The first destination in our East African safari was Maasai Mara, the crown jewel of Kenyan National Parks. We had planned 1.5 days there, including a game drive in the afternoon of our arrival from Nairobi, and another full day of game drive. July is one of the best months to visit the Mara, as you can see the Great Migration, with 1-2 million wildebeest, ~0.5 million gazelles and ~0.3 million zebras. If you get lucky, you might even see the hordes crossing the Grumeti or Mara rivers, being attacked by crocodiles. Getting the timing right, however, is really hard, as it changes every year depending on the rains. We were one week late for the river crossing, but enjoyed the massive amount of grazers on the Mara plains.
After settling in the Mwangaza Tented Camp (really good!) and eating lunch, we got in our pop-top van and slowly started driving through the park. Very quickly, I realized that the experience would satisfy all my expectations. Zebras chilling a couple meters from the track, Thomson gazelles, eating leaves a bit further, antelopes jumping around… and suddenly we spotted some giraffes coming out of the trees 🙂 Even once we had seen many more prestigious animals, giraffes remained one of our favorites.
We drove around for a few hours, nearly in solitude, and things got even better. We saw a cheetah, sitting lonely, and a couple of lions preparing an attack on some zebras. At the last minute, the zebras spotted them and fled. That was our first Big Five, a hunting-based term used to refer to lions, elephants, rhinos, buffaloes and leopards. Observing all of them was one of the goals of our trip… would we succeed? Well, shortly after, we saw the second one, the enormous African buffalo. And as we were heading back, a funny ostrich crossed our way, and two jackals fought for some carrion. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park!
After a restful sleep, we were back in the van and excited. We were rewarded by a group of giraffes, a couple of elegant Uganda birds, a couple of not so elegant hyenas, and by a fight game between two young male topis. Our guide Charles was very knowledgeable and taught us to really enjoy the observation of animals, rather than checking items off of a list.
Then it was elephant time! We saw two small herds almost back to back. For African elephants, a herd is usually composed of one or few females (one of them dominant) and their offsprings; adolescent males eventually abandon the group. We enjoyed observing each heard for a long while, especially the super cute baby, who reminded us of Dumbo 😉 A bit later, we found a group of safari vehicles congregated around a majestic lion (middle-age male, with a mane but still blonde). Then some feasting vultures and a cheetah chilling under a tree. And all this as we crossed beautiful plains crowded with wildebeests…
We took a break for lunch by the Grumeti river, where there were a few hippos. Very interesting animal, more about them in the next report about Naivasha. The migration had already passed, so we’ll have to come back for river crossings. In the afternoon, there were more indelible images, like a sucking Grant gazelle, a distant black rhino and the explosion of wilderness at the top of this post. We were happy campers!
Still had time for one more stop: a Maasai village. It was a total tourist trap, but the parts that were authentic were very interesting. Like the fact that they consider cattle the ultimate status symbol, and put all their money into it (and must exchange it as dowry). In periods of drought, even the richest lose almost everything, making development very challenging.