Into Africa: Masai Mara Sights and Bites

by spiceaholic on May 20, 2012

**This is the third  in a series of re-caps of our trip through Friendly Planet Travel to Kenya and Istanbul last November.  The first and second installments can be found here and here.**

If you’ve been reading my re-caps, you’re probably starting to wonder where all the fun safari pics are.  Your patience has finally paid off!

As we set off for the Masai Mara, our driver warned us that the last couple hours of the drive were going to be VERY rough once the paved roads ended.  Sammy joked that people called the drive up there an “African massage.”

By the time we arrived, we knew never to doubt Sammy again.

We also knew where the “oh shit!” bars were in our van so we could hang on for dear life as we were jostled up and down, sideways, all without any seatbelts!  I felt bad for the guys, every time we hit a bump you could hear them groan. I had been forewarned before the trip — women were advised to wear sports bras for the drive because of all the bounciness.  Oh they were right.

After the worst of the jostling, we came across some people selling shirts by the side of the road that said “I Survived the Mara Road!”  I’m still regretting not getting one.  And I could have sworn I took some video of us all during a particularly rough patch, but I think my camera ate the footage in an effort to forget about the experience.

But soon enough the road got less bumpy  (or else we finally got used to it) and we were rewarded with sights such as this:

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Zebra crossing!

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An elephant family!

At last we arrived at our home for the next few days – Keekorok Lodge.

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Once again we were not disappointed with the accommodations. It was almost like being at a safari resort – you had the main building with the lounge and eating areas, then all the rooms were a short walk away. The grounds were pretty expansive, with places to walk around and an observation deck from which you could see hippos and ostriches around a nearby lake.

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Once everyone was checked in, it was time to hit up the lunch buffet! I gravitated towards the Indian food.

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Pappadum.

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Bread, rice, some kind of fried fish, channa masala, and mango pickle. We briefly considered the dessert options, but decided to hold off since we would be leaving for an afternoon safari drive shortly.

We had some time to kill before leaving on our drive, so we all headed to the observation deck to see if we could spot anything. I made good use of the zoom on my camera!

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And then it was time to set off for our first safari drive! I admit to being a huge dork and getting excited about us getting to pop up the tops of our vans.

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Of course when you’re short like me, seeing out of the top of the van is a challenge! I could just barely peep over the top and sometimes needed to climb up on one of the seats.

So the way the safari drives went was like this: all the vans would set off at once, but we would split up and drive around the reserve. The drivers would be in touch with each other by cell phone to let each other know if they’d spotted something. Sometimes there was a “race” to see who would get there first and get prime photo positioning. There were clearly defined paths we could take and going “off-road” wasn’t really encouraged by the reserve, but *sometimes* there was just an opportunity we couldn’t pass up!

We were told to keep an eye out for the traditional “Big Five” while we were out — lions, elephants, leopards, Cape buffaloes and rhinos. I don’t think we ever saw leopards, but we saw the rest, as well as giraffes, ostriches, cheetahs, gazelle, antelope, zebras, warthogs, hyenas, and all kinds of birds. But not all at once, of course.

We actually got lucky right away and came across a pride of lions lazing around in the shade. They were perfectly content to stay where they were and let us take photos of them from the safety of the safari vans.

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Safari vans in their natural habitat:

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I found myself wondering what it must have been like to be on safari before the advent of motorized vehicles and GPS technology. Whereas now it’d be harder to get lost, back then how would you know if you took a right or left at the tree 2 miles back?

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Another observation as a group of our vans converged on some cheetahs: everyone popped up to get a view and instead of aiming guns, we aimed our cameras with their long zoom lens, the African savannah filled with the sounds of shutters clicking in rapid sucession. Yeah, I had some pretty profound thoughts out there! 🙂

Okay, and I had to try so hard not to let songs from “The Lion King” run through my head while we were there. Especially not “The Circle of Life.”

I have to throw in another pop culture reference: “Live together, die alone,” from Lost. Sammy explained to us that you would pretty much never see a lone zebra, antelope, buffalo, etc., there was always some kind of buddy system in place to provide safety in numbers from predators.

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We somehow managed to be out on safari for about 4 hours, so by the time we got back to the lodge it was dinner time.

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Dinners at the lodge were buffet-style as well, with the addition of a pasta station. The line for pasta was really long, so I ended up with a baked potato, green beans, fried fish, and a big old blob of spicy mango pickle.

After dinner, Mr. Spice and I sat around talking with a couple of our friends until pretty late. It’s amazing how fast you make friends when you’re away from home. But I also think we just got lucky with our little group.

The next day was going to be a long one for everyone, so soon it was time to get to bed.

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There’s nothing romantic about mosquito netting, trust me! We all did a pretty good job of spraying ourselves during the day, but you had to be careful at night. And we were all religious about taking our malaria mediation.

