We could write so much about this. It was only two full days (three nights) but I could go on and on as we saw so much!
Maasai Mara is a nature reserve in Western Kenya, near the border with Tanzania. Itâ€™s big – about 1500sq km – and is not fenced off. The animals are completely wild and free to roam. Itâ€™s the site of the famous wildebeest migration around July-September each year. See the pics to get an idea of what it looks like – a mixture of open grass plains with groves and woods of trees, crossed with various rivers (the Mara being the one after which the park is named).
Itâ€™s only about 250km from Nairobi but a long drive (6-10 hours) as the roads are extremely bad – massive pot holes and with dirt tracks on either side having been created by drivers not wanting to drive on the tarmac! It took us 10 hours as the guide we went with has an old Toyota Landcruiser that has leaf spring suspension (ie very rigid) and only goes 50mph. Very much like driving in our old landy.
It was almost dark when we arrived at the reserve and were greeted by a large elephant. 10 minutes later and we had a puncture, repaired speedily but we were told not to wander away from the vehicleâ€¦ and almost immediately after setting off again we saw headlights on the plain off the track. Getting closer we could see a pride of lions having just brought down a wildebeest and were tucking in! Seeing kills of any kind is extremely rare, so we were lucky to see this. Just as we approached, a herd of buffalo charged the lions and drove them off (not sure why as it was a wildebeest they had killed). There was a brief hiatus and three lions quietly returned and started tearing the wildebeest up. Hyena noises (not really laughing, ,more of a strange whooping) then filled the air and you could see their eyes in the torch light. The guides reckoned 30-50 of them. After lots of circling, they rushed the 3 lions and scared them off, then tucked in themselves! Quite the most spectacular thing weâ€™ve seen. No photos but Becs took some video that I will try and upload at some point.
We were camping, so the guide (Wilson) and his two helpers (including our chef, Godfrey, who cooked some amazing food on one gas ring and a charcol fire in a little hut) put the tents up for us and lit a big campfire. Over the next two days we went on what they call â€œgame drivesâ€, basically off roading around the plain looking for animals. Itâ€™s easy to see things, and most of the animals are fine around the vehicles (leopards being the exception), so we saw wildebeest, zebra, antelope (various different types), elephants, giraffe, hippos, baboon, hyena, jackal, buffalo, lion, warthogs and lots of different birds. We liked the hippos best. Hippos are so happy just floating around in the water, diving and yawning. We also went for a safari walk with Jackson (our Maasai guide), which was beautiful, wandering around on the plain next to zebra and antelope with giraffe and elephants in the distance.
This time of year is the short wet season. This was good, in that the grass was green and the animals seemed to be having lots of young: we saw baby lion cubs, elephants, baboons, antelope, zebra and hippos. All very cute! The bad thing was that it rained a fair bit (heavy showers), so much so on the first afternoon between game drives that our tent leaked so badly that we had to bail out with cups until the storm subsided! The rain also made driving conditions tricky, as the small tracks are just dust which quickly turns to thick mud.
The campsite was in a small wood grove, right in the middle of the plains, i.e. there was nothing between us and the wildlife. This resulted in a late night encouter with an elephant. We could only hear itâ€™s deep and loud â€œhoooomâ€ sound, a bit like a very bassy snore. They might seem docile but they are extremely dangerous as they donâ€™t like humans much and tend to charge and trample things if they get upset. Luckily the guides woke up and made some noise which deterred it. We also had hyena, baboon and giraffe very close (within 100m) of the camp, and elephants (during the day) about 1km away.
Our guide (Jackson – his picture is on Flickr) is a Maasai, and extremely knowledgeable about the mammals, birds and plants in the reserve so we learnt a lot. The Maasai people live in and around the reserve, tending their cattle and sheep. You can see various herds dotted around the plains each with their red-shoukaâ€™d herder. We also were taken to a Maasai village, with the tiny mud huts.
Take a look at the pictures on Flickr. Iâ€™ve tried to put comments along with the pictures to help explain what they are of. We have lots lots more of course, but uploading is just too slow.
More updates soon!