Africa, Ecotravel, Glamping, Kenya, National Parks, nature, Travel

How going to Kenya on safari changed me: A raw reflection (Part 2 – Masai Mara)

Locking eyes with the king of the jungle, up close – an unexpected surprise! By Elana Nichols 2019

One Magical Day in the Masai Mara

There are gates for cars…but no fences at the Masai Mara. By Elana Nichols 2019

The big day has come! A full day in Masai Mara- one of the most bio diverse places on planet earth! I cannot believe that I am actually standing in Kenya and about to embark on an epic journey. If you read part one, you know that this was definitely the highlight and main point of our trip here. While we were not here for the great migration, we were so excited to see which animals we would come face to face with.

I know you needed another picture of our Mystery Mobile! By Elana Nichols 2019

We all climbed in our Mystery Mobile for an epic journey, deeper this time, into the Mara. Our driver, Paul, was wearing a shirt that said “No Misteltoe Required.” Paul! We didn’t know you were such a ladies man! By now, we had actually interacted lightly with our silent van mates. We had actually shared dinner with the two women who came alone. They were actually both from England (one originally from South Africa) and they were both very nice! We shared woes of our respective companies and how we all ended up on a Baboon Tour, having not booked a Baboon tour. Anyhow, we were all seated and ready to roll! After battling the bat, more toilet ants, and dousing myself in bug spray, I was safari ready!

The Jackal! By Elana Nichols 2019

Right after we passed through the Mara gates, we saw a small dog-like creature roaming the high grasses. It was a jackal! I found this extremely hilarious because that is what I call people who cut me off on the road when I drive. This poor fella did nothing of the sort, he was just minding his business, probably hunting for some delicious breakfast. Sorry to offend you, ole fella. Admittedly we all stood up in our van and proceeded to behave as paparazzi seeing Britney Spears for the first time. This poor jackal was just off trying to be a jackal. I felt a bit basic, like some sort of tourist, but alas, I really was a tourist, so I may as well embrace it, right? Anyway, if you are not quite sure what a jackal is, they look like a cross between a coyote and a fox.

A wildebeest! By Elana Nichols 2019

After spotting more antelope on our journey, we ended up spotting the most prevalent animals of all: tourists in their vans getting stuck, again. This time, our driver just drove on by, since others were “helping” and standing around. Luckily, our driver was on a quest to find us some amazing animal sightings. We spotted a tall giraffe enjoying his breakfast on the high branches. He turned slowly to look at us, then went back to his muse. I loved how the short trees there looked like umbrellas hanging over the tall grasslands. Suddenly, we went off road again! Two wheel drive, don’t fail us now! Going off road was both terrifying and thrilling. I mean, we were driving through 3-4 ft. high grasslands, who can tell where there may be a hole or a big rock?! We ended up seeing some pumba in the distance. I love how they run with their tails straight up in the air!

We ended up turning up a large hill. We could see some large silhouettes in the distance: elephants! We zoomed alongside them, just reveling at their distant beauty. Suddenly, we saw even more, but this time, much closer. Our driver stopped and cut off the engine. We stood up to realize we were completely surrounded by a herd of at least 50 elephants. I was definitely tearing up. As streams rolled down my joyous face, I saw at least a dozen baby elephants wandering around in the herd. The smallest were staying really close to their mothers while the older juveniles were playfully running and sounding their trumpets. The elephants kept getting closer and closer. At one point, they were about four feet away from our van. This was truly one of the most magical moments of my life. Just being out there, surrounded by one of my favorite creatures in all the earth. Seeing them in their natural habitat was just amazing.

The elephants were so close! By Elana Nichols 2019

After a while, it was time for the elephants to start moving to a new area, and it was no different for us in our mystery machine. Our driver cranked on the engine, backed up a bit, then “BAM!” Our back right wheel had fallen in a very large and deep sinkhole! Now, this was the only time I regretted not being surrounded by other vans. We were out in the middle of the grasslands alone. Oh, and I never mentioned, his radio was broken, so he could not radio for help. Luckily, his cell phone had service and he was able to call for help. Another van showed up and played bumper cars with us, pushing us from the front. It was a wild and wacky moment, but we did get out of the very deep hole. I waved to China as we drove beside the giant hole, and off we went for more adventure!

There is an air strip in the middle of the Mara. We stopped here to use the facilities and look at some curios. By the way, I paid double for a tiny giraffe carving than I should have. The Masai people were there selling them. I also got stuck in my bathroom. I had to scream to Austin to help me get out by pushing the handle, as there was no handle to pull the door from inside. After all that fun, it was onward!

A big five sighting was upon us: the water buffalo! He was huge and rather uninterested in our presence. By the way, can someone tell me why the water buffalo is one of the big five and not the cheetah or the giraffe? Anyway, shortly after that sighting, we saw the big five star we were pining for: the lion! A lioness was shading herself in some bush. She was such a beauty! It really looked like she had eye liner on. She was only about two feet from our vehicle. It was the closest I had ever dreamed of being to a lion. She really did not seem to mind our close proximity. She was looking at us rather curiously, however. She had another lioness laying right next to her. The other one was clearly sleeping.

We went toward the river and then saw several vans surrounding a bushy area in the high grasses. It was a male lion! We got in real close. Everyone in our van got to see him, except me. I was super sad about it, all I could see was part of his mane, but from people’s pictures, I could see they got to see him face-to-face. What a bummer!

