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Safari! In the Masai Mara...

KENYA | Tuesday, 17 November 2009 | Views [906] | Comments [2]

Well I have now experienced one of Kenya’s main drawcards: the safari. Last weekend we took a trip into the African wilderness and visited the Masai Mara, a national park in Western Kenya famous for hosting the annual wildebeast migration from Tanzania to Kenya, where hundreds of animals cross the Mara River and stampede across the savanna in search of lusher grass. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the tourist numbers swell during this time) the migration is only from July to October, and our experience was more of animals scattered across the landscape than scraping the sides of our vehicle. Despite the obvious tourist trappings, it was an eye-opener into a different kind of Africa. Away from the bustling city, bumping across the vast plains, the sight of herds of animals just doing their thing as they have since before the cities, the safari vans, even before the Masai started grazing their cattle, was liberating and soothing.

On Friday morning I met up with four other AIESEC interns also working in Kenya and, along with our driver Peter, set off for the Masai Mara. On the way we chatted about our various projects: Shige (from Japan) was working to fundraise for a schools project in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, and Triinu (from Estonia) and Veronika (from the Czech Republic) were teaching at a children’s home in Nyeri (a town two hours north of Nairobi). Kazuki (from Japan) was also working for the Nyeri home, and had recently secured funding to build a greenhouse, enabling fresh produce to be grown for the children. As we crossed the Rift Valley in Western Kenya, I watched the land fall away from us on one side, as broad echoing plains faded into distant interlocking mountains scraping the horizon.

We arrived at our camp at around 4pm and were amazed to find it hosted a restaurant, bar and hot showers, as well as cavernous tents well protected from the hardy local insect population. After a brief rest we headed into the mara!! We hung our heads out of the open roof in true safari style and snapped happily away at zebra and wildebeast, even managing to spot a rhino (apparently quite rare), before heading back to the camp for dinner of beef stew, sukuma wiki (stewed spinach) and rice, and a post-dinner round of cards that ended up going quite late into the night (although, due to my good friend jetlag, you can be sure I was tucked up tight by 10:30pm).

The next morning after an early breakfast we set off for an all day ‘game drive’ (don’t worry, the hunting metaphors are merely an overhang from the colonial era), during which we spotted The Big Five! This consists of the Lion (we were lucky enough to have two large males walk centimetres away from our van! We were also witness to a male and female getting it on, although this was short lived as I think they were deterred by the vans with eager tourists watching, as I can imagine I would be!), the Rhino (of the aforementioned evening), the Cheetah (lounging in the grass, then bounding across the plains), the Leopard (this one is very rare, but we spotted him sleeping high up in a tree; apparently they take their kills up into the branches to eat, to avoid their meal being poached by lazy lions), and the Hippo (predictably wallowing in the mud on the banks of the Mara River). We also saw meandering elephants, awkward giraffes, dirty rotten thieving monkeys (Peter had to scare them off with sticks while we were eating lunch, and despite this one still managed to grab Shige’s banana off his plate and run off with it; an amusing cliché), herds of wildebeest (stretching off into the horizon in long caravans), frisky zebra (with their tails constantly switching their striped behinds), long-beaked vultures crouching over carrion, ostriches bending their necks into impossible configurations, Greater Kudu (with their impressive horns), gazelle and buffalo. The most peaceful times were when, in the absence of fauna, we stared across vast plains at the ever-receding horizon and marvelled at the land extending endlessly away from our tiny van, peaceful and nondescript under the bright sky.

 After our drive, we finished the day at the Masai village near our camp where (for a negotiable fee) a Masai guide will show you around, giving a brief explanation of Masai customs. As we arrived, the Masai warriors demonstrated their infamous jumping competition (a traditional means for impressing the ladies), and the women performed a dance usually used to welcome a new bride to the village (Masai must marry outside of their own tribe, and when this happens, the women leave their tribe of origin and go to live with their husband’s tribe). Our guide John explained that Masai wear their familiar red shawls because this colour scares the animals and also allows Masai to identify their fellow tribesmen from long distances across the savanna. He informed us there were many Masai villages dotted across the savanna but that this one housed 350 people, living in 25 family houses made from grasses, wood and cow dung. Every 10 years the tribe moves and rebuilds the entire village somewhere else, following the good grazing land (every house takes 3 months to rebuild). Polygamy was still widely practised and the chief of his village has seven wives, but John explained that he only wanted one because “more wives means more trouble!” The marrying age for men and women is 25, and boys are circumcised at age 15 in a ceremony in front of the entire village. If they flinch or show any pain, they bring shame to their family and are banished from the village for the rest of their lives. Girls were formerly circumcised (a procedure more widely know as female genital mutilation or FGM) but this practice has now ceased as a result of pressure from the government and local NGOs. All Masai girls and boys attend the local village school and then have the choice of remaining with their tribe or seeking further education or employment in the cities and towns. During our tour John (who at age 18 is in his final years of high school) got a call from his girlfriend on his mobile phone (she lives in Nairobi and so their relationship is necessarily long distance, but they talk on the phone regularly).

After buying some Masai jewellery and carvings from the makeshift market set up in the village we headed home to a more subdued dinner, and early bed. The next morning we set off for one last early morning drive before bumping our way back to the city. Now back at the office in front of my computer that place seems a world away, but I look forward to escaping the city a few more times before tight scheduling pulls me back to Australia.



Thanks Bethy - what a wonderful description of your safari experience - you sound like a much more literary David Attenborough! The photos are fabulous! Missing you.

Love mum xxx

  Cal King Nov 19, 2009 5:39 PM


Hey Beth,

I didn't get to meet you before you headed off but I'm going to be taking over from Michael as VP OGX next year. Great to see you are enjoying the start of your internship in Kenya. How amazing is it how different life is from one part of the world to another? I did my DT in Indonesia and remember that staying in a mountain village for a few days was really eye-opening. Hope the rest of your trip is just as exciting.


p.s Man I'm glad I didn't have to get circumcised at 15 - ouch!

  Pippin Barry Nov 19, 2009 7:45 PM



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