Kenya – Elsemere and the Masai Mara

 Kenya – Elsemere and the Masai Mara

I have always had a love for Lions not only are they my favourite mammal but the story of Joy and George Adamson adopting Elsa the lion cub, raising her and releasing her back into the wild captivated me long ago and that fascination never really left.

In the 1950’s George Adamson was a game warden in Kenya and one day a lioness charged at him and his fellow warden and sadly he had little choice but to shoot and kill her.

It was only afterwards that he realised that she had been protecting her three cubs and as they were so vulnerable and rather than leaving them there, he took the cubs back to camp where he and his wife Joy named them and looked after them.

The cubs were named Big One, Lustica and Elsa and over several months were cared for and raised by the Adamsons, though over time the three cubs became difficult to manage and so Big One and Lustica were eventually sent to a Zoo in Rotterdam, Elsa though they decided to continue raising as an experiment in order to see if it was possible to ‘set her free’ back into the wild.

After months of training Elsa to hunt and survive they finally set her free and although at first she kept returning to them, she eventually settled and had three cubs of her own. Elsa became famous in her own right, as did the Adamsons and their story ‘Born Free’ later became a book and a film.

Sadly Elsa died in 1961 from a disease associated by a tick bite and the Adamsons also came to a tragic end as in 1980 Joy Adamson was stabbed and murdered by a disgruntled labourer who she had sacked. Then 9 years later George Adamson was shot while trying to protect a tourist who was being attacked by poachers, he got in their line of fire and was killed.

It was an awful end for all three characters, however their legend lives on and I really wanted to go to their old home, now known as Elsemere and also to get out to the Masai Mara itself and photograph the wildlife on a safari and in particular lions.

I had always steered clear of safaris before as they seemed a little too staged and touristy in just driving to where the animals are and photographing them, however in wanting to get to Elsemere and look round, it seemed madness to go all that way and not experience a safari.

I booked it up for November 2009, here is a little bit about that trip with some images:

The British Airways flight out to Kenya was 7 hours and 45 minutes and I passed the time chatting to a Pakistani woman and a Kenyan gentleman, both of whom delighted in recommending places for me to travel to; Mombasa, Pakistan, New Zealand and Alaska. I will try my best to visit at least one of those places.

On arrival in Nairobi, I found everyone very friendly and helpful, although I was very wary of a man who insisted on walking me to the baggage pick up point and would not leave, he started to harass me following closely and kept asking me repeatedly:

“Are you fearing me? ……Why are you fearing me?”

It was instinct I suppose that made me so wary of him, he may have been trying to be helpful, but generally my instinct has not let me down, I trust it always as its there for a reason. Although he followed me for some time his persistence got him nowhere as eventually I got away from him, I suspect that he was just after a tip to carry bags but then again you never know.

I collected my bags and sat on the floor, re-packing my camera equipment as it was heavy to carry, suddenly someone approached me and asked if I was a photographer with the BBC as I was sorting out my equipment, I replied that no I was not, but that I really wish I was! The person walked off unsmiling.

I looked for the sign at the airport exit of the company who would be meeting me, but it took a good 20 minutes of walking up and down before I finally spotted it, prior to that it was just a sea of faces and signs and taxi drivers shouting; the usual airport madness.

I met up with the rest of the group who were on this trip, they all seemed very nice and I met the lady who I was to be sharing a room and tent with, her name was Lesley and she was in her 70’s, I was impressed by her spirit of adventure on coming to a safari alone.

We stayed one night in a Hotel in Nairobi preparing for the next stage of the trip.

The next morning I awoke to the sounds of cockerels and beeping horns coming from outside the window, Nairobi never really sleeps. I met up with the group and we were summoned to get into the vans outside and were driven through Nairobi, past slum streets and chaotic markets, car and junk yards, people on bicycles and on mules and chickens running everywhere. Eventually we headed out to the country and passed the Great Rift Valley which was vast and impressive, the side of the road that we stood on was dotted with tiny one-man stalls selling anything from wooden carvings to sheep fleeces.

