Roughing it? I don't think so....

Trip Start Nov 03, 2011
Trip End Nov 11, 2011

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Flag of Kenya  ,
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Today's drive takes us south of Maai Mahiu to ascend up over the top of the Mau Escarpment. Then heading due south, we traveled towards Narok, gateway to the Masai Mara and district headquarters of this part of Masailand. The landscape is dotted with the Candelabra tree. This tree is a weird mix of tree and cactus. It forms a trunk like a tree but instead of leaves it has cactus like branches.

We traveled across the "breadbasket" of Kenya, covered with acres of wheat and barley; Today the trip was a lot quieter than our 7 hour drive. Maybe it is the looming end of this trip or just maybe we are at the saturation point, new friends, amazing animals, beautiful landscapes. What ever it might be I found myself just closing my eyes and resting for part of this drive.

The road into the Masai Mara is about 2 hours worth of our journey and is totally amazing. The Masai Mara brings in more tourist than any other reserve in Kenya and therefore a lot of money. The road is one of the worst that we have driven on. There are pot holes the size of an economy car in the middle of the road and large portions of it are washed away. Nicholas talks about a little of the politics and I guess it is a big issue in Kenya. I also step away from what I know and take into the consideration of what you are really looking at here. This is the only road into the Masai Mara. That means that it gets a lot of traffic from supply trucks and all of the vehicles bringing tourist to the Masai Mara and then on top of that there are the heavy rains twice a year. Water is the most destructive element on earth.The erosion must be immense twice a year destroying what ever repairs are done each year. Can you imagine having to totally rebuild a road twice a year? What kind of tax dollars would that take and even in a wealthy nation how would you convince people to spend that much of your taxes? And as we are seeing today the trucks still make it and the tourist keep coming. It doesn't deter any of the tourist dollars from flooding in.

This interesting problem has triggered an interesting solution. There are crews of unemployed Kenyans who "volunteer" to fix potholes with rudimentary tools. They accept tips from the many people who travel these roads. Nicholas stops along the way to hand out a few of these tips.

Located within the boundaries of the Masai Mara Game Reserve, our comfortable luxury camp makes a perfect base from which to explore the wonders of this corner of Kenya. I swear the trip keeps getting better and better. We are greeted and led into the bar of the resort. There we are offered a refreshing juice drink. There are those that are with our trip that are pretty impatient and just want to get checked in but they aren't realizing that this is one of the most efficient check ins yet. They have grouped us all in the bar so that we can sit and relax while they work out the details. For the first time on our trip they ask us about our preferences on bedding arrangements. They first ask who doesn't need two beds. Most of the couples say that they are fine with one bed. I cringe when one of our fellow travelers has a melt down and snaps, "I only need one bed, not two not three! Just one." She was traveling alone and many of the places we have stayed have three twin beds in the room. I don't see the problem of having too many beds. You just use the extra as a place to put your luggage. I guess all the driving has made some people cranky.

This trip gets better and better!!!!!! The porter takes Cory and I to our tent. There isn't a key for this resort. Tent 41. This is so cool. The porter unzips our tent and shows us in. He shows us all the amenities. There is the King sized bed with a stone half wall behind it. On the other side of the wall is a desk, a small dresser and a closet with a safe in it. The bathroom is a fully running tiled facility with hot and cold running water and a fully functioning toilet. This is so cool! Sarova Mara Camp is set in the African bush but the luxurious tents all have permanent roofs, zip-up fronts, and electricity.

Time for lunch. The Game camp restaurant is fantastic and it reminds me of Sanaa at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. Again I am wondering if any of the designers got ideas from this beautiful place. We have a little time to explore before heading on our afternoon game drive. We pop into the gift shop to check out what they have and guess who we find. Nick is in the shop checking out their wares. We tease Nick about shopping but he is really a fantastic resource. He has checked out every piece of merchandise and can tell you what is a good deal and what is overpriced. He can tell you what he has scene in every shop and what is a first. It is like having a personal shopper traveling with you.

This afternoon we head out on our first game-drive in this magnificent game reserve. Masai Mara is an extension of the Serengeti ecosystem to the south in Tanzania. It takes moments before we start seeing the animals. The zebras are nearly ignored by our now experienced hunters. Cameras cocked and ready to take their shots at the Big 5. The artist in me saw shots everywhere. The landscape, the lighting, the color different in each and every blink. It didn't matter if it was a cat or a ungulate it was a painting in the making.

The Topi did get a little attention. This was our fist time seeing them. And the herd of elephants couldn't be ignored. There were so many of them and with their size they are visible from quite a distance but the excitement started to peak when the cheetah was seen.

