Masai Mara

We began to see the animals below us

Elephants


Giraffe & Zebra

as we flew into the Masai Mara.

welcoming committee

The Masai Mara takes its name from the Masai people who inhabit the area and the Mara river which crosses it.

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Along with the Serengeti in Tanzania, it encompasses 25,000 square km and provides a beautiful backdrop to the miracle that is The Great Migration.

We stayed in a tented camp while in the Masai Mara but that is a misnomer. The tents were built on stilts high off the ground

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and equipped with all the conveniences of modern life (except WiFi) including a balcony to look out at the savanna from. Although warthogs

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and monkeys

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have the run of the land, the camp had a beautiful pool from where the wildebeest looked inquisitively at us.

Wildebeest beyond the edge of the pool

The food was worthy of a five star restaurant and way too much of it. If we keep “roughing it” this way in Africa, we’re going to be charged extra on the flight back home.

Our guide here was a rough character who went by “Professor Jackson”. He knew all about the animals but unlike Nelson in Kruger, he wouldn’t share his knowledge unless asked a direct question and then he would keep yelling the answer at us until one of us said OK loud enough for him to hear over the roar of the engine. When Fernando asked him to stop to take a picture of a vulture, the Professor wouldn’t allow it. We were in a hurry to see something else, I assume. Gruff as he was, Jackson apparently was the better of the bunch. An Australian couple got told they had already seen the important animals by their driver as he refused to stop their car! Maybe we were just spoiled by Nelson and Shadi back in Kruger.

The Masai Mara is so incredibly amazing, a though guide can’t really detract from it. I won’t even attempt to describe the wonder of this place as words haven’t yet been invented which can do it justice.

We saw all the Big 5 and then some.

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Waterbuck


Topi

The classification “Big Five” comes from when only hunters came on safari. The Big Five are the five animals who, when hunted, can kill the hunter before dying and hence they were actually known as “the Dangerous Five” in years past. When the African tourism industry reinvented itself and decided to cater to photographers and other non-hunters, they needed a new name for this group of animals. The Big Five are the African Elephant

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Lion

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Leopard

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Black Rhinoceros

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and Cape Buffalo.

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The animals here number so many, it becomes difficult to decide where to turn your attention to. The amount of different birds is staggering as well. However, the Wildebeest take the cake, they’re like an infestation. Do you see all those black rocks in the background?

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In the Masai Mara, they’re called Wildebeest. These guys were everywhere and their calls, which can be heard throughout the night, kept Fernando awake. I slept like a Lion: completely unperturbed.

Speaking of Lions, there are lots of them around.

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People go about their business with no regard to them because they are hard to spot in the yellow grass.

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Although they can be playful,

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animals here know better than to let their guard down when Lions are around.

Buffalo chases pair of Lions away


Wildebeest on alert as Lion approaches

Except when they just don’t even notice them.

Wildebeest cross the road oblivious to the Pride hunting them

These Topi are standing at attention.

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Can you see why?

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Lions

Most of the time, Lions slept through the racket of our jeeps and cameras.

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Eland


Olive Baboon


Zebra


Purple Heron


Ruppell’s Vulture and Lappet Faced Vulture

Remember the Dassies (Rock Hyrax) from South Africa? Meet their cousin, the Tree Hyrax.

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Every morning on our game drives, we would come across at least one animal carcass which had been hunted down the night before.

Ruppell’s Vulture on Wildebeest carcass

We saw a jackal fighting the vultures for the spoils.

Side-stripped Jackal vs Ruppell’s Vultures

Animals being killed during the night is such a common occurrence that zebras carelessly walked by while the jackal and vultures duked it out.

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Lions with blood on their faces

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and Storks waiting their turn at the buffet.

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Whoever came up with the story about storks delivering babies must have been a sadist. Storks are scavengers, they eat entrails! Would you trust your newborn to these ugly guys?

Marabou Storks

Some of these animals we saw in spite of Jackson.

Banded Mongoose

On several occasions we had to scream at him to stop the jeep. He would act pissed for a few minutes but then finally notice what we were looking at and try to position the jeep at the best viewing angle. This resulted in lots of blurry pictures as he tended to move just as we were pressing the shutter.

Thompson’s Gazelle


Impala


Elephant Family

On one such occasion we saw a hyena apparently walking back home after feeding suddenly stop.

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We had seen so many hyenas that we almost didn’t even pay attention but something about the sudden stop made us beg Jackson to halt. What a surprise we had when suddenly we saw a lion walking straight towards it.

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Jackson saw the lion and began moving the jeep into its path forcing it to walk around us.

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Every time we could get the Lion into focus the Professor would start the jeep again. At some point even the Lion got annoyed and faced us square on as if admonishing us to back off. I got really scared, I confess.

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This picture is blurry because Jackson suddenly started the jeep but you can still feel the menace in the lion’s eyes.

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After that scare, we convinced Jackson to drive us all the way out to the Serengeti.

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Since at this time of the season the Wildebeest have migrated into the Masai Mara, the Serengeti was almost empty except for the occasional zebra or antelope.

