The Magic of the Mara

Our journey continues. As we leave Lake Nakuru National Park, it is a 2-hour drive to Kenya’s ‘Jewel of the Parks’ – the Maasai Mara. We cannot wait to get out there. The road to the Mara is deplete of vegetation and interspersed with dusty townships. The land is dry and arid and these dark skinned people seem immune to the scorching sun.

We get to the Ol-moran Tented Camp at the Maasai Mara in time for tea and a late game drive. This is something we have dreamed of for a long long time and naturally our excitement is at a peak. We grab a coffee and are back in the van and ready with all our camera equipment. As we enter the Park, it is the immensity of the plains and the savannahs that amazes us. Whilst the entire Park is about the size of our island nation, it comprises miles and miles of African Wild Grass as tall as the long-legged Maasai warrior. The Maasai’s are a tall, long limbed tribe with skin like polished ebony. Each of them is draped in the brightest of red cloth pinned at the shoulder. The red is to scare away the lion, they told us.  They carry a long spear and a stool. Water is not a necessity, they say, surviving on a morning’s concoction of cow’s milk and blood until their next meal – dinner, comprising a staple diet of mixed maize with a meat dish. Another salient detail we noticed was the lack of young males. We were told that post circumcision, which takes place when they turn 15, these young boys have to spend many years in the jungle learning to live off the land. They can only return with a memento of a lion they have killed.

The next four days is filled with sighting after sighting of lions, cheetahs, herds of Grant’s Zebras, Thomson’s Gazelle, Grants Gazelle, giraffe to name just a few of the wonderful herds that made our days so special.

On day two of our safari, James (our driver) spots a lioness that had just caught herself a wildebeest. Probably too hungry to wait for her pride, she is alone and thoroughly engrossed in crunching through meat and marrow to pay much attention to us, her captive audience. After about 45 minutes of devouring her meal, she strolls off to the shade of an Umbrella Acacia tree, gives us one more cursory glance and goes to sleep off her meal. Further down the road, two male lions are fallen across the tall grasses, fast asleep. They are two brothers doing what lions do best… Eat and sleep!

Photograph by Anya Ratnayaka

A short while from them we spot a full grown male lion, also crunching through meat and marrow of a wildebeest.  This magnificent animal has blood and gore splattered all over his face and mane. It is an amazing sight to see.

During our safari that afternoon, James attempts to cross a water hole to get closer to a massive tusker and we get bogged down in the mud. Three passing jeeps try unsuccessfully to pull us out of our predicament. Finally James has to radio in for help and after about three hours of waiting and watching herds of elephants, wildebeest and an occasional hyena pass us by, eight Maasais came by. After assessing the situation, they collect rocks and branches from around the area to hoist us out of the water hole. They heave and shove and pull and tug and finally manage to dislodge our vehicle from the muddier hole. As we are about to drive off, one of the Maasais comes up to me and offers me ten cows in exchange for my daughter! It is painful to see the look of rejection on his face! Then another Maasai comes up to me and ups the offer… A lion cub. OMG! I think the fleeting chance of acceptance on my face worries Anya and she quickly turns down that offer. I couldn’t help thinking that a lion cub would definitely have been more obedient, albeit more expensive to maintain!

One of the main reasons for us to visit the Maasai Mara was to witness the annual migration often referred to as the seventh greatest wonder of the world. Having followed the migration movement on Google Maps before our journey began, we were lucky to be told that the migration has started. We have to witness this mass movement of wildebeest crossing the Mara River. As we stop along the river banks of the Mara River, it is an awesome sight to watch millions of wildebeest thundering their way across the great savannah en route to the River. Along the banks are the patient crocodiles with piercing eyes awaiting the first animal to leap into the water before the hundreds of other follow them as they vainly scramble across to the other side.  This was the banquet they wait for. The sight is spectacular.

Our sightings the next three days  just got better and better. We saw cheetahs, hundreds of zebra, giraffe, gazelle, hyena, along with a variety of birds.

On our last day at the Mara, James has a special treat for us. There in front of us are two magnificent lions, three lionesses and nine of the most adorable cubs. The park is their playground and whilst the lionesses keep a watchful eye, the cubs are having a wonderful time scrambling over each other, rolling in the mud, and creeping up on each other. They are totally unconcerned by the hundreds of photos taken of them. After about 45 minutes of play, the two males decide to lead their pride into the thick jungle.

The memories of this Park will be unforgettable. The hundreds of photographs that we have will suffice until we make this trip again.

Reluctantly we pack up to drive back to Nairobi where we have to catch a flight to Mombasa, to spend the second week of our journey. Our journey continues…

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