Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Oh My Mara!

Sunset in the Mara

My friends and I had a glorious time on holiday in Kenya at the beginning of September. We traveled by bus to Nairobi and upon reaching we set off to Masai Mara National Reserve for a dream safari.

The Great Rift Valley Lookout - we stopped here on the way to the park

At the Great Rift Valley they had these awkward sheep fur hats - something out of a classic James Bond movie. I had to get a picture in one since there was no way I was going to buy it.

The Masai Mara covers 583 sq. miles and is the other half to the Serengeti of Tanzania. Our main goal of going to the Mara was to watch the wildebeest migration from the Serengeti in Tanzania across the Mara River into the park. Not only did we get to see nature's largest traffic jam, but we also got to be a part of some amazing wildlife experiences other than the outstanding migration. To be quite honest this experience was unreal and I am still blown away with everything we experienced and saw - it was like the Candy Land of nature experiences.

The Mara - Breathtaking

We got to have lunch right next to a large herd of zebra and wildebeest not far from the Mara River. It was a surreal experience.


We saw 56 lions total in our two full days in the park. Two of those lions were big maned males and 14 of them were cubs. The rest were either females or adolescent males who had yet to grow a large mane.

Morning Breakfast Menu: Wildebeest


We were lucky enough to see 45 elephants in the Mara. They were amazingly huge and we got very close to them. The cutest of elephants were the babiest of babies - we saw an elephant that was just a year old. We saw 11 baby elephants in total and I could have sat there for hours watching them play with each other.


We spotted 27 of them in total. One had amazingly different spotting than the others. Instead of waving dark brown circles as spotting he had almost a jigsaw puzzle shape to his spots. I do not know why, but it made me think of the tulip breaking virus that created beautiful tulips that the Dutch paid more money than they had for during the tulip craze and now modern gardeners try to avoid (on that note I am pushing my nerd glasses up).

Jigsaw Giraffe Man


We saw 8 of these delicious creators in total: two males and six females. I do not eat meat very often, but I did try an ostrich burger once and it was fabulous (farm raised of course). It was quite interesting one of the days because we saw two females dancing in a line to get a males attention. This apparently according to our guide was a way for them to look attractive and get the attention of the male for mating. The were so graceful and in control of their necks while they were swooping up and down like a wave while visibly containing much power.


The first animal we saw when we entered the park was a cheetah! Talk about luck! He was very far away and difficult to see, but it was so exciting for me to see the fastest land animal laying down in the bushes to the side of our car. The next day we had the luck of finding the cheetah brothers as our driver called them who had just ate an entire wildebeest for breakfast. They were laying in front of the car under a tree just hanging out; not bothered at all by the massive amounts of gawking humans surrounding them.

The birds were eating the scraps of what the cheetahs left behind


This was by far (minus the migration) the most amazing animal we saw in the park. Leopards are very hard to find and even when you find them on safari they are usually very difficult to see. This is because they are nocturnal and during the day they like to sleep up high in the trees. After hanging out with a bunch of lions during the morning our driver we donned the nickname of 'Leopard Lenard' got a call over his radio about something big. He immediately reversed the car and started racing like Lighting McQueen to a spot a couple of kilometers away. At first we were confused because we were just staring at a large bush in the middle of the plains. Wildebeest were all walking by, but definitely at a safe distance from this bush. After our eyes adjusted to the scene we saw a large cat laying down in the shade that was not a lion. To our surprise it was a large leopard! The leopard after laying there for a couple of minuets stood up, stretched and came out from the bush into the broad daylight. It walked about five football fields in length until it reached a near by tree. Here it looked around the perimeter of the tree before disappearing into the bush below. When it reappeared it was climbing up the tree to lay down for the rest of the day. It was an awe inspiring account to watch - eat your heart out Nat' Geo!

Other Animals:

We saw countless types of birds and deer like creators (do not blame me for my lack of biological pristine) while on safari. One of the coolest experiences was with a hyena which walked right towards our car, hunkered down in a puddle and then ran off into the wild. We could hear the hyenas at night from our safari camp playing and most likely hunting so it was neat to see one up close.

Our lunchtime lizard friend

Sherbert Bird (a.k.a a Lilac Breasted Roller)

The Migration:

Wildebeests Galore

When we reached the Mara we had missed the initial migration from Tanzania to Kenya. We thought that it only happened once so we knew we were going to see a ton of wildebeest and zebra, but the crossing that we hoped to see was a lost cause. However, upon reaching the park our driver told us that some days they cross between the sides of the river and if we are lucky we might be able to see that happen. Basically if we were lucky we could see a mini-migration. We were in luck though and we were able to see two migrations in one afternoon! They were both without carnage, but the second one had some massive croc action.

The Mara River - where all the migration station magic happens

Crocs are a huge danger to the zebra and wildebeest crossing the river. They sit and wait for the weak links of the herd to cross and then attack! Sometimes they even jump out of the water to make sure they grab a tasty snack.

I could not take my eyes away as the migration began. The wildebeest gathered at the top of the embankment and hesitantly waited for one animal to gather the courage to start the process. Once this happened it was a mudslide of wildebeests with zebras leading the way into the water. It was organized chaos in the water as the animals swam for dear life to the other side. Once making it to the other cliff it was not time to relax for they had to them climb the cliff to reach the top of the other side. Once they reached their pastoral heaven destination all was good in the world, but the stress getting there was more than I imagined.

Let the migration begin!

This little guy struggled and struggled to get out of the water. After about five (if not more) painful minutes of trying he finally succeeded, but alas with a hurt leg. Our driver said he would be dinner for something later - yay positivity!

We did get to see one croc attack on our second migration! This croc was laying in wait for a chance at a juicy zebra or wildebeest morsel. He attacked this zebra (he's on his side trying to bite the zebra), but the zebra made it back to shore safely. It was amazing to see this attack in real life without having to deal with the carnage. Go zebra, go!

The croc did not get the zebra so he tried for a wildebeest - epic fail guy.

The Mara was amazing and if any of you reading this ever get a chance to go I would highly recommend it. I now understand why people say the best place to go on safari is Kenya - I 100% agree.

I liked the Mara a little bit - can't you tell?

Group Shot - the Kenyan Kitties plus Lenard!

We also got the chance to visit a Masai village. The Masai are the local people to which the park is named after. They are a nilotic ethnic group who are semi-nomadic and heard cattle as a trade. When people see pictures of African people most of the time they are either the Masai of Kenya or Tanzania. We took a walk through nature with two Masai Warriors to their village near our safari camp. There we got to see a traditional village, inside a Masai home (which was super dark I might add) and watch two traditional dances.

It was a very interesting cultural experience and though it sounds super touristy from what I just wrote the experience was very unique and organic. The people of the Masai were all very friendly and welcoming. I am very glad I got the chance to meet these amazing people and hopefully their way of life will remain intact for years to come.

While on the walk with the Masai they noticed that I was blowing my nose like it was going out of style. I got a massive cold while on holiday and no medications that I brought with me were helping. That day I was working on maybe three hours of sleep from the night before and was about ready to do anything to be able to breath. Our new friends suggested that I take the assistance of the local medicine man in their village. Upon agreeing I was given this long stick. I was told to shave the stick and mix/steep with tea. Once I got back to camp I did so - it did not make me feel a whole lot better, but I definitely slept that night. Was it the Masai stick working it's magic? I would like to think so.

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