After leaving the lions, we saw many huge baboons running crazily through the high grasses. Some were babies!

Elana Nichols 2019

After all this excitement, it was onto the river near Tanzania where the wildebeest cross during the great migration.

Jokingly, I had mentioned to Austin, “Wouldn’t it be magical if we saw a hippopotamus for Christmas?!” Little did I know, we were heading to one of the most hippo-dense rivers I could have imagined! We walked out to the river and saw not one, but dozens of hippos! It was a dream come true. And, of course, we had to sing the song with them around us. The hippo kills more people in Africa than any other animal. So, you know, we observed them from a safe distance. They are actually vegetarian, but can be very aggressive. Our driver told us that most people get trampled when they get in between the water and the hippo.

We ended up going on a short walk with a park ranger, who later, demanded a tip. He told us things we already knew, like how hippos “pee and poo like dogs when they come out of the water.” Very enlightening, ha, ha. He showed us something that looked like a log that he claimed was a crocodile. I am not sure if it was or not. The hippos were all up and down the river. When they wiggled their ears and blew bubbles to submerge, it really sounded loud like submarines. We saw a very colorful lizard with bright fluorescent pink colors. He took us over a bridge to go to Tanzania. This bridge had a lower, flooded part, that four-wheel drive vehicles were crossing. I wonder if those drivers knew about all the hippos and the log-crocodile if they got whisked away by the strong currents? I laughed a moment as I thought about my only other experience with this type of wildlife: on the Jungle Cruise at Walt Disney World. I imagined some drivers getting stuck on a tree with a rhino below them. Good times.

After our walk, it was time for lunch. We had a small, picnic lunch with our van mates. By now, we were getting to be on a name-calling basis with everyone. The 2-year-old, named Precious, was befriending me. We nibbled on a sandwich which entailed a tiny amount of butter and one slice of cucumber. We also had some chicken in foil that had not been refrigerated since we left our accommodations. Suddenly, some monkeys started joining us. One took a banana. They were cute, but our driver scared them off as more started pouring into our bagged lunch. Suddenly, I saw the biggest baboon I had ever seen in my life. He had to be about four feet tall. Now, this, I knew not to mess with. Our driver scared him away with a stick. He kept reappearing from the bush to scare us. However, he minded his own business, except for an empty bag he swiped. I had to tinkle in the woods right where he was earlier. I thought about how I was extremely vulnerable to an attack. I lived.

My driver felt bad about me not getting to see the lion. It was like one of those nightmares you have where you are trying to do something quickly in ultra slow-motion. We pulled away just at the moment I was about to lock eyes with him. Turns out, it is NOT super legal to off road, and he thought he saw a ranger, which is why he pulled away. Anyway, he went back to the same area, and the lion was still there! He pulled up really close, and there I was, face-to face, 3 feet away from the king. I looked right into his eyes. It shook my soul. I felt tears rolling down my face again. I forgot I even had a camera, and just stared into his eyes. It was such a fast moment, but one that stood still in time. I snapped a photo as we were about to leave, and sat in the back seat just in shock at what had just happened. What an amazing moment with the king of the jungle!

Next, we crossed into Tanzania. There was actually a stone that marked the border. Since we were in the Mara, there was no fencing or border crossing there. I am not totally sure if we were supposed to be there, but it was so cool! We looked out at the Serengeti, and I just marveled at how much more there was, and how many wild animals were in the grasses. What an amazing dream! We stood in Kenya and Tanzania at the same time. Cue A Walk to Remember. I looked down at my feet to see some big cat prints in the mud. They were pretty fresh. Alright, back to the van!

On our drive back, we were speeding a bit. All of the sudden, our driver screeched to a stopping halt. We turned around. We started off roading. “What is going on?” we screamed. “A cheetah!” we heard. Well, we saw a cheetah before, but cool. Guess we are on cheetah chase! As we got closer, we saw a myriad of vans behaving like bees in a beehive. We looked into the grass. It was not a cheetah at all, but a leopard! The leopard is one of the most difficult of the big five to see, and we saw it! It was huge, muscular, and majestic. It was very cool to see! However, I felt really sad as I watched all the vans buzzing around him as he was walking through the grass. Even though he did not seem to really mind, I felt like we were not being respectful of his space. At one point, five vans encircled him! This made me realize that I was part of the problem. There has to be a better way for us humans to observe nature! Our whole van felt badly for this leopard. Luckily, he quickly disappeared into the bush. After that, it was back to Miti Mingi camp for a final night with the bat in our bathroom.

On our way, it started raining. Hard. Again, this is dry season. This was the first time I had seen climate change face-to-face. Every single person from Kenya was talking about how they “never see rain” in December. They were all telling us how worried they were. Almost instantly, the dirt roads liquidized. We came up to several people who were stuck. We also got stuck. I will say, our driver was excellent with that two-wheel drive! While we were all stuck, we saw some hippos in a pond nearby. We also saw some Egyptian Geese with babies. We all were wondering if we may spend the night there as about eight vans were stuck in the deep mud. Luckily, we made it out after about an hour.

We had dinner once more with the Seinfeld dinner nazi guarding his “special table” that we were not allowed to even look at. We went to bed early as we were exhausted. We woke up again to loud music in the middle of the night. I was so happy we were leaving Miti Mingi in the morning! The bat did not bother me again, which was a huge blessing.

The next day had even more craziness, including more people joining our van! Stay tuned for part III!

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