Time in the schools has zipped past. We visit with our friend Simon's family (he's a guide out on safari) and are welcomed into such a lovely home with such warm smiles. We enjoy chai and mangoes, then head off to pack and prepare for our flight back to Nairobi the next day (which turns out to be so...comfortable and quick compared to the 7-hour bus ride we had originally planned!)
We meet our new guide, Dennis, at the airport and are excited to get to our jeep (big, warm and cozy inside with seats covered with Masai cloths.) Heading off south west toward Tanzania, we embark on our 6 hour drive to Masai Mara National Reserve. It's the biggest and most famous game park in SW Kenya and borders the Serengeti in Tanzania. Named after the Masai tribe that inhabits this region, "mara" means "spotted" and refers to the lone acacia or cloud shadows that mark the area. The paved road is comfortable for about 3 hours--we pass the amazing East African Rift, a 6000 KM plate that extends across eastern Africa. It's a breathtaking expanse and we stop to breathe it in (and get "encouraged" to buy products from the local vendors!) Once past the valley, we arrive at the bumpiest part of our journey (the road into the Mara is scheduled to be repaired soon...but not soon enough!) It's part of the journey, and I have to say, I actually enjoy every toss and turn!
Once we find Mountain Rock tented camp (www.mountainrockkenya.com,) we're so happy to get out, stretch and take in the gorgeous land and awesome camp. Welcomed by the staff and escorted to our tents by Faith (a sweet woman who we end up driving back to Nairobi--works in the Mara, but lives about 8 hours north and only sees her kids every 4 months...ugh.) The tent cabins are warm (Masai bed covers) and have bathrooms/showers. Yay!
We have an tasty local meal (which becomes the norm here..) and get ready for our first drive.
Once at the gate to the park, we spot weaver birds bustling in and out of nests. Waiting there, I'm overwhelmed by color as Masai women push their goods almost into the windows of our jeep. Beautiful beaded products, but we're not buying today. I have to look away--and I hate it. I want to talk to them right there and find out about the rich, traditional lives of these herding communities.
Instead, we arrive into the animal world right way. Welcomed by a hornbill and a giraffe just as we enter. Leaping oryx on the green plain—both front and back legs reaching to make the animal a horizontal plane.
And ah...the Acacia on the horizon. I have truly missed this landscape. This peace.
Huge herd of buffalo—relaxing munching on grass—their faces stoic, undisturbed. Once again sculpted like statues on the plains.
Elies everywhere. We're enamored by a two-month old. We watch him struggle--a real chore for him to eat with his mini trunk. But I admire that spring in his step, and the feisty flapping those dumbo ears!
A huge pride of at least 10 lions (two females, 8 cubs) lounges on the open savannah. They are alert, yet totally undisturbed by our vehicles. We marvel at the spotted coat of the juvenile lions, and sheer regality and strength apparent in the lionesses stature and paw size! The males have scruffy mane still growing in, and they clean each other, and yawn, enjoying their lazy moment. It is not us that gets the lions on their feet, but a herd of elephants coming their way. Like a gang of tough guys, the pride stands, walks away from us down the road. We move our vehicle around them, and it's a mouth-dropping moment to see them lumbering toward us. My heart beats fast as I realize that there is no other feeling like witnessing these kinds of moments. Grace. Humility. Appreciation.
We hear there is a leopard close by, so from our jeep we search the brush. No sign. Later, my son wants to search for leopard once again, and he spots him with binos! Other safari vans see us and follow. They all move to other side but our driver, Dennis stays put—the other cars push the leopard back our way. We're astounded at his beautiful, rosette spots, muscular tail that stands out in the bush with its white underside. The male cat slinks along shrubs and we snap a few shots of the stunning animal—our hearts pounding—not believing we've spotted the most elusive animal in the whole reserve on our first drive. We see our friend Simon, who's out with other clients on safari.
We snap shots of the secretary bird, ibis, Busters, Topi, and hartebeest. Such color, and unique flavor here. I'm swept away by the gorgeous contrasts to green, and lush beautiful land
Then Mr. male lion appears—regal, slow, cut under eye—he gets up and walks right pass cars and into the middle of all the vehicles—just like the lion in Madagascar—staring regally at them. This gives me pause—I realize these animals are acclimated to visitors, but really—what does ten cars full of people do to their psyche? Their wild integrity. It makes me sad as we drive away. But I realize parks like this promote conservation, education, and the wildlife has the power to stray from humans as they choose. The animals here are thriving...and protected--and honored by people from all over the world.
I breathe in the blue sky cut with ivory, textured clouds.
So lucky to be here.