American Safari

Trip Start Jul 09, 2010
Trip End Nov 04, 2010

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Flag of Kenya  ,
Friday, July 23, 2010

I wrote in a previous blog entry that safari was a game of chance and you had no guarantees on spotting wildlife and certainly no choice over which wildlife you would see. This reasonable statement has turned out to be complete bollocks in the Masai Mara National Park.  This is where the commercialisation of wildlife has occurred.  The American influence is plain to see.  The Masai is home to luxury accommodation serving buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Service is king and tipping is usual.  The obvious tell tale of the American factor is the large amount of Americans here, all decked out in their brand new jungle clothes and armed with digital cameras and video recorders.  The kids wear the latest crappy made-in-china tacky t-shirts and safari hats, advertising Kenya and the local lodge they're staying at.  The Masai tribe have also succumbed and have been bippity-boppity-booped (Disneyfied), dancing around with "traditional" masai wear and jewellery all manufactured in some sweat shop in China no doubts.  It’s all been shined and polished for the wildlife hungry tourists

The average tourists requirement is simple, to see the Big Five and take better pictures than the other tourists.  I’ll refer to them as “competitors” from here on in.  The animals that make up the big five are the lion, the elephant, the buffalo, the rhino and the leopard.  The perfect slam dunk home run game drive is when you see all the big 5 and “shoot” each one.  We’ve come a short way from the medieval style safari where you also got to murder some wildlife too, but the same terms are used.  Everyone is armed with a digital SLR and telephoto lens.  If not you’re a little bit weird.

Before we get onto that let me describe the lodge.  Unfortunately we got bumped from Keekorok to the Mara Simba, due to some administration problems.  Both are 5 star type places.  There were monkeys playing in a tree outside our balcony this morning.  Our lodge is decked out in a dark brown mahogany type style.  There’s an actual Masai Warrior dude behind reception.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided with free coffee and cakes.  The food is literally amazing.  If anybody tells me that people in Africa are starving then I’ll direct them to the Mara Simba were they are attempting to feed the world, or 50 fat American tourists and their families.  Same difference.  However, me and Ali aren’t complaining as we’ve got 2 months of camping coming up so we’re literally gorging ourselves on all you can eat.  Mmmnnn maybe the Americans have a point after all.

Safari works like this.  We are awake at 6am to fuel ourselves on cake and coffee.  At least 2 cups of strong coffee are a prerequisite because you have to get pumped for your early morning game drive.  Our driver does the same and also probably does a couple of lines of coke too.  Then the 6.30am opening bell rings and we and our competitors are unleashed onto the Masai.  This is kill or be killed.  We speed out in our 4x4 matatu, cutting up our competitors and screaming to our first “kill” site.  You can order from the menu of animals what you’d like to see and the driver attempts to deliver.  If he does, he gets the big tips, if not, bog standard.   The trick is to be at the kill site first where you can take the first “shot”.  If you arrive late, you just end up “shooting” at a dead carcass.  To get the perfect shot, your driver deploys a number of sneaky tactics.  This includes high speed rallying, driving off track, cutting up other vehicles, blocking and defence and all round aggressive tactics.  Luckily, our driver was a veteran of the Mara, the Kenyan Gordon Ghecko.  He deployed all these tricks and more so we could get our shots at the lion, leopard, elephants, giraffes, cheetah, hippos, zebras, antelope, wildebeest and hyenas.  This list goes on.

The safari experience in Kenya is a somewhat laughable and interesting experience.  But I kid you not, the animals are amazing.  The lions are superb, especially the Big Cat.  He’s the savannah equivalent of the silverback and commands immediate respect.  Ali has some amazing shots of him sniffing for something in the wind.  He was so majestic and elegant, my limited blogging experience can’t describe.  The photographs do better justice. We didn’t arrive first at the Big Cat kill site unfortunately, but our ruthless driver positioned our matatu directly in front of the Big Cats path and he passed directly in front of us.  Ali got some great shots and then we proceeded to high five and whoop whilst other competitors could only be jealous at our game tactics.  Me, Ali and our driver Francis were big time safari players now and the other fuckers knew it.  Another incident involved the spotting of the cheetah.  We were driving on track when we noticed a large collection of matatu’s parked off track beside a tree.  Our driver asked another driver what was down there and it turned out to be the cheetah, so without asking us he drove off track, we got 3 quick shots and then back on track.  We asked Francis what the rush was and he explained that the drivers got fined for going off track by the park rangers, but that they had to “please” the customers.  An extra 10 buck tip in it for you buddy if we see the cheetah.  This is where it starts. 