The next morning, we got up pretty early, but those in the group that were going on the optional balloon ride had to get up even earlier! Not us, it was about $425 EACH for the balloon ride, so we passed. We got to sleep in a bit, and then those of us not going on the balloon rides got a special morning safari drive after breakfast.

Except I seem to have not taken any breakfast pictures while we were here. It was pretty much the same as what we had at the other places — eggs, sausages, fruit, rolls, etc. Bad food blogger!

Even though we weren’t on the balloon ride, we still managed to see quite a bit of excitement on the ground.

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A baby giraffe and its mother! This little guy was pretty brave and got close to us.

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Thomson’s gazelle:

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Water buck:

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Egyptian geese:

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And then we came across a REALLY interesting sight. If you’re squeamish, you may want to skip ahead a few pics.

We happened upon a rogue lioness who was hiding by herself amongst some trees. She had evidently made a kill and was hiding from her pride so she wouldn’t have to share.

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A little further on, we found the rest of her pride, with THEIR kill. Again, if you’re squeamish, skip ahead.

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This is where Chloe gets it from, I know it.

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Where there was food, there was company.

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I wish I’d been able to keep better track of the names of all the birds we saw. This one was the Ugandan national bird.

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After a while, we headed out of the reserve to pick up the rest of our group from their balloon excursion. Our meeting place afforded us plenty of picture opportunities, as if I needed any excuse!

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Once the rest of the group heard about our gory discoveries, they wanted to see them, so we headed back to the reserve for a second viewing.

The lions were not as sleepy this time.

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He actually came pretty close to our van! One of the guys had my camera to take a picture, so I was trying to get one with my iPhone and had to draw my hand back in before he passed by.

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Rawwr! Strike a pose!

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So here’s the story of my hat. The stupid thing would NOT stay on and I was forever dropping it around the hotels. Well, that morning happened to be a bit breezy and the wind blew it off my head! I think I yelled in surprise, because Sammy stopped the van immediately. I told him what happened and was prepared to just chalk it up to lost. But then we spotted it behind us, sitting forlornly in the dirt road.

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Sammy wasn’t fazed in the least. He just backed up the van, opened the door and plucked my hat, tossing it towards me, none worse for the wear, just sporting some dirt clumps.

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Look, I can see Tanzania from my safari van!

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See the little guy taking a ride?

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Up next was a chance to visit a Masai village and learn about the culture.

The Masai traditionally live a pastoral and semi-nomadic life. We were told that after they have lived in an area for a certain number of years, they move on, so their villages are constructed out of material that is readily available and easily taken down, usually a combination of twigs, grass, sticks, and cow dung, among other things.

When we arrived at the village, we were welcomed by a group of young men. The guys in our group were invited to come forward and take turns wearing the chief’s head-dress.

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Then the group of young men formed a procession and did a song, which ended with them surrounding us and coming up really close to us which I wasn’t expecting!

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Then they performed a traditional “jumping” dance.

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We were then shown around the village and got to go inside the houses. I didn’t get any pictures inside since it was really dark inside. Afterwards we got to visit their “market” where we could buy jewelry and other hand-made items.

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This was a great opportunity to learn about the Masai and their culture, so I’m glad we had the chance to do so.

On our way back to the reserve, we spotted some elephants!

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We’d had a pretty long day by now and were really tired. When we’d first checked in, the other girl in our group and me noticed that the spa at the lodge offered different types of massages for really reasonable prices. We’d booked one for later in the day, but knew we’d be too tired later on and were able to get it moved up a few hours. It had started raining really hard by this time, so most of us hung out in the main lodge area until it let up. We left the guys playing cards and snoozing and snuck off for our hour-long aromatherapy massages. I could have fallen asleep in there, listening to the rain falling on the roof. We came back VERY relaxed and ready for some dinner and our last night at the lodge.

The next morning we squeezed in one last safari drive before heading back to Nairobi. But before we left we took one last round around the lodge.

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Our little gang with Sammy, before our last safari. We were the infamous van #3.

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Some last safari photos:

Secretary birds building their nest.

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Even now, as I write this 6 months after our safari adventure, I’m still amazed at what we experienced and saw.  These images are not ones that will fade from my memory so easily.

I’ve already covered our trip back to Nairobi and our last evening in Kenya.  Stay tuned for recaps from the next stop in our journey – Istanbul, Turkey! I promise it won’t take another 6 months!

 

 

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Theresa Romain May 21, 2012 at 10:29 am

Yay for more safari pics! *adorablebabygiraffesquee* What an amazing trip. And how thoughtful of you to food-blog for the lions as well as yourself!

Sandi May 21, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Oh my gosh – the photos are incredible!!! So glad you posted them!

safaricompany June 15, 2012 at 12:54 am

Nice information !! thanks for sharing with us.

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