quite see his traditional knife or traditional cell phone.
Sunday was off again early in hunt of that rhino. However, we never found it - that was a little disappointing, but I didn't mind too much as I have seen one in the wild many years ago in Nepal (albeit briefly as someone yelled "Rhino!" on spotting it & it ran away). We saw quite a few big herds of giraffes (more than thirty in total) before heading back home. What a weekend - Joe (one of Adrian's flatmates here) wasn't kidding when he said the Mara was one of the best, if not the best, things he has seen in his life - it was incredible.