[Note: this happened in late August]
When we arrived in Maasai Mara we were more than a bit complacent. After all we had recently finished 10 days at Tanzania’s three top game parks with some of the best guides in the business. We had even seen leopard – one of the rarest of the predators of Africa. All that remained was rhino.
The Little Governor’s Camp is a hangover from the British days if there ever is one. Our manager is George, an elderly Scotsman who has lived in interesting places most of his life. The camp is a collection of a dozen tents around the edge of an escarpment that went three quarters of the way around a wetland down below. There is a bar / lounge tent, a dining tent, and an shaded area in front of the escarpment. It is a short walk down to the Mara river where a boat and boatman await to take you across to the safari 4x4s on the other bank. The daily regimen isn’t easy – wake up call with a hot drink of your choice at your tent at about six in the morning (in a tea cozy, with biscuits). First game drive from 6:30am to 11ish with an option of taking a picnic breakfast (which was an elaborate affair with thermoses and tiffin boxes) or returning for a quick breakfast and going back out again. Lunch under the trees till about 1:30pm. The second (or third, if you came back for breakfast) game drive starts at 3:00 pm and runs till sunset. Back home for hot showers in wood-trimmed bathrooms attached to the tents, drinks outside around a brazier of glowing charcoal at sunset, followed by dinner in the mess tent.
Our guide was Berard, who on the last day told me that his name was (pronounced) Cashew (I’m not sure what the spelling of his name is) and that he had taken to calling himself Bernard after coming across the name in a book. He was a self educated Maasai.
In the first few hours out we saw a rhino. Over the next three days we witnessed amazing wildlife close up. We got to learn a good deal about the Maasai firsthand from Bernard, and drove out of the park to meet a few Maasai ladies who were making and selling jewelry outside the park gates. I’ve picked out the highlight photo reel from our time in Maasai Mara.
That’s not our airplane. It was a much bigger aircraft at another landing strip we passed. Apparently about three weeks ago it had hit a wildebeest while landing and lost it’s landing gear on the port side.
Of all the memorable things in Maasai Mara, it’s easy to tell you which one stands out. One morning we were out following a hyena. He found a carcass of a wildebeest and proceeded to eat from it very noisily while a wake of vultures circled and jumped in for a mouthful when they saw an opportunity.
Then we saw a large pride of well fed lions a short distance from the carcass. One big lioness walked up to within two feet of the front of our 4×4. Jo took out her iPhone and started videoing the lioness. When the lioness got right in front of the 4×4, just as she was walking over a shallow gully, she suddenly looked down, and dipped her head into the gully. Just as Jo wondered why a lioness would stick her mouth in the dirt, the lioness raised her head, holding a tiny squirming baby gazelle in her jaws. It looked like she just picked it up instinctively though she had just eaten and had a full belly. As soon was the rest of the pride saw her with the fresh prey, they started running towards her. She took off. Eventually she gave the gazelle to one of her male cubs who ran around with it proudly, fending off his siblings. The mother lioness did not help him, but she did keep the two other adult lionesses from approaching her cub, though it wasn’t done aggressively. The pride played and jumped on each other and rolled over and ran around while the young lion cub ate and licked on the baby gazelle. We watched for at least an hour and Vivian and Evan commented on how similar the big cats were to their distant domesticated cousins. And Jo wanted to take one home. All the while we also left terrible for the baby gazelle and an adult female who watched from a distance who we assumed was the poor mother. Cuteness and deadliness in the same beasts. Birth and death next to each other. Sometimes horror. But no evil.