Image via Wikipedia
by Tori Sloane
Nearest City: Nairobi, Kenya
Detailed Location: Maasai Mara
We immediately departed on our first game drive right after we got settled into the camp.
We boarded our new vehicle, that we would be using for the duration for the trip; a new 4-wheel drive open-topped Range Rover. There's six seats plus the driver and front passenger seats and we all climb over the front and middle seats to get seated, made easier by the fact that it is open-topped (there is a vinyl top that goes over it if
Already everyone is standing up looking about above the truck. We get to get out about waist high if we stand on the seats, lower if standing on the floor. Just outside the
camp you are in complete wilderness, vast, vast areas of dry yellow grasses, bush, acacia
trees, either solo or in groves, and animals. It is so beautiful. You see antelope, zebra, a few ostrich, tons of other birds (all very colorful - but metallic shiny colorful), gazelle, dik-diks, and wildebeest. Bridget, an Irish lady, pronounces wildebeest 'will-DEE-beast" so we all do, for the duration of the journey. We also see hartebeest (which we all pronounce 'har-TEE-beast') which are more deer-like, elegant and pancake-colored than the wildebeest. These are all in herds. We drive along, Steve patiently stopping as much as we want so we can take pictures. Gary really likes the hartebeest and takes a roll of
pictures of them.
We're cruising along, just 20 mintues outside camp and encounter a group of giraffe
grazing on trees just up ahead of us. Steve stops the truck. We look at the giraffe.
The giraffe look at us. We look back at the giraffe. The giraffe look back at us.
They are all ears-twitching, eye-lashing batting, roundly cud-chewing creatures. Their
necks are really, really long. There's babies! Some of them are more shy than others
and peek at us from behind the trees through the treetops. We madly pass binoculars
back and forth, trying to get the best look at them possible. It is really thrilling!
We are sure they are thinking "Wow, here comes another group of those humans, check
them out! Some are taller than the others. Some look younger. I think there are four females and three males. Look! One of them is grooming themselves.", which is exactly
how we talk about them.
As we move away, they do, too. If you have never seen a giraffe run you are in for a
treat! Wow, it is really cool the way they run! We get so excited we are all jumping
down in the truck, emitting squeals of delight. Steve has to tell us to calm
down because this isn't quite exactly the best behaviour when trying to seek out game
in the wild.
Already more animals are spotted by Steve, who is utterly remarkable at sighting the
creatures. I know this is his job, but I'm telling you, you see a micro, micro, spec, way, way, way, across the savannah through your binoculars, and Steve knows
what animal it is and heads over. I cannot believe we are going to go so far as he
is pointing, but, as we become accustomed to, Steve just heads off directly across the
grasses, making our own tracks, up and down slight hills, toward the spec. We also get
used to holding on to the truck for dear life, our hands becoming numb doing so. We
girls also all get bruises on our hips from continually hitting the sides of the top,
as we stand as we bump and speed our way across the grasses toward specs.
We're approaching a herd of elephant! Some are still hidden in the thickness of some
bush. They're on a hilly part. As we get closer, the elephants get bigger and bigger.
They are really big. They're all roaring! I've never been so excited in my life! There's
elephants! They're big and grey! They are in a herd! They all walk RIGHT behind each
other coming out of the bush. They're kicking up dust. They're roaring. There's bigger
ones way out in front. There's babies in between! Baby elephants. Oh, they are so cute!
Baby elephants are really, really cute. The big males face us out in the front. Gary
actually says, "They're not going to ram us, are they?", which we are all thinking.
They could tip us over and kill us in a second. Squash us like little bugs. This is
probably why they are not afraid of us.
Also, Steve explains, all the animals in the Maasai are younger than the 53 years or
so the area has been protected from poaching, so they are used to cars and many just
absolutely ignore cars, letting you get real close to them. Since the cars have no
scent the animals just think they are like mobile rocks. What you CANNOT do is just
get out of the truck as you please. Then you're dead meat. They kill to protect their
After he explains this, Steve tells us about the Walking Safaris we are going to be
going on, albeit lead by rifle-armed guides.
We move across the hills, waving good-bye to the herd.
