Days 1 to 3 - Masai Mara
We all bundled into the truck at the Hotel Boulevard in Narobi and got settled, ready for the big adventure, all 21 of us, plus driver, chef and guide. We headed off almost due south from Nairobi and soon came to the lookouts over the Great Rift Valley, which stretches for 9600km from Israel to Mozambique. Unfortunately, it was a bit hazy right across the valley so photos aren't much use in visualising what it is like.
Below: The truck at our first lunch stop. Note the grey and blue bowls in the foreground. There are very strict hygiene controls, and everyone must wash their hands with soap in the first grey bowl, then rinse in the disinfectant in grey bowl 2, then finally rinse in clear water in grey bowl 3. When washing up our dishes, it is the same sequence in the blue blue bowls - and never the twain shall meet, nor the sequence be broken! That's Dominic, our chef, in the navy with cap, in the centre.
By this time, we were about to enter upon the "Road from Hell". Now the roads in Kenya aren't the best, shall we say, but this road takes the cake! We turned off from the main road onto the Mara road- used continuously by tourists - and it was hell! It is actually bitumen, or rather, potholes surrounded by a little bitumen. But there are soooo many potholes, and the truck is quite long, and Cyrus, our driver did his best to negotiate all the bumps as gently as possible. But it was still terribly bumpy. I'd not like to negotiate it on a bike, either. This "road" stretched for 52km, and on a return trip, I measured the time it took - 1 hr 55mins!!!!!! Not fun!
We began seeing animals when well out from the reserve - giraffe, Thompson's Gazelles (Tommies), impala, Vervet monkeys, baboons, zebra, and some little mouse-like critters which were always scurrying for cover as we approached.
Above: The first sighting of baboons, before we arrived at the Masai Mara. Below: A shot from the truck window, of the setting sun as we arrived.
We arrived at Acacia Camp, located along the border of the reserve, to the news that we had been upgraded into the permanent tents, however rather than share with another lady, I set up my own tent which I'd brought along for just that reason - no sharing! It's comfortable, so I didn't mind. And Pat got a tent to herself also, so it was a win-win situation.
Dominic soon had dinner under way on the charcoal brazier, and it is amazing what that guy can cook on such an antiquated device! Dinner was always at least 2 courses - soup and main, and often fruit as well, and tea, coffee or hot chocolate. And no tins in sight. It was all made from fresh produce, which we stopped and bought along the way.
The elephants trumpeted and the lions roared during the night, but I slept well in the cool night air.
Above: The Masai village quite close to Acacia Camp, where we stayed. Below: The game herds seen from the gate into the Mara Reserve. It is not a National Park, just a National Reserve, which means the Masai may graze cattle, sheep and goats there. Also, all proceeds from entrance fees go to the reserve itself for maintenance etc, rather than into General Revenue like those from National Parks do.
Above and Below: Our first up-close zebras
Above: We were thrilled to see this cheetah within minutes of entering the park. He was quite calm, and not particularly bothered by us being there. (Sorry, not a good pic, as I spent most of the time videoing him!)
Above: Male Impala, and Below: a herd of Impala.
Above: Topi and Below: a wonderful eagle
Just after this, the battery on my Panasonic Lumix died, so I swapped in another one. Oops! It's flat, too. So in goes my third battery. Nope it was flat, too. Not impressed with the camp manager who promised thaqt he would charge them ALL for me the night before! Oh well, I'll just have to use the video camera for both stills and video.
Above: Vultures on carrion. Below: a black-backed jackal
Above: An ostrich and his mate
It just wasn't a good day for me! We found huge herd of wildebeest and zebras, here in the Mara for the annual migration to/from the Serengeti, which borders the Mara. Happily shooting lots of video of the herds, I suddenly got a message on the LCD: This card cannot save video. Nothing I did would make it work! Damn! a 32Gb card that didn't work. So I started taking just stills with it. These seemed to be saving OK, so I got snap-happy. Then we came upon a fresh leopard kill, an impala hanging in a tree. Eventually, we located the leopard resting under a shrub about 30 metres away. Then someone also saw another leopard tail flicking occasionally about 30 metres the other side of the tree. I took photos of the first leopard. And took photos of lots of other animals during the day. Little did I know ...
Below: Our first elephants, taken with the Lumix, after I'd guessed correctly that the battery may have recharged a little during the day.
So then I took the occasional photo with the Lumix, being very careful to switch it off immediately after use, to save the battery.
We'd not seen any lions all day, so Cyrus went seriously looking for them, driving along all the little used tracks, and we came upon a pride of 6, two lionesses and four cubs.
Above: Three of the four cubs relaxing. The other male cub had been a wussy little thing, and kept squirming around so that the bush was always between him and the truck! His mother and sister had walked off and found themselves another bush in whose shade to relax.
Below: Another two half-grown cubs, male and female, off by themselves, relaxing in the slim streak of shade cast by this tree. They were happy about us being there, as the tree was right beside the track, and stretched and yawned and playfully smacked each other at times.
Above and Below: The beautiful Golden Crested Crane, which is the national bird of Uganda.
Back at camp, I eagerly fired up the laptop to download and have a closer look at all the photos. Disaster!!! The video camera had only saved 4 out of 36 photos! None of the leopard, nor all the other animals we'd seen during the day. Damn! what a wasted trip! Oh well, I'd just have to come back again, on the "free" 3day Mara trip at the end of the 14 day trip to the gorillas. Oh hell! I'll have to suffer on that road again!!! But, it must be done, to get the animal pics I wanted.
That evening, herds of cattle, goats and sheep were passing through the park fringe beside the camp, on their way back to safety in the confines of the village boras. The leaders all wore bells, and these jangling bells were upsetting the elephants, who began screaming and trumpeting very loudly, so close to our tents!
It had been a long day in the hot sun, finding the animals. My comfy bed was a-callin'me!
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