We drove on through more streets and then eventually turned left down a side road to Elsemere, the former home of Joy and George Adamson.

I was so excited to be there, it was a remarkable place which had an air of mystique about it, there were old wooden cottages surrounded by lush green vegetation.

Lunch was served in a hall attached to the Adamson’s house, there were two long tables and on the walls hung paintings and drawings by Joy and photographs of Elsa and George, elephants, leopards and ancient traditional African Tribes people. It was very slightly eerie knowing that they are now both dead, Joy having been attacked and killed by the ex employee and George being shot by the Kenyan poachers.

There was a nice painting of Elsa lounging in her camp bed by Joy, I liked it so much that I bought a print of it and now it hangs on my bedroom wall.

After dinner I spent some time exploring the grounds and taking photos of the flora and fauna, I remember the sky as often looking dark and moody yet it would be scattered with rainbows.

The group met up and we went on a nature walk by lake Navaisha, it was dry muddy terrain covered with huge cracks, the lake was beautiful dotted with dozens of Flamingos, a Tiger throated Heron, Egrets, Spoon Bill Heron and Terns. There was also a Pied Kingfisher sitting further down on the side of the muddy bank which looked striking with its black and white feathered markings.

Pied Kingfsher, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

Two goat herders came by; they were very friendly and walked with us for a while, their two dogs running round the goats excitedly all the time. Then we spotted a Warthog ahead of us, it was snuffling about by the open papyrus grasses. The goat herders’ two dogs suddenly realised it was there and began to stalk it, then they chased it excitedly back into the undergrowth only to come running back out howling with the warthog then chasing them. It was very amusing to see the dogs surprised faces as they came running back out with that warthog close behind them, it then stood there looking at them with utter contempt while they went running back to the goat herders.

Warthogs are social animals with the females remaining in groups called ‘sounders,’ it is interesting that when the piglets are born if the young are abandoned for any reason there will be another female on hand to tend to them which is essential with the constant threat of predators.

Young males stay on the edge of the group keeping more of s distance and once they mature into adults will leave the group and become more solitary until breeding season lures them back. The male that the dogs chased had possibly been looking for a waterhole in the area, in turning on the dogs and chasing them back it displayed confidence in its defence.

The Warthog made the dogs run away howling, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

The female warthog seen above was very protective over her young and stood to face us in a defiant stance, we photographed her then moved away so as not to worry her, it is usual for them to have between 2 to 4 young though they can have up to 8 piglets.

As we walked on one of the group got stuck in some sinking mud, so I went to help out, only to get stuck myself which proved to be very entertaining for the others. Once your foot sank down into this mud, it was almost impossible to get it back out again, so then we both had to be hauled out of it.

We walked to the other end of Lake Navaishia and saw two hippo trails through the papyrus, they had caused havoc and we were warned that you have to keep off these trails as they will charge at you if they are nearby, their scent hung in the air and it was very strong and musky. There have been a few deaths from charging Hippos and so they are considered to be high risk out here.

We saw a pair of African Fish Eagles on their nest, they were so impressive to watch and I spent some time photographing them, then we climbed up a steep mud trail to a scrub bush area with trees of huge thorns and watched colourful birds including Bubo of bright yellows and blues.

The Pair of Fish Eagles guarding their nest

The African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus Vocifer is often seen around coastlines, lakes and rivers in central Africa and South of the Sahara. They are often seen in pairs perched high on a branch where they can get a good view of the water and scan it for food, they will cover an area of approximately 25 metres.

The Fish Eagles are often referred to as the’ voice of Africa’ as their call is so distinctive, the eagles in the nest seen above will use that same nest to breed in every year, just building it up a little more each time.

Fish Eagles eat dead and live fish, but will also take birds including Herons, Ibis, Storks, Flamingos and Spoonbills. On walking down a stretch by the mud bank. I found just the beak of a spoonbill on the ground and can only assume that a fish eagle disposed of the bird.