Male lion! We are approaching a big rock that has a huge male lion, mane and all, sitting
high up atop it. We cannot believe the amount of animals we are seeing already! The lion's mane is blowing in the wind. He is really big. He is king. He kinda looks like
your stuffed animal image of a lion, all yellow, with a big darker brown mane and a
huge long tail with the brown puffy part at the end that he moves back and forth, except
that this is very, very real. We kinda all lower ourselves slightly more into the truck
as we stop before him. On cue, he lets out a giant yawn, opening his humungous mouth and revealing saber-size incisors.
As his mouth opens, our jaws drop. When he gets to the part where his mouth is entirely open, head thrown back, so that all you can see is mouth, mammoth pink tongue and roof, and razor-sharp teeth, he pauses.
For what seems like forever we stand there, our jaws open too, stunned, as this great mouth is set open before us. You are just immobile. Finally he closes it with a big clamp and then kinda lowers his eye lids. I guess it's nap time.
You can tell Steve is excited for us, but we all just stand there in shock doing
nothing but staring at this great beast. He could make one leap in be in the truck.
Steve offers, "Maybe you want to take a picture?" We just keep standing there. Finally,
someone gets the courage to turn their camera on and snaps a shot. We all hold our
breath, thinking maybe the lion won't like this, but he just langourously looks from
side to side. We stand there for quite awhile, both possessed by this beast, and also in
disbelief that we have actually seen him, before we move on.
Unbelievably, just around the way, we spot another male lion. This one's walking.
He moves along, toward the river. You can almost see the crown on the head of this
king of beasts. He walks right by our truck! He is big. We watch him walk on, and
then down to the bank of a river. We cross the river and can see him from the other
side as he takes a long drink of water, then dissappers into the undergrowth before
we drive on.
My god, we are already seeing a second member of the Big 5 !!! Across the valley,
at the base of an upslope of a hill is a herd of buffalo! They are big and black.
It is all dusty around them. They look really menacing. We don't get so close this time.
Some of them, in front of the herd, look straight at us. They have the curled horns on each side of their face so that their heads look like this: ~0~ , with the horns poking out on each side, each ending in a sharp point. They snort. You can see their breath.
They are all snorting.
If you are an American, your heart can't help but go out at the realization that great herds of beast like these once roamed the prairies of the American West. We are pretty moved by these creatures, thinking how strong and tough and impenetrable they look, but yet could easily be completely wiped out. They are Protected, thank goodness.
As we drive back toward the camp, passing more of the regular animals, the antelope, the zebra, the tons of other birds gazelle, dik-diks, wildebeest and hartebeest, huge great smiles are spread across our faces; all just beaming at one another and laughing. We
also spot (okay, Steve spots) a big 5-foot kinda rooster-looking bird that has a big
spray of thin feathers sprouting out the top of its head. It is wildy colorful. I forgot
the name of it, but it is originally from neighboring Uganda.
When we arrive back at the camp we have to wait for dinner and sit silently with the Maasai around the campfire. We look at the Maasai. The Maasai look back at us. We look at the Maasai. The Maasai look back at us. Travis gets up and walks toward the tents.
We all watch as Travis crosses the camp, reaches the tent, bends over, zips open the tent, goes into the tent, comes back out, zips closed the tent, and walks back over toward us.
He's got a frisbee.
He tosses it to Gary. Gary kinda tosses it back. A couple of the Maasai are familiar with
the frisbee. It is the original neon orange frisbee color. We all get up and head over
to a more spacious area and form the regular frisbee circle.
We all stand around in the knee-high yellow grass, us in our pale safari suits, the Maasai in their traditional bright dark red, silently tossing the frisbee all around, enthusiastically cheering with each good catch and throw.
We're playing frisbee with the Maasai.
We can't get the smiles off our faces. The wind whips around our ears, the sun begins to set, sitting low in the sky, throwing long shadows off the acacia, and, in the distance, the hills turn purple.
Off in a corner, three Maasai are crouching in the grass watching the game. Margaret, Jacinta and I go join them, crouching down too, and we all watch the game for awhile.
The Maasai look at us. We look at the Maasai.
We smile at the Maasai.
The Maasai smile back at us.
We're in Africa.