Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Ready for Battle

The Masai warriors of south western Kenya are famous for their ability to go from a deep sleep to battle ready in a matter of seconds. Since this is a trait I am always claiming I share with the Masai, it was pretty essential that we go to visit their homeland in the Mara reserve, to see whether we had any more features in common. The fact that it is also home to all of the ‘big 5’ game, is another matter.

I’d always assumed the Masai Mara would be a hyper-accessible tourist trap, but when 80km from the park the road turned into (horribly corrugated) gravel and eventually dirt track and groups of Zebra and Giraffe started wandering around past us on the side of road, I changed my tune.

We arrived at Arusha Camp, just outside the park gates as it was getting dark, only to be chased up the road by a local Masai. It’s pretty common in Africa when you arrive in a place that someone will follow you, trying to give you directions to somewhere which you already know, and then try to get a tip from you for the privilege. Thinking this was the usual drill, we waved, and pressed on to the camp. Only when we arrived, after making him chase us for about a kilometre, did we realise that this was Edward, the guide that our camp had arranged for us to show us around the park (though in the event, he was no less dodgy than we had first assumed!)

Edward checks out the hippos
We left for the park at dawn, after a painful 5am alarm, but we were straight into the action. Edward may have been trying to ‘make an arrangement’ with us for reduced park fees (paid direct to him, of course), but he really knew where the animals liked to hang out. We turned off the road, 15 mins into the park, and were straight on top of 4 lionesses. Edward wasn’t sufficiently impressed with this though, and urged us to press on (the sight of The Beast cruising through the Mara with a Masai warrior sticking out of the sun roof giving directions is one I really wish I’d gotten a photo of). He was right.

We pushed on, past distant elephant and giraffe in search of a leopard (the most difficult of the big 5 to see). As we approached a likely site, we were suddenly confronted by a family of cheetah, on the hunt, being followed by hyena, looking for what they might leave behind. Breathtaking; but all too easy for Edward. He screamed at me to drive on.

Finally we reached the leopard’s tree, where he had dragged a dead impala up the day before and gazed at the elusive leopard for 10 mins through his shrubby hide. Very cool.

Look very closely, and you can see a Leopard

Still, Edward drove us on, it was back to the cheetah now, to follow the hunt. We stalked them for half an hour, saw them climb trees for a better look, saw the occasional burst of speed, but sadly no kill.

Cheetah in a tree

From there, we then went on to find a group of 4 young male lions who had killed a hippo the day before and were lazing under a tree looking very full.

It was by then about 10am, and we had seen so much!

In the Mara, you’re not supposed to leave the car ever, outside of the guarded picnic spots. As ever, Edward knew better, and took us to a shaded spot, where the river was full of hippos, and insisted it was safe. After some initial scepticism, we both left the car, and eventually, tired after the early start and the morning’s excitement, went to sleep under the tree, hoping not to become a lion’s prey (just as well I’m always so battle ready!)

Once the heat of the day had passed we headed out once more, taking on the terrible Mara roads, but being lucky enough to come across a group of 100+ elephants. We got as close as we dared (encouraging a bit of ear flapping from one big female, at which we promptly retreated!) and headed out of the park, exhausted but happy. What a day!


After our Safari, it was time to make for the border. The upcoming elections in Kenya have been causing trouble as people protest against corruption, and rebel against a government which does nothing for them. 
This takes the police away from the road, and constantly has us wondering what might be up ahead as we drive around. After 2 days on the road, the safety of Uganda awaited...

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