Thompson’s Gazelle

This rock marks the border between Tanzania (on the left) and Kenya (on the right).

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After the guys left their mark in the Serengeti, we drove back to the Mara river just in time to see the most astonishing river crossing but that will have to wait for a separate post (it is that incredible).

In spite of our grumpy guide (and the lack of shock absorbers in the jeep), we fell deeply in love with the Masai Mara and truly hope to be back some day.

airport

Categories: Africa, Kenya, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Update

We haven’t posted recently because we have been very busy enjoying Africa. We also haven’t had good internet access. Who really expects wifi in the middle of the jungle, right?

We have thousands of amazing pictures to share with you and we will very soon. It’ll probably take me months to go thru all of them so expect posts to continue long after we get home.

We have said goodbye to Africa and are making our way home now. Although we were sad to leave, we miss home and can’t wait to be back. One thing is for sure, we have fallen in love with Africa and hope to be back one day.

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Victoria Falls

We bid goodbye to South Africa and landed in Zambia, home of Victoria Falls (shared with Zimbabwe).

welcoming committee

David Livingstone, in 1855, was the first westerner to see the falls and named them after Queen Victoria. The locals knew about the falls since much before though and had their own name for it: Mosi-oa-Tunya, the smoke that thunders. Today the area is part of the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We began our exploration of the falls by taking a “sundowner” cruise along the mighty Zambezi river.

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This is the fourth longest river in Africa and it begins its life in Zambia from where it curves into Angola, Namibia & Botswana only to end up in Zambia again before cutting Mozambique in half and dying in the Indian Ocean.

The cruise was a totally turisty thing to do but still quite enjoyable and we saw an incredible number of hippos in the water

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and even some elephants.

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The falls are 1,708m wide and 108m tall.

view from the airplane

The combination yields an astonishing 625 million liters of water PER minute going over. At times, the water spray from the falls rises more than 400m and is visible from kilometers away.

double rainbow

Bring a raincoat for the walk to the viewing area if you don’t like getting soaked.

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Otherwise, the sun will dry you right up once you get there.

Beware the baboons at the entrance to the park.

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While the boys were so enthralled by the little ones

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that we spent over an hour watching them, their elders are not cuddly creatures and we saw them attack people and steal purses and hats.

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In the afternoon we took a more adventurous excursion to Livingstone Island by boat. This is the site which made Dr. Livingstone exclaim: “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” The guide walks you out to the edge of the falls and holds you by your hand while you peek over.

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There are no rail guards here and you can easily imagine yourself falling over. In fact, our guide asked us if we’d like to take a dive as they do at La Quebrada in Acapulco. Nope. He then helped us maneuver ourselves into “Angel’s Pool” for a short swim in the frigid water at the very edge of the falls.

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Thrilling!

We ought to give a mention to our very cute hotel situated right outside the park: Avani Falls. Zebras

“not going to pose for any more pictures!”

and giraffes

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roam the grounds as do the more bothersome Vervet Monkeys and apparently even crocodiles

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although we saw none.

Victoria Falls are twice as high as Niagara Falls and a sight worth seeing.

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We came, we saw, we loved them; we’re off to Kenya next!

Categories: Africa, Uncategorized, Zambia | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

A Masai Village

The camp we stayed in, Kichwa Tembo (Elephant Head) is located on land leased from the Masai. As in the Kruger, we spent an afternoon visiting a Masai village to learn how their people live. We picked a few hitchhikers on our way to the village.


Our guide during this visit was the chief’s son.


We had a welcome song from the village women


and then a welcome dance from the village men. This dance is quite funny for tourist eyes. The young Masai jump up as high as they can while emitting sharp cries.


Whoever jumps the highest earns first pick of the young women. The boys kept up with the Warriors surprisingly well.


When a young couple weds, it is the bride’s responsibility to build their house out of sticks and mud. Houses typically consist of three “rooms”: sitting, bedroom


and a small room to lock the calves in for the night.


The Masai are herders, they drink the milk AND the blood of the cow. They only take a few spoonfuls at a time by inserting a sharp spear into the cow’s carotid artery and then sealing the wound with a paste made of a special herb which grows all around their village. Cows are integral to their lives. So much so that they regularly conduct raids on other villages in order to steal their cows. Of course they are also sometimes the victims of such raids. It was described as great fun though so one has to wonder if the ultimate function of these raids is simply sport.

The village elders are in charge of building the fire, it is a responsibility only they can assume.


The young bride is given fire and she must keep it alive inside her home and never let it die out.

The Masai people are polygamist and also practice genital mutilation: both male and female circumcision. This is usually done during a ceremony once the young man turns 14. Our guide didn’t elaborate on the age a girl has to be to undergo this atrocity.

For a man to become chief, it was customary for him to kill a lion whose mane then becomes the chief’s headgear. This lion was killed by our guide’s father back in 1971.


However, our guide let us know that this custom is no longer followed as the Masai have learned that a live lion is worth much more in tourist money than the mane of a dead one on the chief’s head.

Apparently, polygamy is on the decline as well. Our guide was educated at a western school in the city where he met his wife. When I asked him if he was planning on getting a second wife, he looked horrified. He replied that Kenya has an overpopulation problem and the young people are being educated now to understand that there is no need to have such large families.


