Hiace Safari - Masai Mara

Trip Start Aug 09, 2005
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Trip End Aug 09, 2006


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Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Hiace Safari...

We left Ethiopia and landed back in Nairobi Kenya ... first thing on the agenda was to set about organising extra passport pages as we have none left!! We visited the Irish Consulate Office which turned out to be a prefab office in the front of a diesel workshop ... times must be hard for the Irish Ambassadors!! Not kidding though the Consulate was in a very dodgy area of town about 5kms from central Nairobi ... guess location isn't everything when it comes to office space and important work can be done anywhere even in a diesel workshop!!! But the upside was that there was a very helpful representative in the workshop, who although couldn't personally help in our plight of needing extra pages, did get us information on where and who could help us and so in a way she has helped us plan some of our route through East Africa. Turns out there is an Irish Embassy in Kampala, Uganda and they can issue us a temporary passport ... So next stop will be Uganda ... that is of course after we do a Safari in Kenya!

Happy now that we can "Keep on keeping on like a bird that flew, tangled up in blue..." with our travels with no worries about where the next visa or country stamps will fit we wandered about Nairobi visiting a few Safari companies, accompanied by 2 shadows who leeched onto us the first day we arrived. 'Peter and Tito' brought us to some of their favourite companies, that is those who would give them some commission for bringing foreigners into their office - if we booked a safari with their company. They shadowed us until we finally gave in and booked a 4 day Safari with one of their favourites. But we did get a good deal and so Peter, Tito, and us all ended up happy!!

So the next morning we were off to the Masai Mara National Park for a 3 day Game drive and a 4th day Game drive in the Nakura National park, with promises of seeing the Big 5 and much more in our Hiace Safari van with a 'Pop-up' roof!!! The road from Nairobi to the park is probably the most potholed road in the world ... the daily entrance fees of $30 into the park certainly aren't being used to improve the road to the park. Just outside the Masai Mara Park we were already seeing Zebra, Giraffe, and Wildebeest. Our guide told us that they had moved out of the park area to avoid being food for the Lions. The long rainy season is just finishing and everywhere is very lush and green, the grass is tall and is at its best for Lions, Cheetahs, and Leopards who can hide and mount surprise attacks on the animals. We were caught up in a large downpour, it was beautiful and sunny one moment then suddenly it changed and our Hiace was slip sliding along in the mud. As we slid sideways around one bend we were face to face with a Leopard who was sitting happily in the middle of the 'track' and seemingly enjoying the rain!! Kevin saw the Leopard first, called to the guide to stop and there was a scramble for cameras, as the bewildered Leopard watched the Hiace come to a sudden halt. The steamed up windows prevented any good photos the guide kept saying 'this is good luck, this is good luck' 15 seconds later the Leopard had had enough of the fools in the Hiace and disappeared into the bush. It was exciting to get to see the very elusive Leopard, a pity we couldn't get a photograph, guess it wasn't meant to be!!!

About a half hour later we arrived at our campsite, dropped off the bags and headed out again on our first game drive. The guide popped up the roof of the Hiace (it had finally stopped raining) so that we could all stand up in the van and have a 360 view. The Masai Mara is a beautiful landscape at this time of the year, rolling hills dotted with trees and bush, and everywhere varying shades of green and yellow tall grass. We set off in search of Lions ... which we found though they kept themselves well hidden in the long grass. We next saw a lone Bull Elephant who had been ejected from his group probably because he was aggressive or bad tempered with the calves or adolescent males. So now he's left to wander the Masai alone. Soon thereafter we came across a small pack of adolescent Lions; the guide said they were between 2-4 years old, no longer under their mother's care, too old to stay with the original pride. They would stay as a group for a short time more hunting together, then a dominant male would take control of the pack, the other males would have to leave and search elsewhere for 'female company'!! At this stage both male and female hunt together but as the male gets older he gets lazy and heavy, so stops hunting ... the lionesses have to feed him after that!! Our Hiace followed the pack for a while through the long grass and along the dirt tracks they weren't very bothered by the 'white animal' following them but they weren't willing to sit still or stay in one place long, but we did manage to get some nice photos. Eventually they disappeared into the long thick grass and the Hiace dared not follow.

Next our attention was turned to the many beautiful and varied hoofed animals of the Masai. Here are numerous kinds of 'same but different' we saw Impala, Hartebeest, Topi, Thomsons Gazelle, and Wildebeest. The day was fast drawing to a close so headed back for the camp but we were treated to a magnificent Kenyan sunset over the Masai Mara hills and plains to end day 1 of an excellent first Game drive in Africa.

Day 2 was an all-day drive across the Masai to the Mara River and the Tanzanian Border where the Masai Mara turns into the Serengeti NP. The morning drive began with us spotting a family of Cheetah, a mother with her 2 seven month old cubs and an eager male who is hoping to woo the mother away from the cubs ... to start his own family!!!!! We watched them as they watched some nearby Impala grazing and planned their assault on their next meal. We were the only guest on the scene and enjoyed a good 20 minutes of peaceful watching before the rest of the hi-ace posse were radioed about our find, and arrived to see the cheetah.

Throughout the morning drive to the Mara River we tried to spot another leopard, searching them out in trees, but all we found were the leftovers of a Thompson Gazelle, whose skeletal remains dangled from a branch ... a telltale sign that a leopard has dined here. Almost at the river we stopped to watch some Masai giraffe munching on Acacia treetops. It was amazing to watch them, felt like a Jurassic Park moment as they sauntered through the trees. At the river we were greeted by several hundred hungry Hippos, bobbing up and down in the water, and then completely submerging for a stroll along the river bed before surfacing again in an explosion of gurgles and bubbles. They are huge animals, not even their crocodile neighbours mess with them!!!