The Fish Eagle, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

Back in the grounds of Elsamere I stumbled upon George Admamsons’ old truck well-known as ‘The Nightingale’ and the cage he used to transport the Lions.

George Adamsons belongings remain in the area

Darkness came suddenly and I took the opportunity to go bug hunting in the grounds with my head torch, however I soon got told to go back inside as we have to be escorted everywhere due to the threat of wandering Hippos. The Hippos will attack and kill, there are more deaths from hippos than any other animal in this area.

I was disappointed at not being able to wander freely and look for insects, but went back and got changed for dinner and at 7:30pm an armed guard knocked on the door and escorted me over to the dining hall.

After dinner we were each separately escorted back with an armed guard, back in the room I had a bath in the dark brown water stained with the tannins and cleaned my teeth with the bottled water I had bought.

I wrote the evening diary to the sounds of night-time creatures; crickets, an owl hooting, the odd shriek or call and later a loud grunting that sounded large enough to be a hippo, that night I dreamt of hippos.

I got up at 07:00am and wandered about the grounds before breakfast looking for insects and birds, a few other people were doing the same thing, we were all respectfully quiet making the most of the early morning bird songs. There is an island opposite across the lake and we spotted a lone giraffe wandering about in the distance.

Then I went into the Adamsons house which is now more like a museum where it showed old items such as the typewriter and camera that the Adamsons had used and lots of photographs.

I then walked down the grassy pathway with the group to the lake edge and got into boats to go to the island opposite. beautiful white Terns followed the boats and flew in circles above us, they were wonderful to photograph.

On disembarkation at the island I looked around feeling as though I had gone back in time to the Jurassic era as it looked so ancient with all the papyrus and odd-shaped trees.

We were allowed to walk much more freely here with a guide but no guns as the island was considered to be much safer than Elsemere.

Suddenly two giraffes walked out in front of us, so majestic and graceful, followed by whole family of them and I took many pictures including one of a young giraffe suckling the mother. There was a pair of giraffes who kept nuzzling each other, they were very affectionate.

The island was just amazing, Gazelles wandered about the place and we came across a dung beetle rolling the huge ball of dung along the ground.

Dung beetles are fun to watch, the male will painstakingly roll up and ball of dung and start to roll it back to their nesting area while the female sits on the top of the dung ready to lay her eggs in it, the male with the largest ball, so to speak, attracts the ‘best’ female.

The Male Dung Beetle at work, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

Back at Elsemere dinner was set out in the gardens on a long wooden table which it looked like the scene from the Mad Hatters tea party from Alice in Wonderland.

After lunch the others went on a trip to a lake full of flamingos and to see some markets, however I wanted to stay back and explore the grounds of Elsemere.

Mally, one of the group, stayed behind too. We learned that the BBC were in the grounds filming a documentary about the place and I realised that they must have been who the man at the airport had mistaken me for, I thought it ironic that we ended up at the same place.

I started doing a bug hunt around the grounds and then Mally came to find me and told me that Velvet monkeys were moving through some trees nearby, so we crept up to see them and watched them doing acrobatics and playing. Some went up on to a roof, others sat grooming each other while a group of them swung in the trees. I followed some of them through the scrub and got covered in devils thorns, which attach themselves to your clothes and get stuck in your skin making you itch like mad, the itching drove me to distraction.

Velvet Monkey on tin roof, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

Mally and I both agreed that we had made the right decision in staying behind, to be that close to the group of monkeys was fantastic and we watched them playing with their babies for most of the afternoon, it was my favourite day of the whole trip in its simplicity.

What was interesting about these velvet monkeys was how they looked after each other so, grooming and playing together so well, one monkey caught my eye as it was sat away from the others using a stone to hit another stone, the same way that we would use a tool.

Using the stones as tools, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

This was fascinating to watch and I crouched quietly in the thorn scrub for about an hour observing this particular monkeys behaviour, it seemed intent on banging the two stones together but I could not work out what it was trying to achieve.

