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Published: March 17th 2018
It’s an awesome experience spending the night in a tent in the African wilderness. It’s around 9:30 pm and not a human soul close by…. it was semi-darkness outside the tent…silver droplets from the moon silently dripping down over the bushes and trees. You start imagining the shadows of the bushes as animals ready to ambush. Cuddled inside the sleeping bag, I closed my eyes in the darkness of the tent. Hardev and John were sleeping on my opposite side in their net-cabin. I could hear the hyenas and zebras barking not too far from the tent. I could hear the baboons screaming with a shrill sound. An owl hooted close by. It felt surreal.... listening to the animals and the night creatures while trying to sleep. I slid inside my sleeping bag deeper feeling cozy and went to sleep.
I usually don’t sleep much at night; so I woke up early. Time to get ready for the safari! It was first time for me safari in Africa and I was really excited! We rented the land cruiser from the camp site for our safari. No other tourists but only three of us and our Masai driver. Early
morning and the sundown are the best times for safari when most of the animals come out. We paid our entrance fee at the Talek Gate and zoomed in with our cruiser. The hood was open and we stood up watching the games through the open hood with our camera ready. Simply fascinating! As long as we could see…it was the vast flat grassland extending all the way to the horizon where the sky touches the ground. It was green and green everywhere! Scattered on both sides are the impalas, wild boars, zebras, waterbuck …you name it. Some baby impalas ran from the car tracks to the grassland when they heard our engine roaring. A waterbuck turned its neck to find out who we were, but was not surprised. They see the cruisers every day, more so often in the high season when the wildebeests migrate further south. Mornings are slightly chilly in Nakuru and Mara, so we were wearing light jackets. Sun was not up yet. Our cruiser came to a stop beside a National Geographic Safari truck. A pair of lion and lioness was sitting close within 100 meters. It’s the mating season and the lion made a
move. To me, it’s a rare sight. Why only me, the National Geographic crews were busy rolling their camera to film it. We hardly talked between us, but whispered. I quickly replaced my 50mm lens with the 300mm zoom and was busy capturing every move of the pair, mainly the lion because the lioness was sitting quietly. We took our shots and left them after 20 minutes.
“You got your clicks, right?” Hardev gave me a smile.
“You must be kidding! They are my prized shots! Hey, even the Nat guys were filming them.” I was all smiles.
It was slightly cloudy and we spotted a couple of elephants behind some trees. One was trying to cross a small ditch. We drove round the corner to get a better look at them. There was a waterhole close by, we took a turn to come close to the waterhole, and wow! A big tusker was waiting by the waterhole. We didn’t wait for the confrontation, not sure whether it would have charged us if we were too close. No way, we didn’t take the chance. Our Masai driver drove the cruiser further away from the herd and we
were driving over the vast Mara grassland. We spotted some giraffe. They were beautiful! No matter when and how I see them, they are so gorgeous. They were busy eating the top branches of the acacia tree. Thompson gazelles, impalas were everywhere. The baby impalas by the roadside just jumped to join their family when they saw our cruiser. To be honest, I still find hard to differentiate between the gazelles and impalas. A bunch of hartebeest lifted heads up from grazing and gave us a suspicious look. We spotted a few wildebeest. This is not the time of migration and most left, but still some diehard wildebeest were hanging around in Mara. And Oh, zebras! So cute, I love them! God knows how many clicks I took capturing these beautiful animals! The cruiser veered off the track and drove into the grassland. Yes, we were looking for the big ones! Cheetahs! Just a few days earlier, I heard Brian Keating from CBC was on the radio and said he could not spot them. So I was not very hopeful. The cruiser slowed down, the Masai driver showed us three cruisers far away near the horizon. I would have missed
them in my untrained eyes. It would be at least a mile. Hardev opened his binocular. Yes, the cruisers were standstill in a semi circle. “There must be some biggies,” the Masai driver murmured and put his cruiser in top gear. Within minutes, we were there. And Wallah! The cheetahs! We slowly parked the cruiser by the side of the other vehicles. Far away, we could spot some dots. I opened my zoom…yes I could see them but they were outside the range of my zoom. We needed to be closer. The Masai guy broke the crowd and drove in a semicircle to get closer to them from the other end. Yes, five of them! Aren’t we lucky? And they started moving 1 o’clock to our direction. The other cruisers also followed slowly to join us. Now I could see the cheetahs clearly. The sun was shining on the top and five of them having a slow walk…still in the same direction. Perfect! We started the cruiser and made a slow turn not to obstruct them, but face them. They couldn’t care less and started coming towards us and there they were… just 10 ft away from our cruiser! What
an elegant animal, my, my! One was wearing a tracking collar. I felt lucky given that the CBC reporter couldn’t spot them when he was here. I kept interchanging my variable 50mm and the zoom repeatedly…click, click, click! So cute, so cute! One has to see them over a landscape like Mara to appreciate the beauty! I felt like hugging them! We drove out once the cheetahs were gone and soon we spotted a lion deep inside the bush, but it was around mid day and this is the time the animals hide under the shade, so no point driving around. We left Mara to resume our safari in the late afternoon.
