Tuesday, March 17, 2020

First Day of Safari in Maasai Mara, Kenya

This morning I did a bit of reading the news about how the world was ending. Breakfast waits for no man, though.

Yesterday the Thorn Tree cafe had a full buffet spread with about 12 kinds of honey alone. The situation here was deteriorating fast, however. I don't know if it was a health measure or if the hotel was simply running low on guests, but today breakfast was solely a la cart.

On the plus side I did get a peek at the actual menu.

I had read about how I could expect the pawpaw fruit to be available in Kenya and I was pretty excited about it. This is a fruit I've been aware of for some time but it has a very brief season and is hard to come by.

I noticed that pawpaw was included in the fruit plate on the menu so I ordered that and was really looking forward to it. When it arrived there was no pawpaw to be seen. I went ahead and ate it anyway, but when the waiter returned I told him there was no pawpaw on my fruit plate and could he bring just some pawpaw this time. He looked confused by my request but dutifully went and retrieved another plate for me. It was all papaya. Pawpaw is just what they call papaya here. I was really bummed!

We met Peter, who would be our guide for the duration of our adventure.

We had a long drive ahead of us, which was plenty of time to pester Peter with questions. I learned a little bit of Kiswahili.

Jambo = hi
Avande = police 
Bariyako = good morning 
Safari = expedition
Hakuna matata = it means no worries (but not necessarily for the rest of your days)

Seeing as how flights into the country have ceased, the tourism industry was pretty much in hibernation effective immediately. I asked Peter "what will you do when the tourists stop?" "I will have to find another career," he replied succinctly.

So we were driving along in traffic with our windows down. We pulled up along a van and a man in the passenger seat just said "Hello John how are you?" We had a brief conversation before traffic separated us. I asked Peter how did that guy know my name? He said that in Kenya all white guys are called "John". I think another guy called me John at the end of this video.

The government had closed all of the schools in response to the virus. We saw lots of uniformed children traveling home as a result. I get the impression that boarding schools are a lot more prevalent here than in the US, and a lot of the talk on the radio was about how parents were going to deal with having a bunch of children in their house that they weren't accustomed to taking care of daily.

Don't fear, though the radio soothed. Staying home means: no traffic jams, spending more time with family member, and more time to spend discovering your hidden talents. At this point if a particular talent of mine is still hidden it may be for the best that it stays that way.

Things got awkward when the guy on the radio was talking about forcibly locking up all foreigners arriving in airports and quarantining them.

Peter stopped us at a couple of tourist trap trinket shops. The first time or two I played along and took a look at the shop's wares. Some of the stuff was cool but this was one of those countries where they want to follow you around the whole store and try to hand you things. The prices were also pretty bad. Masks in the shop were nice but the for biggest one the first price she said was $150. It's like I don't really need/want this thing anyway, you're hassling me, and then you start the bidding so high that it's not worth my time and tears to bother trying to get the price reasonable. Plus it's the end of the world so I would've thought they would be anxious to make a deal. Apparently not.

At some point I think we finally told Peter that we weren't digging the shops. He seemed to understand and said that they were good places to stop because the bathrooms were relatively clean.

I thought it was fun that our cool safari vehicle had two gas tanks.

We stopped at another souvenir shop to get hounded.

The most interesting part of the stop was the tree in the parking lot. There were a bunch of ball shaped nests hanging from the branches that the yellow birds entered through a hole in the bottom. Peter said the point of this was to keep snakes out.

We were headed to the Maasai Mara National Reserve, so it wasn't surprising when we began seeing Maasai people walking along the side of the road.

I've read a bit about the Maasai and this is what I know so far:
There are 42 tribes in Kenya, and the Maasai are the only tribe who have kept their traditional way of life.
Men can have as many wives as they want if they have enough cows to support them.
They do a sort of jumping dance to find a Maasai mate. I think I even read that if they are really good at jumping that they can get a discount on what they have to pay the girl's parents.
They believe that all cattle on the earth belong to them.

After about six hours of driving to travel 150 miles we arrived at our new basecamp: Enchoro Wildlife Camp.

"When you open a bottle of Tusker you are joining the world in celebrating one of Africa's great original beers. Tusker has been brewed with care, craft and love since 1922. Every crisp, clean mouthful summons up the taste, sunshine and love of life of its African roots."

Since we were like the only tourists left on earth we had a private car with driver, and now we had a private chef at our empty safari camp.

At check in they said to close and padlock the zipper to our tent whenever we left because baboons would come in and take our stuff. This was such a whimsical idea that I don’t really think I believed it was an actual threat. Sure enough on our walk back to the tent from lunch I saw a baboon strolling through the campsite as casually as if it was a paying guest.

A couple of wildebeest doing some headbutting.

There were several types of grazing little deer-like characters about. These with the black stripe on the side are called Thomson's gazelle, named after British explorer Joseph Thomson. The animal is notable for being the fourth-fastest land animal. Unfortunately for it, one of the three faster animals is its main predator: the cheetah.

The roads were so bouncy that my watch thought I must be exercising.

"Mara" means "spotted" in the local Maasai language. Maasai Mara is called this because of the trees which speckle the landscape.

Peter had made quick professional acquaintance with the few other safari groups zooming looking for animals. It was definitely an efficient system, because now we had spies all over the park and when a particular animal revealed itself all of the crews would communicate where and converge on the site. The constant loud radio chatter and the fast driving made the whole thing feel like a Kenyan episode of Cops.

A pack of helmeted guineafowl. They are known to follow herd animals around and eat the bugs out of their poop. Yummy!

Reading Out of Africa while on this trip is like having a poet guide who can help further romanticize everything I'm seeing.

"In the Ngong Forest I have also seen, on a narrow path through thick growth, in the middle of a very hot day, the Giant Forest Hog, a rare person to meet. He came suddenly past me, with his wife and three young pigs, at a great speed, the whole family looking like uniform, bigger and smaller figures cut out in dark paper, against the sunlit green behind them. It was a glorious sight, like a reflection in a forest pool, like a thing that had happened a thousand years ago."

In the video Peter mentions that there is a pack of four male lions that only eat hippos. I wonder why hippos ever leave the water. Maybe to eat grass or something?

We hit some wet terrain and got showered in mud. I was reminded about the benefits of having a vehicle with a top on it.

The downside of being in close communication with the other groups was that we always knew exactly when they got stuck. We were driving around in the most serious looking jeep I've ever seen, but some of these scrubs were just in vans and so were worthless. Once or twice I was seriously getting annoyed that we were burning our safari time with digging out idiots. Let the lions deal with them. It's the circle of life.

We made it back to camp. We saw some good appetizer animals but I'm going to need to see some big cats in order to call this safari a success, I think.

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