I then wandered off to explore the other side of camp where a large patch of strange trees with striped yellow bark called Yellow Fever trees are. I quietly followed a track along the edge of them looking for bugs when a Danish man appeared from the scrub, he told me he was writing a book on mammals in Danish and it is almost finished and he was there completing his study. He had just spotted a small group of black and white Colobus monkeys, so we silently weaved carefully back through the scrub to find them. He warned about the many snakes in the area and to always be extra careful never to turn rocks or branches up looking for bugs as the snakes would often be hiding there, which is exactly what I had been doing when he found me.

We found the colobus monkeys, they were very high up in the trees and not se easy to see but it was still fantastic to find them, there were little families of them sat high in the branches, their black and white faces peering down at us. Although I photographed them, the pictures were not good enough to show on here.

I made my way back to the other side of camp and found Mally who had spotted a well camouflaged lizard on a tree stump. We went to the centre garden for high tea, a tradition in Elsemere and had cake and lemonade accompanied by music from the famous Born Free film playing in the background, although this seemed a bit OTT it was still good. The BBC film makers were there having tea and a handful of other people, we enjoyed the music, watched birds and had a highly pleasant and peaceful afternoon.

After our cakes the rest of the group returned from their trip, I wandered off alone bug hunting and photographed a beautiful rainbow over the Navaisha Lake. I found a beautiful grey bird and a white moth, a hummingbird and some spiders.

Darkness came suddenly and everyone went straight into their wooden chalets, we had four power cuts that evening, after supper I went in the bath and took my torch in as it was pitch black, the water looked even darker now, it was like bathing dark treacle.

After a night of jumping up every so often to see if I could see any animals from the various noises going on outside throughout the night, snuffling, grunting, etc. I got up at 06:00am. I thought about Joy and George Adamson and what their life must have been like, it must have been incredible to have the relationship that they did with the Lions.

The next morning was to be our last at Elsemere, I packed ready to leave for the next stage of the trip and said my goodbyes to the staff, one of the guards came to see me off and said “Amanda, I think you will be coming here again”.

I do hope so.

The BBC were in the car park bizarrely filming us getting into the vans to leave and as I got into a vehicle commented “I am very sad to be leaving here”

The journey from Elsemere to Kiche camp in the Masai Mara took around 5.5 hours after which we eventually turned left down a very, very long and bumpy road, it seemed to go on forever. We saw a pair of Eagles with a kill and our first zebras and buffalo wandering aimlessly at the side of the road.

On arrival at Camp kiche we were greeted by the owners Jane and Peter, the camp had a huge wooden sign over two trees and we went in and sat on tree stumps, where we were given cool towels and a fruit juice.

We were then told the rules:

1. No walking off alone, ever

2. Do not go past the perimeter (a metre from your tent), stay within it

3. Never walk at night unescorted by an armed guard

4. The Masai will take you to and from your tent to meals

5. Every night spray the inside of your tent with ‘Doom’ to kill any bugs and mosquitos

I had a slight problem with number 5. as although I detest mosquitos, I did not want to kill any other insects or spiders as I wanted to find them, photograph them and put them back outside, my tent mate Leslie strongly disagreed with my attempt to save the insects and kept spraying doom everywhere, while I ran madly round the tent trying to rescue things.

The camp is open, which means that any animals can wander through any time, the perimeter is not visible it simply means stay within a metre of each tent/path.

A leopard had been coming into camp regularly at night and owners had some kittens that they were fond of, unfortunately the leopard ate them all one night.

Leslie and I got shown our tent, it was the most luxurious tent I have every seen, very impressive and looking out into the wild with a view of mountains, acacia trees and a herd of wildebeest and zebras.

I suddenly heard shouting from up the path and found out that a Black Cobra had been found slithering alongside Mallys tent about to go in, the Masai had killed it instantly beating it to death with a stick as the snake is highly dangerous and can spit poison into your eyes causing blindness.

