My Kenya Safari Experience
In the night a thousand crickets call. There are snorts and honks to my right. Then a lion’s roar vibrates through the valley. I turn my head but I am not afraid as I was the first night in the bush. Living in a tent in the African bush is a little disconcerting. The first night I barely slept as my head moved from one side to another. It was exactly two thirty-six when I first heard the lion roar that night; but all that repeated through my head were the detailed instructions I was given shortly after I arrived at camp that first day.
“You know we do not have any fences. We are completely open to the wildlife. Therefore, you may go as you please in camp during the day but you must have a guide at night if you wish to leave your tent. Just turn on your torch and wave it like this, side to side. Someone will be here.” I am trying to take in all the information….How to take a bucket shower, get laundry done when when the meal times are throughout the day and then my hostess tells me of the emergency horn that has never been used. “The horn is only for an immediate emergency.” I think for a moment with all the information I have been given and ask, “So, if there is a lion right outside my tent, brushing against the canvas, is that an emergency?” Helen calmly replies, “No. That is not an emergency. Just flash your torch like this.” Helen picks up the large flashlight and moves it from side to side.” Needless to say, I didn’t fall asleep until after four in the morning.
“Good morning. Here’s your coffee.” Then I hear the mesh front of my tent unzip on that first morning. “Good morning. What time is it?” “It is six o’clock. Breakfast at six thirty and you will go on your walk at six forty-five.” The man places a tray with coffee, warm milk and breakfast cookies on the table inside my tent. “Oh. Okay. Good morning…..Wait. Was that a lion last night?” “Yes but it was far away. His voice just travels.” Therefore, on my second night I did not worry too much when I heard the roars. I just turned over and went back to sleep. However, on that second my morning my escort asked me if I had heard the lion as he walked me to breakfast. “Yes, but it was far away.” I stated, learning from the previous night. “No, The lion was in camp last night.” I think for a minute and realize that the Masai have lived here for hundreds of years and were fine so I am just not going to worry about the noises in camp.
There were so many animals on the Masai Mara I could not possible count them. I stayed on the Asilia Naboisho Camp in the Masai Mara in the Naboisho Conservancy. The conservancy restricts the number of guests and vehicles that can be in the conservancy, so at times it felt as if we had the park all to ourselves. At the camp we went on both morning and night outings. During the evening you are able to see animals that don’t come out in the heat of the day. Later, we would find a nice place to stop to watch the sunset as our driver guides prepared our “sundower” or refreshment. They would always ask earlier in the day what we wanted for our sundowner so they would be prepared for our requests. After the sun went down we would embark on the night drive. The second guide, in the passenger seat, would scan the landscape with a large red light looking for animals that were moving in the dark.
On the first night we were lucky enough to see a caracal cat which is more of a rare find than any of the the big five in Africa. A caracal cat is one of the heaviest of the small cats with pointed ears and long muscular legs. It is one of the fastest cats as well. My guide tells me that the sheep farmers hate these cats because they are so quick and go a little crazy when they are hungry and can kill five sheep but then only eat one. Another animal I saw on the night drive was a bushbaby with large round eyes, small ears and a long bushy tail. It was so cute hoping around on the tree and looked like a creature straight out of a Disney movie.
On all drives we could see wildebeest, hartebeest, giraffes, zebras, many types of gazelles including Thompson and Grant. I loved watching the small Dik Dik hop around like half gazelle and half rabbit. The Dik Dik were so fast I could never get a good picture of any of them. We also saw ostriches, African Elephants, Topi, warthogs, Impalas. I also saw one cheetah, several lions, and many Cape Buffalo in the Masi Mara. Birds were everywhere and many had vibrant colors. Some of the birds visible were the superb starling, roller, king fisher, marabou stork, tawny eagle and several types of vultures.
One of my favorite days was with my guides David and Racketa who were both Masai. We started early on our game walk. David is a young man right out of college who speaks English. Racketa is an old man who seems like he knew everything about the plants and land. David was my primary guide but I can tell that Racketa is teaching David also as we walked. David listens carefully and imparts some of that old wisdom on to me. They teach me about how to track animals and the about the plants and what each is used for by the Masai. We tasted some of the plants, one tree has wood they chew like chewing gum. Racketa opens a seed and rubs it in his hand then puts his thumb on my face, “You are Masai now.” David explains when they used this dye and he also explains the relationship plants and some animals or insects have with each other.
“Is Racketa a Masai name?”, I ask. “Yes, it means humble.” “Do you have a Masai name?” “Yes, it is Monka.” “What does that mean?” “It means handsome.” He smiles. “Who gave you that name?” “My parents.” David goes on to tell me about other traditions as we walk and tells me how the Masai live and about their culture. At one point they stop and teach me how to make a fire the traditional way. Later that night we visited a traditional Masai village where the people in the village and I both had an opportunity to ask each other questions about our life.
