Hey there, welcome to Part 2 of my Mara chronicles. If you missed Part 1, find it here. Without any ado, dig right in…
The next day, I woke up to the soothing calls of Ring-necked doves. It felt like I was in an enchanted forest. Being surrounded by nature really is therapeutic. We had been told by the camp manager that hyenas usually roam the camp at night. I had heard strange sounds that night, but wasn’t sure what creature it was.
At the breakfast table, I found my travelmates already indulging. Like before, the food was well prepared and quite filling. Even bees joined us, hovering over and walking on our pancakes. Enos the camp manager informed me that they keep bees, and sell the honey to hotels. They would soon start selling to camp visitors too.
Well, it was time for the game drive so into the van we went. We couldn’t wait to see the amazing animals. According to one of the camp workers, there had been an increase in the number of lions so I knew this was going to be a good day. The sun’s heat was already making its presence felt yet it was only 9 am. Soon we were treated to the sight of Masai giraffes feeding. These creatures are graceful even when eating. Slowly stretching their necks into the acacia branches and plucking the leaves with their long tongues. Did you know giraffes have tough tongues that enable them feed on acacia without being hurt by the thorns?
Next on the sighting menu was a large herd of buffalo. I noticed that the tour van drivers were using radio to communicate the location of animals to each other. This was to increase chances of sighting and also save on time. They used coded language to describe the animals, for example maskio (ears) meaning elephant and ng’ombe meaning buffalo. And indeed the buffalo look like huge cows. They were busy grazing on the savannah grass but at some point a huge male approached our van- probably we got in his space too much.
It was interesting to watch how different animals interacted. The Oxpeckers provided cleaning services by eating ticks from buffalos. So both get to benefit: oxpeckers get fed while buffalos get cleaned. Different species but living in harmony. I think humans can learn a thing or two from this.
Did you know there’s an airstrip at Maasai Mara Game Reserve? Neither did I, until I saw a small plane landing in a cloud of dust when we stopped for a bathroom break. The occupants got out, went for their break and were back inside leaving the rest of us on the ground in another cloud of dust. One day I’m going to be in that big league as well. Just watch this space.
Two hours into the game drive later, and we were yet to see lions. Was the camp worker right about the increase in lions? Still I kept praying, “Lord, please grant us favour, we need to see these lions.” I mean, it wouldn’t be right for us to have come all this way and not see the majestic big cats. Occasionally we would come across herbivores grazing (and of course take photos of them) but we were still on the lookout for the big one.
Our excitement seemed to have died down due to the long wait. The sweltering heat wasn’t making things better either. That was until…we came across a herd of 9 elephants! What a sight. I had never seen elephants one on one. Such majestic creatures gently crossing the path in front of us. The adult females sandwiched the little calves for protection. It was such a beautiful moment we were favoured to see. And soon they were gone into the distance.
A little while later we spotted (see what I did there?) a solitary cheetah. She was lying under a bush sheltering from the soaring temperature. My friend who is also a wildlife enthusiast informed me that female cheetahs usually keep to themselves. See I’m not the only one who likes to hang out alone? I would have loved to see her hunt but it was too hot. They can easily overheat and maybe even die when they hunt in the heat.
My prayers were answered after 4 hours of driving around. Yes, the lions! It was a royal couple having their lunch. Or rather, the king having his lunch while the female waited her turn. The male was choking his prey by the neck. The stuff you see on wildlife documentaries. And we got to witness it live. Being satisfied that the warthog was dead, the male dragged it from the bank of a dried up pool to the bush for privacy. He came out seconds later roaring- probably warning off others not to approach. Again he disappeared into the bush to enjoy his royal meal.
If the drive had ended there, I wouldn’t have minded now that we’d seen lions. But why stop there? It was only midday and we had till 5pm. Shortly we came across a group of 5 cheetahs chilling under a bush. Probably brothers, as my friend informed me. When cubs get old enough the mother leaves them. Female cubs go solo while the males hang out together.
By this time the hunger was biting. We drove to the Mara River and I hoped to see some action. The main reason I had come to Mara. But when we got there, I was dismayed. This section of the river had partially dried up. There weren’t any wildebeest at the banks. The few that we saw on the path nearby didn’t seem interested in crossing at all. Tsk tsk. Maybe our timing was off? I definitely have to go back to witness the Great Migration.
The only ones who seemed to be having a good time were the hippos. Sleeping on the dry river bed with their faces in each other’s rear ends (yikes!). Wading in and out of the water to keep cool. With them were some water fowl participating in synchronized preening.
After that disappointment it was a welcome consolation to treat ourselves to lunch (finally). It was a picnic lunch under an acacia, overlooking the breathtaking plains. A pair of noisy Starlings (I forget the species) provided background entertainment. The full bush dining experience. They sounded like squeaky door hinges to me though.
Going on with the drive, we encountered more elephants enjoying their lunch too. Such beautiful creatures. Did you know that an elephant calf can suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder when its mother is poached? They have excellent memory and can recall human beings who have been kind to them years before. When one of them dies, the others gather around it for a mourning ceremony. Sad that anyone would want to harm such intelligent and majestic animals.
Further ahead was another solitary cheetah resting and a female Masai ostrich strutting across the savannah. The grand finale was a lion couple feeding. Like the previous sighting, the lioness was waiting her turn. Impatience or maybe hunger got the best of her and she decided to approach the male for a bite. The next thing we heard was a loud roar, the lioness running towards our van. I had been a bit distracted by looking at some images on my camera so the roar really freaked me out. I thought we were being attacked! The male chased the female away, that’s why she ran towards us.
That was a perfect end to the game drive. We arrived back at camp too exhausted for anything else. Fast forward to the next day, which was the last day. It felt too soon to leave. There was still so much more to see and experience. On our way out of the park we saw more animals: impala, zebra and giraffes grazing. A fitting parting shot.
One of the highlights of the day came during one of our pit stops. We were at a small shopping centre. I had just got back to the van after a short stretch outside. Suddenly a pair of Superb starlings appeared. It was a treat to see them up close. I debated whether to shoot or just watch. I went with the former. Quickly I got out my camera, dialed in the settings and fired away. This trip had challenged me to be fast while shooting. The results were quite pleasant I must say.
Well, that’s all folks! I believe you’ve enjoyed reading. Even more so, I hope you’re planning a trip to the Mara because no words can do it justice. You just have to be there to get the full experience. To my travelmates Lukas, Boris, Tania and Pap, thanks for the great company. Marvelous Mara, I’ll be back soon!