Where to begin? I’m finally in Africa and I haven’t stopped smiling since! I landed in Nairobi, Kenya on Monday and met Tamara at the airport – ever since then, we’ve been talking non-stop about all the unbelievable sights we’ve experienced.
We woke up early Tuesday morning to start our 4 day safari excursion. Our guide, Joel, drove us out of Nairobi all while passing lush, green, hilly landscapes and colourful buildings. He even taught us some Swahili (jambo = hello, asante = thank you). We drove through the Great Rift Valley which was massive! There were mountains surrounding it and the view from the top of the valley was so pretty. The air was so clean and all along the valley, the clouds casted shadows on the fields below like leopard spots. In the valley, there was a small town, some Maasai villages and a satellite station for communications. All along the road that passed through the valley, there were Maasai tribesmen – mostly herding flocks of cows, goats and sheep. They were all dressed up in colourful blankets/shawls and walking with tall sticks. They were very tall and regal looking when the wind billowed through their shawls. We stopped off in Narok to get gas and the touts automatically flocked to our van. However, they were extremely nice and not pushy at all. They were very talkative and light-hearted – offering to go on the safari with us and teaching us the Swahili word “mzungu” which means white person or foreigners. At the end, they gave us their email addresses and made us promise to keep in touch even though we had no interest in buying any of their trinkets – just another example of Kenya hospitality!
We finally reached the camp outside of the Masai Mara National Reserve (Otomlé Camp) and we couldn’t believe it. Our “room” was a large permanent tent fully furnished with canopy beds draped with mosquito nets, matching wooden night tables, coffee tables, chairs and even a large chest. We had to wait till the porters left (by the way, every porter thinks my backpack will be light until they pick it up and realize it’s a rock – the look of surprise and struggle on their face is pretty funny) and then burst out in giddy laughter. We ate some home cooked lunch – beef stir fry and veggies and then set off for our first game drive.
Our safari van’s roof popped open so we could stand and stick out heads out to view the beautiful scenery and exotic animals. We drove up to the park gates and immediately inside of it, I knew we were in animal paradise! We first spotted zebras grazing – I couldn’t believe my eyes! They were so calm and quietly eating grass intermixed between other grazing animals like gazelles, antelopes and impalas (only in North America do we associate impalas with cop cars). Their stripes were so contrasting and their heads were so big like a donkey. We drove a bit more through rolling green hills, lots of vegetation and lone trees (picture your typically safari photo with a tree). All of a sudden, we saw a group of giraffes eating from trees! There were about 5 of them and just minding their business while all of us tourists were eagerly snapping away with our cameras. Apparently, they don’t often go into clearings because they prefer to hang out by heavily forested areas on the hills where they have an abundance of food. We drove a bit further on the dirt road – while being tossed around like a rag doll in the van, I still have bruises but it’s so worth it – and saw a group of elephants! They were all female elephants with their babies because male elephants only come around during mating season – typical guy behaviour. Female elephants only have 1 baby but males can have more than one mate. As we were driving along the fields, the van caused packs of gazelles and antelopes to gallop along the fields just like in those National Geographic documentaries. We saw a lot of water buffaloes, bush bucks and even warthogs (Pumba!). All along the drive, we were trying to look for lions and thought that every rock, dirt pile and dead tree trunk was a lion. It was finally Joel who spotted a pride (that’s a group of lions) in the distance and as we got close, I couldn’t believe it but they didn’t move at all. We saw that being the lazy animals they are, they were all sleeping and lounging around. There was 1 male lion surrounded by a pack of lionesses lying in the grass. The male had a huge black and golden mane (hence Black Maned Lion) which dwarfed the rest of his body. He was so lazy that he slept on his back with all four legs sticking in the air. He finally woke up and couldn’t stop yawning so you could see his sharp teeth. The lionesses were just lying around too, keeping a close eye on their cubs. Apparently, lionesses can have up to 12 cubs but there’s usually only 1 male lion in the pride unless it’s mating season. Also, lions usually hunt only 3 times per week if they snag a water buffalo but more often if it’s a smaller animal and they usually only hunt at night. They’re also territorial so you’ll usually find them in the same spots, just lying around.
We finally left the park as the sun was setting and drove back to the camp for dinner. In the night, Tamara and I recapped our day and couldn’t believe it! We just keep on singing songs from Lion King and giggling with giddiness. At night, we went outside to look at the stars and there were so many! The entire night sky was twinkling so brightly and we would’ve stayed outside longer but a bat came swooping around our heads so we conceded defeat and retreated to our tent.