After lunch with the Hippos we started along another dirt track, and crossed paths with some more Giraffe and yet another solo Bull Elephant, this one was busy stuffing himself with huge mouthfuls of grass, not bothered by our presence, and even passed right beside us without even a sideward glance. Back at the campsite that night, some local young men performed traditional Masai tribe songs and dances. One of the dances involved each of them taking turns jumping pogo like in the air, barefoot. Those guys could raise themselves so high that it was as if they had internal springs in their feet.

Day 3, our last morning in the Masai, started with an early game drive at dawn. We packed up the hiace and headed off, and came across the same family of Cheetah. They hadn't moved an inch since yesterday, but now the male was between the cubs and the mother ... looks like his persistence won the females affection. The cubs no longer seemed to be her priority. We left the happy couple and the now hungry cubs, to go in search of more Lions. Passed out by the side of a track, we found our Lion King deep in slumber and seemingly unaware of the Hiace chaos about him. He had a beautiful mane and was an impressive beast. As more vans arrived on the scene, noise escalated, disturbing the sleeping beauty, at which point he forced open one eye to scan the area. Slowly slowly (Pole Pole a phrase often used by the natives) he lifted himself and turned tail in disgust disappearing into the tall grass, to rest again under a nearby tree.

Our time in the Masai was over; we hit the very bad potholed road again this time heading north to Lake Nakuru, specifically to see the Rhino's and 2 million flamingoes!!! It was a long bumpy ride and it was evening before we got to Nakuru. The next morning we had an early start and drove the short distance into Lake Nakuru NP, It was a misty morning with a heavy fog rolling in off the Lake. It took about an hour to clear, but while we drove around the park waiting for the veil of fog to lift we visited the 2 million lesser and greater flamingoes that live in the soda lake that is Lake Nakuru. It was a stunning sight, pink and white patches covered the lake shore, their long legs stepping up and down in the water and their reflection rippling in the waves. It was beautiful ... another one of the shots where you would require a cinematic camera to capture the panorama. Walking along the shore beside the flamingoes we discovered the not so fantastic aspect ... the smell of 2 million birds!!!! But when they took flight in random groups it more than made up for the stench.

Next we visited some herds of Buffalo, Zebra, and Impala that were grazing by the Lake shore... We hadn't seen any buffalo in the Masai and very few Zebras so this was an added bonus for us to see them now. A lot of the animals had young off spring dawdling along behind them, and even hiding behind them when frightened by the approaching white hiace animal!!!!

Next up was the huge White Rhino. We had seen one large male Rhino earlier in the morning, shrouded by the mist and grazing a good distance from the track. But later we came upon a couple of mothers with their youngsters; they were lazing about catching 40 winks by the lake shore. At first they weren't bothered by our presence, but the guide decided to pull the hiace a little closer, instantly one of the mothers stood up and turned to face the van, huge horns pointed at us, blocked our access to the baby and waited to see what the vans next move would be. The second mother roused her big baby rhino and then walked away, but the other mother stared us out of it ... we backed away, and almost at once she resettled herself on the gravel track beside the baby.

More excitement came later that morning, we had just visited a lookout point, which gave a beautiful vista of the park, after which we started to drive some of the lake circuit. Suddenly the guide slammed on the brakes, made a 3 point turn, and we fled at top speed in the opposite direction. We instantly knew he had heard something over the radio...... it was something big, but he didn’t say a word. There were a couple of vans pulled up at the side of the track, everyone standing rigid, and looking up into a nearby tree. "It’s a leopard.... look up in the tree" the guide explained, excited himself as it was the first leopard he had seen in Lake Nakuru NP. This time the cameras were out and ready, we were not missing a second opportunity to photograph a Leopard! But we needn't have worried the leopard wasn't moving, more like resting after breakfast and the ordeal of having to catch said breakfast, before being able to enjoy it!!! It was a beautiful animal. Its coat was magnificent, a beautiful pattern of black spots and splotches on golden fur and its long tail twirled continuously as it lay on the tree branch. We watched it for over 20 minutes and then finally bored with so many eyes watching it stood, stretched and yawned, gave us one last lingering look then elegantly clambered down out of the tree and disappeared into the bush. We couldn't believe how lucky we had been to see 2 leopards, the most elusive animal in Africa. So many people do not get to see any while on Safari. Another fantastic big cat, not as big as the tiger, but just as powerful in its own right as it hunts alone and even carries the kill up into trees away from other predators.

If you've actually read this far, you'll have guessed by now that the safari was excellent and that we enjoyed every single minute of it. We've been privileged to see the big 5 in the wild, travel through beautiful landscapes, and also enjoy the parks during low season..... Which definitely added to the overall experience. From Nakuru we head west to Uganda to spend a few days in Kampala, our priority to visit the Irish Embassy and organise temporary passports as 10 months on we've run out of pages!!!
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Comments

patricktx21
patricktx21 on

Question
Great post about the safari but I have one question which I have been wanting to ask for a few months now. Which of you has the longer hair? :)

candygoodbar
candygoodbar on

What??
Wat are ya talking about?? 'if you read this far...' I pity any folk that don't read the whole thing. It's so rich with detail and suspense. I want to go on safari!
Give me some of those photos for framing or else...I don't know what else...give me some of those photos for framing OK?

seamus
seamus on

Great read
Seems like a classic sarfai, I felt at times that I was reading Hemminway.

I did wonder if he smell from the flamingos was over powering, i guess they get used to it.

did ye share in any cow blood drinking witht he Masai, maybe you could market my stuff to them?

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