Published: March 6th 2012January 30th 2012
Lion cub in bushes
Enjoying the shade, this baby and his mother relaxed privately in the afternoon.
An air of excitement fills the small plane for our 1 hour flight from Nairobi to the Masai Mara airstrip. I am seated beside a Spanish naturalist who specializes in large cats and snakes. He will spend 20 days in Masai Mara studying. Wow, I’m excited for my upcoming 4 days in the Mara! Upon deboarding, we are greeted by Dixon, our driver/guide and Gladys, our game spotter. Both are Masai. Up we climb into our private Toyota 4WD land rover. Comfy wide seats, open sides for full viewing, freedom to drive over rocks, muddy ravines, two-tracks and no-tracks, constant jiggling to the body and new sights opening my awareness – this is going to be good!
Before even getting to our camp, we already observe a huge diversity of animals ranging from varieties of antelopes (Topi, Thomson gazelle, Impala, Elan), Wildebeest, giraffes, warthogs, waterbucks and jackals. But the stay gets even better when we arrive at our camp, Serian. We chose Serian because it is small (7 tents), tented, eco-friendly, located in a prime spot on the Mara River in the northern conservancy, provided private guide/vehicle privileges, and puts the emphasis where it should be. Also, due
View from our tent
Private, breezy, open to the trees and river below. We heard the clopping of hooves across this pavement in the night and one night the scream of what we believe to be a leopard just outside our tent.
to Fred’s many visits there, they gave us a reduced “resident rate”, making it a no-brainer decision. For a camping lover like me, the feel of the place was like coming home. Outdoor trails between tent areas, everything “natural” feeling, peaceful and quiet both day and night. Kerosene lanterns light the pathways and our tent area at night. Day and night there are sounds of hippos rumbling, grunting, and huffing as well as gentle flowing water sounds of the river below the camp. We awake to cheerful bird chirping sounds and hot tea/coffee delivered to our tent. Butterflies flit about but nary a mosquito is present. There are cool shady areas during the day and all the necessities like a hot outdoor shower, charging station for electronics, and fabulous fresh cuisine. What it didn’t have (phone service, TV’s, flood lights, internet, pools, organized activities – you get the picture), I was glad to be free of. Fred and I were the only guests at the camp the first night. During our stay, we were eventually joined by a fabulously funny retired couple from the UK, a well traveled travel agent also from the UK, an elderly woman photographer from Utah,
Cheetah mom and baby
Enjoying the shade of the tree, this is the perfect spot for the cheetah, with their excellent eyesight, to view potential predators from a distance.
a cute couple out on break from college in Australia, and a mom/small son from Kenya. That’s it. Nightly dinner conversations were oh so interesting and enjoyable. Thanks to encouragement of our friends at camp, I have practiced how to sound like a hippo, sipped the wonderful African liqueur “Amarula”, and can correctly pronounce the difficult name of a Masai guide “Onyango”. Is that what you call being “cultured”?
The 4 days/3 nights which we stayed at Masai Mara constitute being “on safari” with each trip out to view the animals termed a “game drive”. Some days we chose to leave around 6:30am to view game and the rising sun. This made for great photo ops and the possibility of seeing predators returning from their evening prowl, as well as putting us in some truly amazing locations to enjoy a picnic breakfast. Coming back to camp for lunch and a brief rest during the heat of the day, then left us replenished to go out for an afternoon drive, perhaps a “sundowner”, and return for evening dinner. One day, we mixed it up a bit and left a bit later, went out of the conservancy
A safari tradition. Just prior to sundown, find a scenic spot to stop, open a bottle of wine, and enjoy reflections from the setting sun as well as from a day well spent.
and into the Masai Mara game reserve and spent the entire day exploring this more distant area. The landscape was worth the change of pace, though the animals were fewer.
I find myself humming Disney’s “Hakuna Matata” and “Weemawopa weemawopa…..the lion sleeps tonight”. My mind is like a sponge learning new animal names and habits. For example, did you know that a grazing group of giraffes is termed a “tower of giraffes”, but if they are moving, they are termed a “journey of giraffes”? Or how about this: a “pod of hippos”, a “troop of baboons”, or a moving “parade of elephants”. Sometimes we came upon scenes containing such vast variety of wildlife amid beautiful backdrops that all I could muse was that this was somehow a playground for God. It would continue on pretty much the same whether humans watched or not. I was excited to photo most every new animal we came across and then Dixon would clue me in on some interesting attribute about them. I was amazed to discover that we could stop our vehicle within a few feet of giraffe, lions, elephants, zebra etc… and for the most part they
Jousting of the 4 year olds
These young elephants clashed trunks and twisted together in play.
took no notice of us. Apparently a safari vehicle is seen as another non-threatening animal to them. Just don’t step outside the vehicle and destroy the façade. Wow, the excitement of coming across an interesting sighting and then the freedom of driving, unimpeded by roads or lack thereof, to get to a good spot to observe. And talk about being spoiled – if we spotted another vehicle while out on a drive, it felt like an interruption to our private adventure and we would head in another direction. As you’ll see in the photos, we did encounter vehicles every now and then. Usually they were either stuck in the mud, needing a tow, or were clustered around a rare sighting, such as that of a big cat. For the most part; however, we were on our own. Just Fred, Gladys, myself, and Dixon.