My other favorite day in Kenya was when I went to the main reserve. In the reserve, the vehicles and tourists are not restricted but there are different game viewable in this area such as the hippo and large crocodiles. However, we did not come to the main reserve to see the hippos or the crocodiles; our goal that day was to attempt to see a water crossing. I had seen a mini-crossing in the conservancy on my first day but it was quickly interrupted by a lion looking for an easy target. Only four or five wildebeest crossed before the lion appeared and caused the rest of the animal to change their direction over the hill that day. We left camp at six-thirty in the morning for this all day safari and we did not return to camp until six-thirty that evening. In the morning we happened to see a lion and lioness on the way to our destination. As the lioness sleeps the lion notices the Cape Buffalo but decides he is not hungry and instead walks along the savanna. It is early so we spend time watching the lion on it’s morning stroll.
Later we see the thousands wildebeest and zebras migrating their way to the water. This is a good sign. We drove around a bit and observed the crocodiles and hippos as the herd had a way to travel until they arrived at the popular crossing location. About an hour later we return and waited patiently with twenty to thirty other vehicles hoping for the herd to move closer to the water. Knowing that crossings do not happen everyday my guide warns, “We try, we try but there is no guarantee that they are going to cross. Wildebeests are always thinking, thinking.” I could tell these animals were over-thinking this decision. The lead would take one step then five minutes later bring that foot back. Then later he would take three steps and stand there for several minutes. Every time, the lead turned and headed in the other direction was a disappointment. I thought, “He just erased twenty-five minutes of forward motion.” Then I sit back in my seat. Finally some zebras take the lead and make their way to the water. The herd follows. Even the lame one in the back hobbles towards the group and the large parade of animals becomes a dense herd by the water.
At some point the animals were close enough to the water that all the vehicles that were in the back and to the side of the herd turn on their engines. It is a race toward the water for the best position for their guests. Now we wait as the animals decide. Meanwhile the vultures start flying over head and others gather on the rocks near the water waiting a feast. For hours we watched the herd go back on forth watching the water. They know that the crocodiles may be below but they can see the promise land on the other side of the river. This is almost the end of the migration season in the Mara. Animals cross over in the spring from Tanzania to Kenya to feed on the sweet grass in the Mara. By November the animals cross back to Tanzania. “Always thinking, thinking.” Wilson, my guide says again. After about two hours the herd gets spooked and turns back and stands. Few tourists are still standing in the roof opening with their high priced cameras and their foot long lenses balancing on the roof of their vehicle. Most of the tourists have sat in their seats as we feel like we are melting in the the hot Kenya sun.
Wilson suggest we take lunch by the river and we come back as it will take a while for them to get their courage up again. So we leave for a bit but I think about the crossing and that I would be spooked too if I was looking in that river where we could see several dead animals in the water, one with it’s feet in the air, from a failed crossing attempt. That alone would make me think twice about the sweet grass on the other side. I mean, how good could it be, really.
After lunch we wait with the others again. After another hour or so I realize that it probably was not going to happen so I tell Wilson it is okay if we leave. There are few vehicles still left. On the way back we see a family of lions and another large lion that was so tried he could barely keep his eyes open. We were maybe five feet from this shaggy old king of the jungle. He looked pretty harmless from the vehicle. Wilson and I left the lion and take another route back so I can stop in a Masai village and buy some beadwork.
“Look at that! I think they are going to cross!” Wilson quickly tries to find a road through the dense bush. There is no road through the thick trees. He stops the car and he runs around the vehicle and opens the door then grabs my hand. “Come on, hurry.” I run with him through the trees and dung squishes between my foot and my sandal. I don’t even care. “Here, kneel here by this tree.” In front of me I see hundreds of wildebeest and zebra running through the bush, around the trees and rocks toward the river. They decided to cross!
This was one of the most beautiful and amazing sights I have ever seen. The group all following together rushing across the waves of the river, navigating the current and the rocks and galloping to the other side in safety. We watched for a long while and Wilson helped me to film while I captured photos with my camera. I took one last video and then just watched in awe. Wilson and I were the only ones there to witness this special event that so many had been waiting all day to see. “When you are ready we need to go. We are not suppose to be here.” “What do you mean we are not suppose to be here?” “We should not be this far from the vehicle.” “Let’s go. I am ready.” I could see Wilson looked a bit nervous so I follow right behind. Around the trees and the rocks we found the vehicle. Wilson opened the door and I hopped in straight away. “I wanted you to see that. It will be our secret.” I was glad I was safe and grateful to have witnessed such a rare event. I looked down at my feet. I did not even care that me feet and sandals were covered in animal shit. I would wash them tonight.
I will not soon forget my Kenya Safari experience. I remember as a young child watching Wild Kingdom with my brothers on Sunday evenings. I don’t know if I ever dreamed to see such amazing animals in my life, but I know I will never forget seeing each of them up close for the first time.