|Day 5, 6 July 2010: The generous abundance of the Mara
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
Liz barely slept and woke early to watch the animals. I was only a little behind her. While Tarn worked and the boys slept off last night’s scotch (Glenlivet 18, thank you duty-free) we listened to the impala belching. It’s a disgraceful noise for such an elegant and shapely creature to make. It sounds like a bunch of frat boys competing to produce the best rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” after nine pints. The giraffes decorated the horizon while the wildebeest and zebra grazed in the foreground, largely unconcerned by our presences. We spend the morning alternately peering through binoculars and going for short walks from the campsite with guards David and Bos trailing us discreetly to ensure we didn’t stray too far alone. David had a little English - enough to explain to me that the birds riding the thermals above us were vultures - but Bos spoke only Swahili and Maasai. He communicated by moving noiselessly to the front and gesturing in the direction of animals that our inexperienced eyes missed.
Pair of swallows, nesting above our tent
Oversized, well-camouflaged cricket lurking on our doorstep
We lunched on salad and toasted ham sandwiches before piling into Tarn’s Mitsubishi. I feel it’s important to point out here that allthough we were in the Maasai Mara, we were not on the central, government-controlled game reserve. The campsite lay to the north on a privately owned conservancy. This meant that we rarely saw other safari traffic and gave the impression that we were very much alone. It also gave us the chance to see more and shyer animals, and to drive at night, which is largely forbidden on the reserve.
We drove along a river bank. At one of the bends, we spotted Egyptian geese and a pied kingfisher. As we pulled over to take a look, we discovered a family of four hippos regarding us with suspicion. They hovered with their heads slightly out of the water, snorted at us, ducked down and popped back up to snort again, warning us against coming any closer.
You lookin at me?
You talkin to us?
We think you should leave. Now.
Dik-diks, the littlest antelope
We drove on, looking for signs of lions. Liz spotted a few promising-looking shapes that turned out to be rocks. We passed a couple of male ostrich whose necks and legs were bright mating-season pink. Two secretary birds, which are normally ground birds, courted at the top of an acacia tree. The male opened his wings against the wind, balancing there to show off his patterned feathers. Superb starlings -that’s their name, not me being superlative- flashed passed in iridescent green and blue. A warthog thundered across the plains in front of us, too far away and fast for my lens to catch. A solitary buffalo shook his head at us and returned to grazing.
We paused to watch a lone elephant methodically dismantle an acacia tree. He interspersed bites of branch with trunkfuls of grass, presumably creating a taste sensation. Despite his obvious relish, I didn’t feel moved to try and replicate it. He watched us from his wise little eyes, flapping his ears and waving his trunk. When he’d had enough of our company, he turned his back and began to move off, pointedly letting a couple of large dung pats fly.
After getting tangled in some long grass and being viciously bitten by tsetse flies (which carry sleeping sickness, for which there is no vaccine, oh yay), we spied another vehicle parked quietly under a tree. Tarn carefully joined them to see what they were watching - two male cheetahs napping in the shade of an acacia. Since it was mid-afternoon and still quite hot, they weren’t moving much. Still, they were beautiful.
Tarn drove us out onto the plains where there were no acacias for miles to watch the sunset. Over beer and snacks, we watched the ridiculously biblical sunset. It looked like the sort of illustration that appears in religious texts for children framing a kindly white-bearded chap.
One unreconstructed Australian and three city kids
In Maasai Mara, we eat acacia trees whole.
Hope you have enjoyed this tree-eating demonstration.
Can touch my nose with my tongue.
Ayep, I’m good at that.
Another glorious sunset.
The chilly wind caused us to don our fleeces before returning to the truck. As darkness descended, we saw another spotted hyaena lolloping along in its weird gait. A white-tailed mongoose slunk along the track in front of us for a short spell. A hare bounded across our path. The eyes of innumerable wildebeest and zebra flashed as Duncan swept a torch across the countryside from the passenger window. Suddenly, Tarn spied motion in the corner of the truck’s headlights. He jerked the wheel left and slammed on the brakes. Straight in front of us, fifteen metres away, five lionesses were beginning to rip apart a wildebeest they must have pulled down seconds before we arrived. Their powerful glossy frames and blood-covered muzzles presented a terrifying spectacle. We were entranced. They growled occasionally, disputing the choice bits of meat. They looked healthy - massive, sleek and deadly. The palest, largest one stood first, having eaten her fill, and began prodding one of her companions. The two of them moved off to lie in the grass and play-fight, looking exactly like oversized house cats. This took away some of the fear instilled by the sights and bone-crunching sounds of their bloody feeding ritual.
Tarn inched us closer to the remaining lionesses, who were still feeding. They ignored us. We grabbed a few more snaps, until the wind abruptly changed direction on us. The one lioness still remaining lifted her stained muzzle and began to sniff in our direction. Combined with the rising chorus of approaching hyaena convinced us that we should take our leave.
Om nom nom nom.
Can’t talk, eating.
Rrrr? Who tweaked my tail?
The drive back was long and uneventful, for which I was grateful as I could scarcely keep my eyes open after such prolonged excitement. At camp, the Davids and Bos lit a fire and prepared dinner, which was essentially a British Christmas meal. Brussels sprouts, courgette, butternut squash and coconut-creamed spinach accompanied some very fine mash and a generous hunk of steak. Much as I wanted to finish, I was defeated. Tarn assured me the leftovers wouldn’t go to waste. I drank a bitter lemon and scuttled off to bed, not far behind Liz. The boys still had some Glenlivet to get through, though judging from their condition the following morning, they went a little easier on it than the first night.