March 1st Morning
We start the day with a glorious sunrise too pretty to not capture. It promises to be hot today – 27 Celsius – and we start where we ended yesterday. One of the guides says he has heard over the radio that a pride of lions has been sighted crossing the area. The vehicles split up and head in separate directions. We go left and right. Stop and back up. Search this route and that route. It is not like a zoo where the big cats are always in the same place. The guides use teamwork to find them.
Finally, they are spotted far off in the middle where there is no road access. Taking our chances of being fined by the rangers, we go off-road, up into the grass and cut a trail to intercept the lions crossing the field. The pride walks into view and lingers. They act like the movie stars posing for the cameras. They snuggle and rub up against each other, their heads up sniffing the air, rolling in the grass. Then they tire of us and move on. We circle around behind them to have the sunlight at our backs.
My favourite the feature image.
At one point they lay in the shade cast by our jeeps and one lioness starts gnawing at the spare tire cover on the vehicle beside us. We hear the stitches start to rip, She pulls it with her teeth, shaking her head to break it free. When it won’t loosen she starts mauling it with her claws. It finally tears and she lets it go, satisfied she has dominated it.
With these amazing photos in the can, we head off to the park entrance there is a hike to the river lead by a park ranger that we want to take part in. On the way we have to stop; a tortoise has taken over the road. Eric allows us to get out and have a look. He or she is not moving anywhere soon.
This is when photography can be misleading. That tortoise looks huge until you put something beside it to give it scale. It is quite amazing Eric saw him at all.
We are introduced to the staff. including the ranger who will be taking us on the hike down along the banks of the Mara. He tells us to keep our heads low in case of snakes in the trees and to watch the ground for snakes burrowed in dens. Not exactly the kind of threats I normally encounter when I hike.
Before we head out he says “Hippos rarely leave the water during the heat of the day they even mate in the water.” They come ashore only to eat, he adds. “The riverbank is their territory and they are very protective of it, they will attack.” He accentuates his point by holding his gun ready to fire – barrel cradled in his left hand, stock and trigger in the right hand, pointed in front of himself. Then he adds ” Oh and don’t try to out-run one, they can move faster than you can.” This is why he has the gun.
We wind through a wooded path for a few minutes. A few birds sing, but no snakes in sight. Switching back down a little incline with a few tricky spots, I have to watch where I place my foot. Our armed protector walks the shoreline making sure it is clear, then signals us to join him for photos.
Back at the jeep we are just about to depart, when a large hippo drags his heavy body up from the water’s edge onto the bank. Lucky for us he emerged on the opposite side of the river, giving us great photo opportunities. We have been so lucky with animals doing what we hope they would do, just when we needed them to. Eric says he has a surprise for us. The Tanzanian border is close by and he is licensed to guide in the country, so he will take us for a quick visit to the border monument. We leave the main road and take a side road through the underbrush and emerge in a wide open field with a large giraffe seeking shade under a mature tree.
Monique stands on opposite side of the concrete monument with a T for Tanzania on one side and a K for Kenya on the other. Eric takes a picture then we switch sides and do it again. We take a few more photos of the giraffe and head out. Someone on the radio is calling. We roll out through the path and pull onto road in a cloud of dust.
We join the rest of our troop, who are snapping pictures of two cheetahs. They appear young, most likely brothers not long out on their own. Lean and still scruffy-haired, they stalk a herd of impalas. Slinking forward then dividing up and circling in each direction, their approach on the prey is calculated and drawn out. One of them springs into a run prematurely and tips the impalas off. His chase ends before it gets going. The prey flees, leaving the bachelors to go hungry.
March 1st Afternoon
About half an hour into our drive we come to a group of elephants. Having watched the interaction of so many species with their young here, there is no doubt in my mind that the love passed between a child and its parent is felt no less by wild animals than it is by us humans.
Not fifty feet away is a female elephant. She and her baby wriggle their trunks together, touching heads and tusks. The love wafts over to me and I capture the precious moment of the baby clasping onto his mother’s trunk. Truth of a shared bond that will forever warm my heart.
We hug the river and watch the giraffes in a group working together. In some universal way they pass along messages and warnings of danger that may be coming. Taking a step out to the left then the right, then buckling their knees and lowering their heads to drink or eat from what is offered closer to the ground, this is when they are vulnerable. Then just as awkwardly, they rise up again to compose themselves, and head to the river’s edge to feast on the lush treetops at a more convenient height.
I didn’t know it then but I captured my final zebra photo not long after this. We had stayed out watching a hunt. A pride of lions was closing in on a zebra. He was grazing some distance from his peers, unaware of the looming threat. It was surreal moment, as I clung to railing of vehicle with my camera saddled in the bean bag. I was torn between the desire to see a successful kill play out and the ache of hoping the zebra wouldn’t lose his life. The waning daylight forced us to call it a night and I am grateful I don’t have to write the end of that story. In the photo he is alive and healthy and shall remain that way always to me.
Again we get the cue from Eric, our beers are ready in the cooler and the sky paints another sunset not to be forgotten.
Please continue to join me on my journey in; What Kenya Did to me- Good bye Part 9. Happy travels from Maritime Mac.
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