The next morning, we woke up super early at 5:30am to go on a morning game drive in Masai Mara and saw most of the animals from the day before. The sun rising in the distance against the vast plateaus and hills was so beautiful and also very peaceful. We saw another pride of lions sleeping but even closer this time. We also saw a group of elephants – I started taking a video when one of them started peeing and pooing at the same time! We just burst out in laughter (for those who know Tamara and I well, this is a regular source of entertainment). All along the 2 hour drive, we saw zebras and other grazing animals. We then left the park to go visit a Maasai village which was something I often joked about before leaving on my trip but actually became a reality! The chief’s son came to greet us and showed us around. He showed us the village and the huts which are built in a circle with a fence made out of twigs surrounding it. They keep all their herds in the middle of the circle to protect them from dangerous animals like the lions we had just seen. There are entrances around the fence where they let the herd in/out and the gate is actually just a bunch of twigs. There was also a smaller pen inside the village with a fence made out of thorny branches were they keep the smaller animals like sheep and goats. The huts are all made out of dried cow dung and branches – surprisingly they didn’t smell at all! We went inside one of the huts and it was so awesome to see! The cow dung really insulates the hut and there’s a small fire with a ventilation window to cook food over. The beds are made from cow hides and there’s one bed for the couple and one for their children. The Maasai warriors then performed a dance for us and even got us to join in on their dancing, jumping, chanting and grunting! They were all adorned with red shawls (apparently, lions don’t like the colour red), head dresses, necklaces, belts with a hanging spear and walking sticks. The chief’s son told us that warriors are normally males aged 18-30 and stop being a warrior after they get married. Warriors are the ones who stand at guard at night at the gates along the fence to make sure no dangerous animals come by. They’re all so tall and lanky and they can jump very high as well. It was such an amazing experience, I can’t even properly describe it. They were also very nice and started conversations with us (Where are you from? Are you married? etc). Next, some of the warriors showed us how they start a fire just by rubbing a stick through another piece of flatted wood and also some of their tattoos made from pressing the fire stick against their skin. The women showed us their bead making and we picked up some elephant tail bracelets. The chief’s son told us more about his village and how he’s next in line to be the chief after his 96 year old father passes away although I doubt it will be anytime soon since we saw him walking around lively and full of life. One chief can have up to 20 wives so this village only housed one family and in this family, there were 36 children. They also move every 8 years once the houses start crumbling and they only eat meat because they don’t farm anything. They chose their village location by the proximity to the bush and water since they bathe/go to the bathroom in the nearby river. We finally said bye to everyone and I still couldn’t believe what we had experienced – everyone was so laid back and just happy go lucky.
Next, we drove to Lake Naivasha and went on a boat safari. We saw lots of hippos which were massive (they weigh up to 2 tonnes!) and just chilling near the surface of the shallow water. Apparently, they don’t like boats because the waves cause water to go up their noses. Hippos are always in groups and can only have 1 baby. We also saw many storks, eagles, water bucks and other birdlife. We then docked by a nearby island and went on a walking safari to see bush bucks, zebras and impalas. I couldn’t believe how close we got. Tamara even befriended a baby impala which was probably born the day before because it couldn’t stand, walk or see too well. It kept on falling so Tamara would have to pick it up and it would start following us around again – it was so cute! We finally said goodbye to our new friend (who we named Tambi after Tamara and Bambi) so it could find its mother in the herd nearby. Our resort in Lake Naivasha, Sopa Lodge, was really nice with a sunk in bath tub and couches which faced a patio which then faced a large grazing field where you can spot giraffes, hippos, monkeys and bush bucks. For dinner, we gorged ourselves on the buffet which included a BBQ and lots of typical Kenya dishes like stewed vegetables and curries which are less spicy than Indian ones.
The next morning, we drove to Lake Nakuru and checked into our game lodge (Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge) inside the park. The resort was beautifully situated on the side of a hill and integrated so nicely into the surrounding landscape. We then went on a game drive around Lake Nakuru which is a large body of salt water. It’s unique because a fresh water river feeds into it but the lake bed is naturally salty so it makes the entire lake salt water. We drove to the shore and saw thousands of pelicans! I was so scared they would poop on me (remember I’ve been pooped on 7 times now) but I was willing to take the risk to watch these large birds (probably half my size) take off and land. They flapped their wings to clean the bugs off of themselves and would follow a leader around in large groups. At one point, there were hundreds of pelicans flying over us making lots of noise. We also saw lots of flamingos in the lake just chilling. We drove a bit more along the shore and saw white rhinos! They are also very big and slow movers but apparently they can charge at cars so we kept our distance. They weigh about 300 lbs and are very picky about the grass they eat. We also saw a black rhino cross the road just ahead of our van which was very surprising. Along the drive, we saw the typical zebras, gazelles, water buffalos and water bucks. It’s funny to say “typical” since 4 days ago, I would’ve never thought that seeing zebras was typical but in Kenya, they’re everywhere (even along the highways, like seeing deer or cows in rural parts of Canada)! We then drove up to Baboon Cliff and the views of the lake below were breath taking. The sun shining through the clouds created rays of light on the lake’s surface (imagine the opening credits of The Simpsons). We saw a slew of water buffalos make their way across the plains to a watering hole. On the cliff, there were a pack of baboons which surprisingly weren’t that menacing. They were just sitting there picking bugs off of each other. They looked very different from the monkeys we had seen earlier in Lake Naivasha and the monkeys I had seen in India or Indonesia. They have long black faces, grey fur and hard butts which made us giggle (yes, we’re immature). Odd fact: the butts of the female baboons turn red when they’re in heat
The next morning, we started the long drive back to Nairobi, all while listening to Joel’s gospel music which made the journey seem like a movie montage. We stopped by the Giraffe Centre which is such a great initiative. They started the sanctuary because the Rothschild subspecies of giraffes were endangered with only 150 in all of Kenya. Through education and conservation efforts, they were able to double the number to 300! We got to feed the giraffes pellets of food and they would eat the pellets out of our hands! Their tongues are very rough and slimy but they are very friendly animals and let us pet them. I even put a pellet between my lips and the giraffe ate it (I essentially kissed a giraffe!). The guide told us that their saliva is an antiseptic – I don’t know if I believe this or if he just said that so naive foreigners would let a giraffe kiss them.
We then drove to our campsite in Nairobi and said good bye to Joel. He was such an accommodating guide, patiently answering the millions of questions we asked him and enduring the cackling laughter in the back seat during the long drives. I must say that this is definitely the high point of my trip so far (sorry Taj Mahal). I still can’t believe everything that we’ve experienced so far and it’s only day 5 into a 3 month stay in Africa!