Monday, July 11, 2011

Masai Mara Safari

This weekend we went to the Masai Mara Game Reserve in southern Kenya.  It’s the Kenyan part of the Serengeti (which is in Tanzania) and considered one of the best places to safari in the world.

We took off work on Friday and left at 6am for the 8 hour van trip to the Mara.  I rationalized missing a day of work because I worked on the 4th of July, which actually turned out to be a really nice party here at IU 

The first 5 hours of the trip wasn’t too bad, the roads were decent and made good time.  However, once we turned onto the dirt road that leads to the reserve we had 3 hours of the worst dirt roads I have been on (excluding the Uganda rafting/mud mishap).  We eventually arrived at Oloshaiki Camp about 2 miles outside the park gate.  This resort was incredible; it was ‘tent camping’ again but really really nice accommodations, hot showers, great food…doesn’t get better than that.  We were welcomed by Masai tribesmen who work as guides at the park and serve as guards at the resort. 

We put our bags down, grabbed lunch and headed to the park entrance.  Everyone was really anticipating the safari because we had heard that the Great Migration, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, had started.  

 Our Masai guide, Tome, helped get us into the park at the student rate (also the help of our of the people in my van who got a letter from the teaching hospital) which helped a bit since park fees are $90 USD per 24 hours during peak season. 

Sitting outside the gate, we could already see elephants, warthogs and zebras.  Pretty cool and built the anticipation a bit more.   
Once inside the park, we saw tens of thousands of wildebeests…stretched as far as the eye could see.  The landscape looked like Kansas but 14,579 times cooler than Kansas because that’s the most boring state I have ever driven through.  Either way, it was incredible.  Just like the Grand Canyon, something you have to see in person. 

Our first game drive was shortened by rain and sunset but still saw lions, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, dik-dik, and impalas…pretty good day to start the weekend.  I was beat from the travel and called it a night early so we could be up for sunrise.
We crossed a bridge on the resort grounds and actually went into the park at 630am to watch the sunrise but had to turn around because a herd of elephants was coming too close for our guides comfort.  Still got to see the sunrise, just not inside the park.  

We took a packed lunch and headed back to the main gate in our safari van for day two.  It started out great with herds of elephants, packs of lions, massive herds of zebra and wildebeests.  We were still waiting to see the famous migration of wildebeests crossing the Mara River so we headed out on a 2 hour drive to the best location.  After coming over a hill that offered the park’s best view, we arrived at the Mara River.  Crocodiles and hippos at the ready, only one problem…no wildebeests.  Apparently a few thousand crossed earlier in the week and others crossed earlier that morning but nothing at all when we were there.  Disappointing but I couldn’t complain given everything else.   We saw just about everything we wanted to except for rhinos and leopards, not surprisingly the two most elusive.

After we left (about 9 hours on the drive) we went to our guide’s village.  I have seen the Masai tribe before on the National Geographic and Discovery channels.  I read a bit about them before and found out that they are known for their fierce fighting ability, one of the main reasons why they largely avoided the slave trade.  They are a storied tribe and still carry many traditions through to today.  Easily recognized by their red dress and blankets, they are definitely a sight to be seen.  We watched them dance, chant and have a jumping competition (mating ritual).   

We got to go inside their homes and play with the kids, we thought we might get to drink the ritual drink of fresh milk and cow blood but they sometimes lose cattle in the process and didn’t want to risk if we weren’t staying overnight as guests.  Somewhat relieved that I didn’t have to but at the same time disappointed that I didn’t get the once in a lifetime chance. 

We only have two weeks left in Eldoret and I think I will stay in town and spend some time doing the things I haven’t had time to yet.  But there’s still a chance we head to Nakuru for a short trip. 

Hope everyone is doing well.  Looking forward to seeing you all when I get home between Aug 1 and when I start the new job August 22nd.     

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