The Tale of Dixon
Masai. The warriors of Kenya. Spending time with Dixon, you wouldn’t feel a trace of warrior-like hostility. However, like the Masai, his almost oneness with the nature of the reserve is unmistakable. He is simply the best of best when it comes to guides in the Mara. Many times I
I love this picture. He almost looks like another tree in the landscape, chewing on a weed, ethereal light in the sky above him, sunset reflecting off his face.
asked him, “How did you know there would be lions/cheetah/whatever there?” Sometimes he read the signs of trampled grass or transfixed heads of other animals. Sometimes he simply knew their habits. And sometimes, he said “We were just lucky”. I immediately came to trust him to know where it was safe to stop, where it was safe to get out of the vehicle, where I could find an amazing “silhouette” or other photo shot, and when and where the best time and place was to experience the most from this place. He knows the names and life facts of all the animals, birds, and snakes in the reserve. But what I will always be thankful to Dixon for is his quiet reverence and gratitude for being in this place. “Alleluia!” he often said. Sometimes exclaimed. Sometimes simply stated. He led Fred, Gladys, and me in remembering to add our alleluias of appreciation for the wonders we were treated to. What a heightened sense of enjoyment comes about when you sit for awhile with a cheetah and her baby under a tree and then remember to say “Alleluia!” When asked what “alleluia” means to him, he responds, “In church, many say
I found zebras with their black and white stripes to be very photogenic. Interesting for me to learn that their stripes act to make it difficult for predators to focus on a target while the herd runs zig zagging when under attack.
alleluia. But when I say it, I believe it in my heart. Praise the Lord.” It is because of him that I felt compelled to title this blog as it is. And now that I am back in the winter of Korea, it is heartwarming to know that out there on the Mara, today Dixon is doing what he does every day and remembering to in all things say “alleluia”.
In perfect ending to what could not have been a better safari experience, I was permitted to become the rookie co-pilot for our flight back to Nairobi. My main duty was to pass out the mints, which were found in a Tupperware container in the glovebox. Since I neglected to also pass out water (of which there was none), the other 5 passengers decided I failed as a copilot. Tough crowd! The end of my time in Kenya was filled with the comfort of staying another night at the Muthaiga club and a fascinating trip to the “Masai market” which is held every Friday in Nairobi. I did my part to help the Kenya economy and brought back approximately 35lb more than I arrived with,
Mating and grazing elephants with the backdrop of the escarpment.
including a large, straw touristy bag filled with goodies like Kenyan coffee, tea, and nuts as well as a very long African carving, which the airline check-in agent feared could be used as a club. O’k, yet another piece of checked luggage. And at this point, my adventuresome travel companion and I parted ways. She to Paris for a visit with her mother and I to Seoul where my wonderful husband who “sent me to Africa” (for which I will always be grateful) was waiting for me.
The Tale of Fred
What can I say about Fred? First, yes, she is a she! Fred is French and her name is actually Frederique. Now that’s important because Matt is much more comfortable having me tour Africa with a Frederique than he is a Fred! Next, it is important to know that she not just LIVED in Kenya for 3 years, but she really INTEGRATED herself into many different walks of life in Kenyan society. It is because of Fred that I was introduced to Kenya residents ranging from foreign and local artisans to both wealthy and struggling African business people to poor African servants and even a top Kenyan
We left our husbands and home responsibilities, earning us this nickname from one of the guides we met while out on the reserve.
horse racing jockey. She has the amazing ability to deeply connect with people of all socioeconomic levels with her only judgment criteria being that they are “good” people. She has a very good sense about people and is quick to say that, so far, she has never been taken advantage of. It is just in Fred’s nature to see the good in people and then to jump in and be a dedicated friend. This might mean phoning and arranging a visit in her limited schedule just to “catch up”, because to her they are important. And when she reconnects with friends, she will not be found just nodding her head and conversing at a cursory level. No, she will REALLY listen and try to deeply connect with their lives. She invests her emotion into their problems – seeming to almost take a portion of their problem and make it hers to try to help out with. In Kenya there are many hard working people who are struggling just to make ends meet. For these people, Fred is quick to try to lend a little help where she can. Just a bit of a boost. Maybe it’s a pair of eyeglasses
Breakfast in Eden.....
A tower of giraffes in the distance, nearby zebras with their tails swatting away, laughing hyena sounds, elan and gazelles grazing all around, doves cooing, birds chirping, warthogs trotting by, delicious nutritious food, wonderful companions to share it with - this is one of my favorite memories.
for an aging beautician having a hard time keeping nail polish off the cuticles. Maybe it’s funding for a promising child’s education. Maybe it’s purchasing LOTS of their handcrafted or hand baked items in support of their efforts. Maybe it’s commissioning a boat to be made under the guise of using for her enjoyment, when in reality it will be a gift contributing to someone’s livelihood. Maybe it’s using her connections to help out with jobs. Everywhere I went in Kenya, I was introduced to person after person who LOVED and expressed deep gratitude to my friend Fred, and her husband Michele. It is clear that they truly “made a difference” during their time in Kenya. Back up a few years and you would have found Fred as a top communications executive in a major company. Like me, she gave up her former life when her husband was transferred to a far away location. Rather than bemoaning the loss of a career, she dove in with passion into her new life and in so doing found that not only did she not miss her former life, but could find even greater fulfillment by becoming involved when she saw a need.
Masai Mara Sky
Uninterrupted skyline. At 1800m, evenings are cool and daytime can be very hot.
She didn’t need to find identity through associating with a recognized organization. One person at a time, she noticed and acted to help out. Alleluia! A real life example of how to truly be a friend. Now that’s the take away lesson I hope to never forget about my time traveling in Africa.
There are more photos below