The Masai build fences surrounding their villages with sticks and stones to protect themselves from predators. The young men take turns mounting guard during the night in case a lion, leopard, or hyena manages to get in.

One common thing we’ve learned about people in Africa is that they don’t seem too concerned about predators. Elephants though, do scare them.

This village visit was much more enjoyable than the one in South Africa and it all has to do with the children. Masai children were running around and playing during our visit.


The ones who were curious enough about us would come over to say hello but none of them were forced to perform for us. That small thing made all the difference.

We found the Masai people to be extremely gentle and hospitable. They played as big a role as the animals in making us fall in love with the area.

Categories: Africa, Kenya, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Most Interesting Man in the World

Forget the dude from the beer commercials, we’ve met the real deal and his name is Nelson Siboza.

Nelson was our guide during our time in Kruger and while his knowledge of the animals was bottomless, his knowledge of history and politics had us spellbound.

As a young boy of 11 years, Nelson had to run away from his home in Mozambique because of the civil war. He described how young boys in his village were given weapons and told to kill their own families if they wouldn’t join the fighters. Instead, Nelson joined a group of older village boys and together they walked through the Kruger park to reach South Africa.

Not all of them made it: some were killed (and eaten) by crocodiles, others were lost in the bush one night as a herd of elephants walked thru the place they were sleeping and all of them scattered into the darkness. Actually, Nelson has written a book which is waiting to be published, called “Speaking to Darkness”, the title taken from that hectic night.

After a few days, some of the group found each other and made it to a small village. The village elders decided that they would adopt the boys and called the families to come choose. The boys were all taken by families who needed field hands but Nelson was too small for such work so no one chose him. He considers himself terribly lucky for this fact as he was eventually placed with a family who instead of making him work, sent him to school.

South Africa has 11 official languages and Nelson is fluent in all of them, as well as Portuguese and a bit of Spanish. He came to acquire all these languages by being lucky (his word) again. Since he had no money to continue his studies after high school, Nelson was forced to take a job as a taxi mechanic. Taxi drivers originating from all over South Africa, he had to learn to speak with all of them and this is how he became a polyglot. It obviously didn’t hurt that he’s a true people person.

Nelson saved his money and eventually made it to Guide school. He recently located his original family in Mozambique. He, again, considers himself terribly lucky to have regained all members of his original family which he does remember; the ones who died, he doesn’t, and thus can’t miss them. He now has two families! Nelson also recently found one of the boys he had run away with and asked him something which had been gnawing at him all these years: “Why had these older boys taken him with them when he was just a small child?” This, now grown, man asked Nelson if he wanted the truth or a story. The truth: “We took you because you were young and easily manipulated. We could send you walking ahead of us to make sure there were no land mines.”

Nelson’s story doesn’t end here. He, along with his white Afrikaans girlfriend, is building a “Spin City”: basically a public events arena where cars come to drift and compete while the audience places bets and cheers them on. He already has a Facebook page: “ShonalangaSpinCity” and expects to open mid-November. Nelson believes the proceeds from this investment will be enough for him to buy 3 micro buses which will enable him to open up a public transportation business in Mozambique, a country which is sorely lacking in such services. Years down the road, he will build a small Eco-hotel in an island off Mozambique’s coast for which he already owns the land. Nelson has such a passion for life that it’s easy to see how such a smart kid survived the terrible events from his childhood to call himself “lucky”.

We learned a lot about the animals from Nelson but we also learned a ton about Mozambique’s and South African history and politics from him. As a small example of the sort of things we talked about during “sundowners”: the Greater Kruger National Park is comprised of Kruger National Park (which belongs to all South Africans) plus twenty PRIVATELY owned game reserves. This is land owned by white people but it wasn’t always so and thus is a source of ongoing conflict. The land was taken by force from the African tribes by the white colonists. When Nelson Mandela became president, he promised the people that the land would be returned to its rightful owners but that promise has gone unfulfilled. This is the grievance the EFF is basing their platform for the upcoming election on. While Mandela was unable to convince the white landowners to give up the reserves, he did convince them to take down the fences which kept the animals from moving freely throughout the area. This is a great achievement for animal conservation but it didn’t benefit the black South Africans one bit. ┬áThe animals may roam freely between public and private land but access to the private reserves is limited to guests of the lodges such as ourselves. Due to the EFF’s push, the ANC, which is currently in power and expected to remain so, has increased efforts to compensate the descendants of those African tribes which were displaced. Many people feel that monetary compensation is not enough: how does one place a number on his grandfather’s resting place? People are still fighting to get the land back. Nelson believes that white South Africans are arming themselves, expecting a battle while blacks don’t want to fight but will engage in one if necessary. In the end, he expects the land to be returned to the descendants of the displaced African tribes such as our own tracker, Shadi.

“I just learned more about Mandela while watching the hippos than I ever did in school” exclaimed Fernando one evening. I think our work here is done.

Fernando, Alejandro, Nelson & Shadi

Categories: Africa, South Africa, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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