Whilst on this trip I also discovered there isn’t a god nor can I use the force.  We were first at the hippo kill site and had prime position overlooking the river where we could take some photos of the hippos from the safety of our matatu.  Unfortunately, minutes later, our competitors sniffed an opportunity and descended en masse.  Apparently encouraged by their drivers, they left their matatus and started crowding on a small slope, shooting away at the hippos.  Some brave (stupid?) Japanese tourists even went down to the riverbank for the slam dunk shot.  I was present in my matatu, hippo view blocked, praying like I’ve never prayed before.  I prayed to God, Allah, Jehovah, Yoda, the Sun, the Moon and Zeus.  I ran out of gods.  Unfortunately, not one fucking tourist fell into that river nor did a hippo charge them.  I also tried the force but that didn’t work either.  Absolutely gutted.

Today, we went on an all day safari to try and locate the wildebeest migrating from Tanzania to the Masai Mara in search of the fresh grass.  Our driver told us some horrific story about the Tanzanian authorities planning to build a Great Wall of Tanzania to stop this migration from happening.  It’s so they can keep the wildebeest and steal the tourist industry from Kenya.  If true, this is probably the most singular stupid thing I’ve ever heard.  I’ll have to check when I get internet again.  We were a little late setting off and upon descending into rhino valley noticed a mass collection of matatu gathered together.  This means that someone had spotted either a big cat, leopard, black rhino or a cheetah.  We raced down to join the over excited tourists.  As usual, Francis cut some of our competitors up and we had our kill shot of the leopard, a quite stunning animal. However, the scene was complete mayhem, as everyone jostled for position for the ultimate kill shot.  It was obviously distressing the poor leopard and as she passed between two matatus, another came screaming from nowhere and made the leopard flinch so much she jumped back.  We directed Francis to leave the carnage and went on the search for wildebeest.  The entire scene was chaos and the leopard could have been hurt, though I don’t think this occurred to many of the other selfish fuckers who were there.  We left the crowds and drove a while and caught up with the wildebeest.  There were thousands of them.  Now the wildebeest is hardly the sharpest tool in the toolbox.  They travel single file and blindly follow the wildebeest that is in front of them.  The problem is, individually, they’re not really sure where they are going and this means they spend most of the day walking forwards and backwards.  How they actually complete the migration is anyone’s guess, because it takes them ages to cross the masai river.  The lead wildebeest upon crossing the river will see his reflection in the water, get spooked, turn around and retrace his steps.  This means that all the other wildebeest follow him back to where they came from, so they spend a large part of their day going around in circles.  However we were lucky enough to see one crossing.  A lone wildebeest got lost and had to cross the river to join the main herd.  There were nile crocs waiting at the bottom for him.  Fortunately, our maverick wildebeest dodged the sleeping crocs and made it across the river, so we’re still waiting for our first bit of wild action.  Our driver told us that the zebra, who mingle with the wildebeest, normally take the first steps into the river to show them the way.  No wonder the lions ignore all other animals when the wildebeest are in town, it’s basically a free buffet for them.

Our trip to the Masai Mara has come to an end and tomorrow we transfer back to Nairobi for the start of our overland tour.  The animals and masai have been an unbelievable experience, unfortunately the memories I’ll take away will be the dead zebra next to the roadside, obviously killed by a speeding 4x4, the lion cubs playing tug-of-war with a plastic bottle and the look of the leopard, panting, confused and scared, trying to get away from the orgy of tourists who had descended on her.  Great place ruined by too many tourists.  Message to all Americans: the Masai Mara is just like Disney’s Animal Kingdom, so no need to leave your own country.  God bless you all and god bless America.
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Spencer Jenkins on

Mate I am enjoying this plenty. If you see an American being done by a Crocodile I will work until my dying day to get you knighted.

Greg Winterflood on

Well written. I feel the only things I have missed out on is the taste of the coffee and cake!

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