We could see the dust storm gathering in the horizon when we started our drive late afternoon. Black cloud started rolling into Mara from the West. It didn’t take long for the dust cloud to engulf us and spread across Mara. We kept on driving through the dust. Then came the rain…heavy downpour. When it rains in the tropics and the equator, it hardly drizzles…it pours. The visibility became almost zero. So we stopped our cruiser in the middle of nowhere and waited for the
rain to stop. Quickly, the Mara turned into a swamp, water flowing in all directions. The dry ditches quickly filled up and that made our drive difficult. Oh, well, “it is what it is,” I told myself and “we would make the most of it.” The rain stopped after about an hour. Most of the wild life, the gazelles, waterbuck, hartebeest, zebras they all disappeared during the rain. To be honest, I have no idea where do they hide in such a vast plain where there is hardly anything for cover other than some acacia trees and some small bushes. I guessed they know their shelters well! We started the cruiser, but we had a difficult drive. The mud and the water from the swamp were making it harder and tires were slipping. The driver put the cruiser on to all four wheels to pick up the speed. Some of the wild animals have started coming out from hiding after it has stopped raining, but not too many. We spotted some ostrich in the horizon, some hyenas ran away hearing the engine noise. We drove for a while, but could not spot many. Sun was coming down quickly over the
horizon. One wild buffalo stood out challenging us in the backdrop of the setting sun. What a marvelous seen! Suddenly our Masai driver spotted a convoy of safari vans far away…standing still. Bingo! They must have seen something. The driver left the track and drove through the vast plain to catch another track to reach the convoy. It took us around 10-15 minutes to reach them. And he was right! Three lionesses were relaxing behind a stone where grasses were over grown and about 800 meters from them there were two lions busy in horseplay. Finally, the one started walking towards the direction where the three lionesses were sitting down. I guess enough of horseplay, it was time for a date! What a majestic animal with golden muscled paw and shaggy brown mane! It was surely the symbol of power! An unparallel personality! He was walking just like the boss “Hakuna Matata”…with a ‘don’t-worry-I-will-fix-it all’ attitude in every step! He was so close that I didn’t need the zoom lens for a close up. Regardless, I used it to watch his movements closely. We watched him for a while and then we started our cruiser, made another semi circle to
drive closer to the one who was still sitting on the ground. The sun was setting fast in the distant horizon and the convoy with the Japanese tourists now was gone. We drove for five minutes or so; suddenly we heard a loud cracking sound of metal underneath the car and the cruiser halted with a jerk. The driver tried to move, but the cruiser refused. The driver got down and checked, the axle has come down. The land cruiser is a hardy vehicle suitable for such terrains, but a machine also has its limit I suppose! How much rough drive could it take, especially in such mud and swamp?
And shit, guess what! We were close to the lion we were chasing! The driver placed the cruiser in 4 wheel drive and moved a bit further away. Still. we were about 500m from the lion. The guy radioed for help, but help does not come fast in such a vast land. I was glad it was not our Rover, at least these guys must have backups. The Masai driver got down to check the vehicle.
“Can I get down from the car?” I asked the driver. I
just needed a vantage angle to get the sunset shot.
“Don’t go too far…the lion is close by.” You kidding, not a chance, I know that! The lion let out a thundering roar. The sound came from deep inside him that could be heard miles away. I startled! I wished I was carrying a set of diapers! I inched to the side of the vehicle to get a better angle of the sunset. I could see the shadow of the lion behind some overgrown grass. The reply of the thundering roar came out from the other side 700m away where the other lion was sitting with its harem. Although I knew the lion did not have much interest in me in this mating season (perhaps?), but regardless, I kept an eye on him while I was taking the sunset shot…well, you never knew. One fast move, he would be over me. The sun fell down behind the horizon leaving an orange hue in the vast sky of Mara. It became dark and I could not see the shadow of the lion anymore, but his thunderous roar gave me the exact spot where he was. No, I was not comfortable
anymore that I could not see him in the dark; I didn’t take chance and decided to go inside the cruiser. We waited until we saw a pair of headlights far away. The rescue vehicle came with the mechanic. We shifted to the other vehicle and started for the gate into the darkness. It was around 8 pm. Driving at night in Mara is another experience. Impalas and waterbucks were now scattered on the track, the place belongs to them after sundown. They suddenly got startled to see our vehicle, their eyes glowed for a moment in the headlight. After 10 minutes or so drive, we reached to the gate and we soon reached to our bush camp. It was a golden day for me getting to know the African wilderness in my own eyes and in my own way. Tomorrow early morning I was to be picked up for the balloon ride over Mara and I was looking forward to that all along.
Stay tuned! Next is the balloon ride over Masaimara!
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