Kenya - Masai Mara NP - Goin Safari!

Trip Start Jan 27, 2012
Trip End Feb 27, 2012

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Milimani Backpacker

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

"You know you are truly alive when you are living among lions." Karen Blixen, author "Out of Africa"

Our safari vehicle bumped and swayed along the dirt track, gaining a slight rise in elevation as we rounded the large boulder outcropping. The late afternoon sun's rays bathed the savanna grass and outlying rocks in a golden light. Collectively we anticipated something special was lurking here in the grass judging by the earnest way our driver had driven to this location. Our anticipation proved well rewarded for sitting majestically in the tall grass were a pride of lions, six or seven easy, while the old king of the jungle, the male lion king, sat under shaded coverage several yards away. We gasped in awe! Now we were definitely in Africa!

My journey to get here, Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, Africa, began the usual way for a Western traveler; many hours, many sky miles and several planes flights, traveling nearly half way around the world before I reached ground in Nairobi. A warm evening breeze and a smiling female face greeted me as I lugged my backpack through the airport doors. My Miliwani Backpacker airport pick-up reservation had proven successful. This bode well for my stay. Within three hours from my landing, I had checked in saying "Jambo!" for the first time, grabbed a bite to eat and a cold beer at the backpacker's outside patio restaurant, e-mailed an “all's well!” on the intermittently working computer, and settled in to my narrow cubicle room, completely satisfied and exhausted.

That first night in Nairobi my mind dreamt of iconic East Africa images; images created by writers, like Hemingway and Karen Blixen, and movies such as Out of Africa, Born Free, and The African Queen. These images depicted jungles, Lake Victoria, vast grasslands and desert plains, abundant wildlife, snow-capped Mt. Kilimanjaro and colorful Maasai warriors. My thoughts continued now rummaging through history book passages that told tales of famous British explorers; names like Burton, Stanley and Livingstone, and their quests for the Nile’s source. Still the mind wandered further recalling the story pertaining to the Leakeys’ anthropological discoveries within East Africa’s Cradle of Man, the Rift Valley’s Olduval Gorge. My first international travels to Europe partly signified for me a return to my ancestral roots. Would I feel a similar, even more profound connection here in East Africa, the genealogical origin for all Mankind?

Well… unfortunately I felt no profound connection on my first full day at least not on the streets of Nairobi. Downtown Nairobi was within easy walking distance from the backpackers. The walk, however, after a mere 30 minutes, inundated with dust, heat and suffocating truck exhaust, was… exhausting. And, though Nairobi was pleasant enough by day, try as I might, I still felt like an obvious mazungu. Mazungu is the Swahili term for white foreigner. However I was confident I would eventually ingratiate myself with the locals. To do so on the Nairobi streets might require me to dress up. The Kenyan people in Nairobi were very well-dressed, conservative in attire and hair style; black shoes, slacks, white shirt or sweater, hardly any sneakers and no sandals. Reviewing my wardrobe I thought, OK I guess I shall remain a laid-back muzungu.

During my brief downtown Nairobi exploration, I did visit the namesake for Lonely Planet’s social forum, the Thorn Tree restaurant for a relaxing morning coffee. The Thorn Tree was the original travelers meeting place in East Africa, if not the world. The Kilroy of adventure, Ernest Hemingway, frequented here. Fortunately, the best social meeting place in Nairobi was within crawling distance… my backpacker’s shaded restaurant patio.

Situated a mere several blocks past the Thorn Tree is the beginning of one of Nairobi’s largest slums; the gateway to Nairobi’s numerous less fortunate. At this same section of downtown begins the chaotic Nairobi transportation system. I would have no problem distinguishing between my last travels from here. Kenya’s public transport hub is the antithesis of Iceland’s efficient system. A central bus station was nonexistent. In Kenya, the standard form of distance transportation was small six-seat buses called matatus. They were overcrowded and lacked luggage capability except for placement at the back end of the van. Only a few large buses were available, and only for long journeys to either Mombasa on the east coast or traveling west to cross into Uganda. Transportation north was extremely difficult to arrange especially with the current difficulties along Somalia and Southern Sudan borders.

I’d already met several travelers at MIliwani that had volunteered to work in Southern Sudan: an American couple, retired teachers who were bringing dozens of books in their suitcases to help in their endeavor to establish a school. Southern Sudan had very recently become a new sovereign country. There was also an American medical student who was volunteering his services in southern Sudan at a modified hospital, not far from the danger zone where battles were still being waged. My transportation difficulties seemed quite petty in comparison.

Eventually, by the fourth day, I was able to arrange a safari trip to Masai Mara National Park. Our journey took us through the Nairobi urban sprawl, down the high plateau to the panoramic Rift Valley, past several Kenyan shanty towns, and out along the open desert plains that lead to the Masai Mara. The desert plains were reminiscent of my New Mexico southern landscape; open sparsely vegetated spaces with hazy mountains in the distance.

Nearing Masai Mara, the road becomes the road from hell; a dirt line constructed by grooves, bumps, rivulets, potholes, boulders, and dust. Here, you see the elongated, red-cloaked Maasai men walking with their cattle herds, undoubtedly thinking what silly fools we were bouncing along in that metal contraption.

The end of the “road from hell” lay at our lodging compound; the compound situated at the outskirts of a Maasai village, just outside the Masai Mara National Park. This was no Disney-esque Maasai village either; this was the real deal… cows, sheep, traditional clothing, traditional dung-covered huts, tons of flies, etc. We quickly settled in to our new tent enclosure homes, for that evening, we would enter the Masai Mara.

Besides the sheer joy one experiences wandering among the majestic wildlife, an additional key ingredient to an enjoyable safari adventure is to have a fun group of people to share the experience. I was fortunate enough to hook up with such a group, as well as a fine Kenyan guide named Lowry.

Joining me on the safari was Claire, an intrepid British girl who had recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Claire had also done some volunteer work at a lion rehabilitation facility in Zimbabwe.  My additional companions was a young London couple, he of Polish descent and she originally from Kenya.

Masai Mara is a tranquil setting; expansive grasslands and rolling hills, open stretches and forested sections, a large area providing lots of space for wildlife to roam. Though this region is protected by the Kenyan government today, undoubtedly in part for its financial benefits derived through tourism, I fear for its continued existence. The rapidly growing city populations in Nairobi and Tanzania’s Dar Salaam, with their rapidly growing abject poverty slums, will eventually reach a boiling point; either the wildlife land preservation practice will continue or the growing populace will begin an encroaching migratory expansion to preserved lands.
For now, and forever, that first evening, I knew that we, the human travelers, were the interlopers in this region.

Some straggler wildebeests greet us near the gate. They apparently didn’t receive the memo to migrate south toward the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania.  After passing several graceful moving giraffes and elephants, we would soon draw our vehicle ever so close to those majestic lions we discovered perched on the rocks. A short distance below them sat a large Cape buffalo herd grazing amidst the thick marsh grass. We learned from our knowledgeable guide Lowry, the lions would not move in for the hunt until under the cover of darkness. At first light the next morning, we would find the results of their hunt.

To be continued in next entry…

Jambo everyone!
Here's also a few pictures from my safari in Kenya's Masai Mara National Park. Much more writings to come!

Hakuna matata!

To see more of my photography, please visit

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