In the distance we saw some banded mongoose. Someone early in the trip had asked Nicholas if we were going to see meer cats. Yes this is a Disney society. It is funny that you can't go on a safari without undertones of The Lion King. We had seen Simba and Pumba and what would the Lion King be without Timon. Nicholas explained that none of the places that we were going would have meer cats but they would have banded mongoose. The banded mongoose have similar traits like traveling in groups. When they get separated on of the mongoose will stand on the highest point and call the others to him. They were very far in the distance but you could see a bunch of them scattering over the ground. So exciting!

We saw more Topi and an Eland. We saw a huge group of Ruppell's Vultures and one of them even stretched out his wings for a fantastic photo. There was a herd of Cape Buffalo that was so immense we were reminded that this was the end of the great migration.

The horizon was dotted with the silhouettes of elephants and as we got nearer we saw a mother and baby. The baby was so young. I am guessing less than a month old. It was the most adorable thing I have seen yet on this trip. We sat and watched this herd forever. There is something weird that happens at Animal Kingdom. The animals seem pretty used to the big brown safari vehicles but there is something about the smaller green ones that upset them. Maybe it is the size or maybe the tone of color looks too much like that of a rhino. Out here on the Mara we noticed that the elephants act more aggressively to the green range rovers. One of the young bulls started to trumpet and the Female elephant responded by circling around the tiny baby. All the elephants were around the baby backs to her, trunks out ready to fend off any threat. It was beautiful to watch.

Evidence of predators was laying on the ground next to our van. What appeared to be fresh remains of a wildebeest calf lay crumpled on the ground. I imagine that the cats had killed it only days before but the hyena, the vultures and the insects had nearly picked the bones clean.

It didn't take Nicholas long to find a couple of Lions sleeping on the ground. It looked like a couple of males. They had no interest in us. With full bellies and warm sun they weren't budging from their slumber. A short drive around the same area took us to the females. They were a bit more alert. Gorgeous creatures. One of them started to rouse. Was she seeing prey on the horizon. Were we going to get to see a chase? Excitement built. She watched the horizon intently. She was getting up.... She was walking. So much focus....Oh...... she was squatting....taking a poop....We all laughed at ourselves...We did get some great shots of a lion pooping though.

I wish I could explain what happens when you see a cat like this lounging under a bush. You are so excited. All you want is to get a better view, a better photograph. Each time you see a new animal you think that it is going to be the only one you see. You want a photograph so badly. Just one good shot to remember seeing a lioness in the wild. There is something that goes on in your head. I don't know what it is but the response is often the same. Suddenly you hear someone in your van, "here kitty kitty kitty." When I had researched the trip and seen in forums complaints about people doing this I thought "Wow what idiots, who would do that?" Yet now I understand it. I myself didn't do it but I wasn't thinking it was stupid either. I was having to resist the urge to make animal sounds to get the attention of the lions. Nicholas finally says something to group about what they are doing. Reminding them that we are just observers and that we are here to view the animals without little interference of nature. This is when I admitted that I had seen complaints about it in forums. Julie asked why I hadn't said anything. I explained that the way I was feeling I totally understood and didn't think it was right for me to say anything. I am glad that Nicholas said something though. I think it might have been our close proximity to the other vans and the volume of our group. I think our behavior may have embarrassed Nicholas. This was the only time he said anything.

The migration is a natural phenomenon that only started in the 1960's. We were hoping to get to see some of this phenomenon.These herds of wildebeest that we are seeing are the last of the annual great migration. I knew that November was the off season but it was near the end of the great migration and I was hoping to get to see some of it. By late July, the grasses of the western Serengeti are turning yellow and the herds continue north. After crossing the Grumeti River in Tanzania the wildebeest and zebra head to Kenya's Lamai Wedge and the Mara Triangle. Before they get to the lush plains of the Mara, they have to make another river crossing. This time it's the Mara River filled with hungry crocodiles. September through November, the Mara Plains are filled to the brim with large herds of ungulates, naturally followed by predators.  It is estimated that around 250,000 wildebeest die while on the migration circuit. By November/December the rains start in the south again and the herds begin their long trek back down to the Serengeti plains in Tanzania to have their young. We didn't know if they would all be gone by the time we got here in November.

Nicholas told us how the animals live in harmony. Zebra and wildebeest graze in harmony because each animal prefers a different part of the same grass. These are the scenes that are so amazing to me. You look across the Mara and you see many different animals all in the same area.

As the sun starts to set we head back to the camp. It is right outside the gate that we see the Hyena. There are several of them but they are pretty camera shy and the lighting isn't very cooperative. I take the last shot of the day.

We come into the restaurant and the largest table that they have seats only 6. Determined not to be split up we pull a chair from another table so that Simba One is all together. Over the week we have become friends. We only have a couple of days left and we are determined to stay together.

After dinner we head back to our tent. The Mosquito net is down and the water bottle is under our sheets. The night is cool and Cory and I curl up together and fall asleep, in a tent, in the middle of the Masai Mara, in the middle of Kenya. It doesn't get any better than this.

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