Ken Conger, our lead photographer, is travelling with us this morning. He is helping us with our camera settings, histogram readings, shutter speed, ISO and aperture. I am finally starting to understand the photography triangle.
As we comb carefully through the overgrown paths, Eric explains we can’t just go zooming off in any direction: dens with babies are hidden everywhere. Ken mentions to Eric that the grass is much longer and greener this year than in past years. Eric agrees with a nod, noting that the rains have come early and the grass has risen to heights not seen in many months. It makes spotting wildlife tougher and getting good, full-body photographs of mammals really tough.
Masai Mara Reserve is a dot on the map but it is a big place to drive and it seems empty of wildlife. We crest a hill and Eric shouts, “Mongoose den!” Several fast-moving critters scamper down a hole in the ground like pool balls into the corner pocket. We haven’t come across them yet on our journey, but they are hard to nail down for a crisp clean photo.
The morning moves slowly with no big game so we focus on bird watching. Don’t ask me what species they are except the ostrich, of course; a secretary bird, a vulture in the nest and the fluffy one is a kori bustard, not the curry bastard we had jokingly thought Eric was saying.
We follow what looks like a rarely travelled trail. Two silhouettes lying on a mount catch our eye and the jeep reverses to give us a second look. Eric nudges the jeep as far forward as he dares. The flowing golden mane of a the male lion, his head resting on the mount and his eyes closed as he naps in the mid-morning sun, his mate keeping watch, conjures up images from the movie Lion King.
We back away slowly and continue on our original course. We meet up with one of our jeeps coming from the opposite direction. We shout out “Hey!” across to each another. They ask if we have seen the vultures’ nest. We nod in agreement and ask, “Did you see the lions?” They had not seen lions yet. We are starting to be known as the cat ladies. Our luck isn’t over yet.
Eric tracks a hyena for a while. He says they are daring and masterful thieves, always looking for opportunities. Following them could lead us to other predators.
We are the second jeep on scene, and within the next ten minutes it is hard to get a parking spot. Each driver jockeys to get his clients the best view. The attraction is a cheetah with her cub. It is a playful and loving, yet serious interaction.
We have been here close to an hour, and have taken our fill of photographs, so we give up our spot to another jeep packed with tourists. I feel very privileged to be on a tour with just two persons per jeep plus driver.
Ever since my encounter with the Grevy zebra back in Samburu, I have watched their behaviour closely, to see if they are like horses. I have discovered they are very peculiar. They seem almost automated. In Lake Nakuru, I saw about 15 following one another in single file through the trees. When the leader stops in a spot and looks left, each one following stops in the exact same spot and turns its head left.
When we come across a group of them crossing the hill here, they behave similarly, like soldiers. They form a line and hold a strict distance between each animal, while managing to keep the same walking pace.
The lead zebra sniffs the ground at a spot bare of grass, then gets down and rolls. Each subsequent zebra following behind, stops in the exact same spot and rolls the exact same way. The rolling procession is amazing.
I come away with the distinct feeling these animals not only communicate vocally but have some sort of unspoken communication method. Telepathy perhaps. Why not? I am sure there is a complex reason for their behaviour. Leaving a scent trail perhaps? or possibly a way to tell another stallion how many mares are in his herd? It still puzzles me.
We return to our lodge for a buffet lunch in a grand room filled with areas for different food presentation. A carving station, soup and salad bar, personal grilling area, pastas, breads and cheeses and of course the dessert case. Then a bit of poolside reading before we head back out.
This afternoon we find a cheetah hunkered down with her cub close. Their heads swivel in unison in each direction, scanning for the approach of danger or prey but paying us no mind. The plains occasionally seed a single Acacia tree and they dot the Mara, providing shade and protection to the animals and giving beautiful depth to this ocean of grass.
As the afternoon wanes we see bat-eared foxes, Topi and Thompson gazelles. They are tormented with flies, shaking their heads wildly, scratching and occasionally tearing off at a sprint, bucking, in-spite of the heat, to try and clear themselves of the parasites. A losing battle.
After dinner Monique and I linger in the resort lounge and have a few extra Tusker beers, as our own stash is running low. Monique and I entertain the servers with our tails of travel and thoroughbred racing. Several other staff members join us, even the manager of the hotel is drawn to the laughter and comes over and introduces himself. He removes his managerial mask and allows himself a rare beer and takes a seat to listen to the stories the Canadian ladies have to tell. At a respectable time we bid everyone good night and return to our tent. Tomorrow we leave on a drive safari over to upper Masai Mara.
Please join me for that story in What Kenya did to me Part 7
If you missed any parts of this adventure here are the links
Cheers and Happy Travels from Maritime Mac
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