Safari

I came to Kenya to work, but the possibility of going on a safari was hard to give up. A colleague, Luke, was willing to come along so last weekend we headed for the Maasai Mara, in southwestern Kenya. The Maasai Mara is a relatively small park – in particular if you compare it with the Serengeti, which it borders. But it’s pretty full of animals and it’s an easy 45-minute flight from Nairobi.
Luke could only go for one night (which meant an afternoon and morning game drive), while I decided to stay for two (which meant two game drives each day). Alas, the first two drives were the best – Luke was lucky. On the first afternoon we saw a lot of herbivorous animals: elephants, giraffes, gazelles and the like, wildebeests, ostriches, cranes, zebras (though they only have a few around, most are back in the Serengeti) and, of course, bisons. There are hundreds of bisons in the Maasai Mara, they must be the most numerous animals. They are not particularly pretty, but they are very cool in that the whole group is sort of together – but they have what I imagine is a mail on the edges of the group looking out and confronting any predators. They are smarter animals than they seem.
The second day was even better. We *almost* saw a pack of lions hunt a bison. They prepared themselves, they put themselves in position, and they were getting ready to attack when a hot air balloon flew over them and spooked them. Fuck those balloons.
We did get to see a pack of hyenas eating a zebra – though we got there about 10 minutes after they killed it, so we didn’t see the hunt. Perhaps that’s for the best. The hyenas managed to eat pretty much all the zebra in about 10 minutes. There were about 10 of them – and we were maybe 30 feet away. It was a bit gruesome to see them, and yet so fascinating.

We also saw the usual assortment of herbivores – and hyenas, jackals and a fox near the lion hunt – and then we went to the river where we saw a crocodile from very far away, and lots of hippos. It was very cool.
The next afternoon we went in search of a leopard, and not only did we not find one, but we didn’t find pretty much anything else. The highlights were a 2-week old elephant, a newborn bison (the mother was eating the placenta when we saw her) and a breastfeeding gazelle-like-thing. We saw some lions resting in the late afternoon, young males. We were so close to them – 10 feet perhaps? – so much so that I was actually afraid of that. But I guess it was cool.
The last morning was also pretty sparse on animals, though we did see a sitting cheetah (not very exciting to watch) and a rhino (again, not that exciting). There were more elephants and giraffes and assorted herbivores.

The place where we stayed, the Sarova Mara Game Camp, was beautiful. Our “tent” was more like an airy luxury cabin – with a HUGE bed, nice furniture, a huge bathroom and all the comforts you could want (except for a phone – though they’d do in-person wake up calls). They had more standard, less luxurious tents, but we got a free upgrade, reportedly because we couldn’t fly there on Saturday morning as we wanted to, but probably because they didn’t have any guests to speak of. Of the 75 tents they have, probably 10 were occupied while we were there. That was good for us, the service was top notched and neither the hotel nor the park were crowded – but it’s horrible for the poor Kenyans who depend on the tourist industry for a living. If you are thinking of going on a safari, now is the time to come (and yes, Kenya is utterly safe right now).
Others seemed to be happy with the food, I thought it was merely OK, but you guys know that I’m very picky.
In all, I had a great time and I wish I could do it again, next time with the kids.

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