February 29th, Leap year morning
I have to commend the drivers of our vehicles, they masterfully drove us through two river crossings on the way from lower to upper Masai Mara, without so much as a spin of a wheel.
The grassy plains are still sprinkled with shrubs in low-lying catchment areas and acacia trees still have weaver birds fluttering between the thorns; their nests still draped from every available spot. However; I now look at them and question what I see. Does the tree receive nutrients from the bird droppings?
If I have learned anything on this trip, it is the power of the symbiotic relationship between different animal species, and between animals and plants. Life can’t exist without this give and take. It is so evident here, yet we are so far removed from nature’s ways in our western culture of accumulation.
An elephant skull lies silent beside the road and I ask Eric to stop so I can get a photo. As we approach the park entrance gate, there are so many bones laying around and leaning up against the building that the poignant message of the one skull is lost and this catacomb in front of us is morbid and distasteful. Once through the gate we cross the bridge over the Mara river.
The wildebeest have not arrived yet, but the herds and variety of species already gathered is amazing and I can’t imagine how full the land will be in the coming months..
We drop behind the other jeeps, each client doing their own game drive towards our accommodations. I shout to Eric “Lioness on the left!” It is rare that I see something before he does. He says, “Good eye.” He shuts the jeep down and we watch her.
She seems alone and older, slightly feeble, with a sway in her back but good flesh on her frame. She is panting desperately, swarmed with flies and looking uncomfortable. She stalks forward through the long grass, moving minute distances then crouching again only to pop up closer each time.
She drops down beside our vehicle to have a “fake nap” for a few minutes. Hidden from view, she winks one eye open and trots across the road to continue moving forward in the same stealthy way.
Eric follows her movements through his binoculars to see what she is up to. Then he offers up the eyeglasses for us to have a look. She isn’t alone after all.
The radio comes to life and Eric speaks into the mic. Then says, “They are looking for us.” We have fallen far behind the others. The jeep shakes into a start and we head to the lodge.
The porters take our luggage. Greeters smile and call out “Jambo!” They offer us hot towelettes to wash the morning’s drive from our hands and faces. Another greeter has a tray and offers us a glass of fruit juice to take into a seating area while we wait for our room keys. It is a bright warm reception area, decorated in a tribal theme similar to something I have seen in New Mexico. Ken returns and hands us our keys, says, The porter will bring our luggage to the room, and we are to all to meet back in the dining room for lunch in fifteen minutes.
There’s a white tablecloth and water glasses at each place setting We have our own large table in a separate section, so our group can be loud without disturbing other guests. Following lunch, we have about 90 minutes free time. On go our bathing suits for some swimming and sunbathing at the pool.
Afternoon Game drive February 29th.
Somewhere along a marshy area we find a leopard prowling, our best find of the afternoon. Forgive me for the jerkiness of the video, (small hand movements make big photographic movements.) A beautiful animal.
We stop all the vehicles in a line at the side of the Mara river.”This is one of the spots the wildebeest must cross,” Ken shouts out to all of us. I scan the water looking to see where I would cross if I had to. Crocodiles of various lengths bask on the banks, their mouths gaped open, showing heavy sets of flesh-tearing teeth. A formidable opponent for sure. How do I tell what is a rock, a croc or a hippo?
I recall a conversation I’d had with a lady in her shop in lower Mara. I presented her with my broken sandal and asked if she could fix it. She threaded a needle and began sewing delicate stitches to join the pieces together. While she worked, she spoke, not looking up from her task. “I was raised on the river,” she says.” You learn as a child, when your mamma sends you to the river to wash up or get water, to watch out for the crocs, but hippos are the killers.” Her words resonate in my ears as I think of the soon-to-migrate wildebeest and zebra, and their prospects of surviving the crossing. Strength in numbers perhaps or pure luck; jump and hope they snag someone beside you.
We leave the river-side drive and head off into the heart of the plains. Green and silvery grasses are pushed over leaning forward. A single trail heads off into an infinity of blue skies pocked with cumulus clouds.
” Get your camera out Monique!” Eric razzes her for sitting while there are warthogs close by – they are her favourite. With each passing hour, I stare off into the plains, searching but staying in the moment. I listen, smell, and watch, searching my surroundings for every minuscule detail. I don’t want to forget any of it. Plains zebra, ostrich, Impala, elephants and giraffes accompany us all afternoon.
“Ladies, it’s Tusker time!”- Eric Koech- Guide
The light has started to fade and is being replaced by a purplish crimson sky. Eric’s announcement is our cue that we have turned back and are in our last hour of the afternoon safari.
” Oh wonderful, cocktail hour!” I say with a smile. Eric has graciously set our cans of Tusker beers on ice to chill. I flip the top off the cooler and hand Monique her can. Eric smiles then breaks into a chuckle, he gets a kick out of our safari beer hour.
The sky canvas of purples, grays and reddish hues spreads out in all directions, created by the collaboration of a sinking red sun projected through the shadowy clouds of the western sky. We stop the jeep and stand on the seats with our elbows propped up on the roof ledge. Sipping our beers and taking photos, then just watching as the sun sets. Another magical day in Kenya — and only two more to go.
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