Friday, September 8, 2017

Safari, day 5: to Maasai Mara

In the morning we had a little wander around camp before breakfast -- I really love this camp. The tent was great, the staff was great, the food was great. It wasn't as "Animal Kingdom Lodge" as, say, the first camp, but this place felt like the right blend of luxury and Africa. Breakfast highlight: arrowroot -- "You need to eat this because you are traveling far."

Last night we could hear a festival in the nearby village from our tent -- it sounded like a very nice time. That's the odd thing about these camps in these parks ... it feels like you can't possibly leave, but you know there are people living really close by. 

When we set out, we drove back past Naivasha and Norok -- the Maasai city -- en route to Maasai Mara. 

We kept noticing signs with red Xs painted on them. At first we thought it was vandalism... or some sort of political statement.

Turns out it's just signs that haven't been paid for -- there's a fee or a tax that must be paid to put up a sign. 

We also learned "Joseph"'s local name: Njaguna. (ja-GOO-nuh ... rhymes with "hakuna" as in hakuna matata) This came about because Tony asked about a word that we heard repeatedly over the radio when the drivers were talking to each other. I'm pretty sure that the word was not, as Njaguna said, his name... but at least we learned his real name. When we asked him if we could call him that, he said, "Sure -- why not?" I was a little sad it took us DAYS to learn this. 

Njaguna told us that today's drive would be at least 7 hours. There's been some grumbling in other vans -- not on the Best Van Ever, of course, just overheard -- about the drives. C'mon, Kenya is a big place. Of course it takes time to get from A to B! Also amusing complaints about the shops with the restrooms ... people not liking that they have to walk through a shop to get to the clean, free restroom IN AFRICA. Well, I guess you could also just pee at the side of the road 

But for me, I like the curio shop + restroom combo. It's fun to poke around, watch some carvers, and maybe even pick up some snacks. I still haven't bought any souvenirs, though...

Eventually we arrived at the park gates.

And then we arrived at the Mara Leisure Camp.

The Best Van Ever arrived happy and HUNGRY --- how does that keep happening? We had a briefing -- there will be a game drive tomorrow at 7:30am, and we'll be out ALL DAY. We were also given our room assignments -- we're in J-9... which turns out to be JUMBO 9. Our massive tent has a king bed plus a single bed, couple of chairs, a desk, and a huge bathroom, including A BATHTUB. 

We also have a big patio with a view of the river... though there's a fence between us and the river because, well, CROCODILES.  

After lunch (oh, did I mention it was a buffet?) we got in the vans for our evening game drive. A bunch of people didn't join -- but the Best Van Ever did. And Gretchen and Julie were twins.

We learned that Njaguna had lived and worked for 10 years in the Maasai Mara, so knew the place like the back of his hand. Which meant the Best Van Ever was also the Luckiest Van Ever. First we saw hundreds of wildebeest, relaxing and enjoying the green green grass of Maasai Mara -- they've survived the migration!

Of course, some aren't so lucky...

There were also zebra... and even an elephant or two. 

But the highlight of our evening drive? 


Where can you see lions? Only in Kenya!

Poor wildebeest, poor zebra, poor elephants. WE SAW LIONS. Lions lions lions. 

This tiny pair weren't super happy to see us ...

but mama was close...

Another lioness sat nearby...

And another lioness -- along with a whole nursery of cubs.


 At some point the lionesses all shifted around -- as Wil pointed out, it's not just that WE saw the LIONS; THE LIONS also saw US.

This shift cued the little ones to move as well.

One of the braver little simbas came over to investigate.

Now, I know that a lioness would have attacked me within seconds had I gotten out of the van -- probably before I could touch her cub -- but you know how much I wanted to skritch this guy behind his ears.

Lionesses: "NOPE."

We must have watched the lions for thirty minutes -- and it was glorious. There was a whole lotta glee in the van after this. 

I'm so happy that Wil and Tony are blurry!
We then sped back to the lodge -- you're not allowed to be out in the park after dark and it was getting late. But we got caught in a bit of a traffic jam -- the Maasai were bringing their herd back to their village for the night. 


Then, all on a high, we arrived back at the lodge and went in to dinner. Well, after our nightly gin and tonic, of course. 

Amusingly, the restaurant is named "boma", the Swahili word for enclosure, fort, or even village -- just like at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

After dinner we headed back to our tent to sit on the patio and enjoy the darkness. There's nothing to see in this video, but this is what it sounded like at night. #thisisafrica

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