They held the snake up so that we could see it, I touched its scales, they were very soft and I felt upset that it had been killed in that way, it was a wild thing that had every right to be there, but they can not risk it blinding someone. I was told that the staff have a general loathing of snakes and that most found end up that way, I thought that was very sad and hope that one day attitudes will change towards snakes.

Masai holding up the dead snake, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

Lunch was served with us sitting at a long wooden table in the bush surrounded by all the sounds of the animals, it was surreal and magical.

After lunch I took my camera out and spotted Gazelles, Zebras, Buffalo and Wildebeests, but got a little spooked when I realised I had wandered way off the perimeter and was being shouted at to get back quickly.

Later the group was split into two and we went out in huge four-wheel drive vehicles, these were very comfortable with a top that opens out so that you can stand up and look out even if the vehicle is moving.

It was so exciting, there was an air of tension as there is no guarantee what you will see, it is in the wild Mara, the radio crackled constantly and the drivers would let each other know in their own language if anything was around. We quickly learnt that when the driver spoke on the radio and suddenly turned the jeep or picked up speed that he was on to something.

I did not take to the driver much as I found him to be a bit short at times and not overly helpful with information, still he was an excellent driver which is what counted, the other two were far nicer though and I wished I was in one of the other groups with one of them.

We saw Gazelles, a herd of wildebeest, zebras and there were bones laying everywhere, it was like a vast graveyard.

I held my breath as we came upon a male Cheetah, he was playing around in the dust on a slight hump in the ground; he rolled on his back with his paws in the air scratching his back. We watched him in awe for some time, it was quite magical.

Cheetah rolling on its back, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

Moving on we came across a huge Wart Hog and another herd of wildebeests, the sun began to set as the moon came up over the horizon and the sky went from red to purple to dusky blue. We drove into a scrub area and then I saw what I had been waiting for, a male Lion sitting on a rock, he was beautiful and excitement rushed through me at the sight of him.

Sitting there with the moon behind him, my first sighting of a lion and it was love at first sight for me, he was mesmerizing.

My first Lion sighting, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

The Lion got up and walked slowly past us and back into the scrub bush, he was not in any way fazed by us, the driver said they only see the vehicle as a shape and do not register that we are in it, it is ony if you get out and move that it would spot you.

On the way back we saw a Black Backed Jackal in the headlights and also a March Hare, as we stopped to take a look they both ran off, the very next morning we saw them again and the Jackal seemed to be watching the Hare, but surprisingly did not chase it. Jackals feed on small mammals as well as insects and even fruit, I think this Jackal was curious about this hare.

Back at camp I had a bucket shower, it only lasts 3 minutes maximum so you have to be quick in washing your hair, but it always felt great to have that water over you at the end of the day.

My armed Masai guide turned up outside the tent to walk me to the camp area for dinner and I sat and had a glass of wine around the fire with the others and we talked excitedly swapping stories of the days findings.

After dinner the Masai walked us back to our tents and I found that they had put a hot water bottle in my bed and one in Leslies also, they were lovely guys and had a gentle calmness about them.

I fell asleep to the sounds of the insects and animals.

At 6am exactly a Masai came to the tent with hot chocolate, biscuits and warm water in another jug to wash our faces with, we used our bottled water to clean our teeth with.

After breakfast we set off with our drivers again for a whole days safari and were very lucky to see three cheetahs sat together under a tree, they are the cubs of Shakira from the Big Cat Diaries, which was interesting.

We were parked up looking around when I noticed two large male lions fast asleep snoring under a tree and a Lioness who came strolling slowly up to the sleeping Lions and then comically slapped one of them around the face with her paw. He leapt up angrily and roared loudly which woke the other male who also roared and then started to fight his brother. The Lioness meanwhile walked away slowly and sat on a mound with her paws crossed over each other watching the fight.

Reacting to the female who slapped him, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

I photographed the lions in action, the two brothers fought fiercely and then watched as the winner sat looking triumphant at the defeated lion who sat further away looking dejected.

The Lions fighting, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

We saw a few prides of Lions that day, I could watch them all day every day and never lose interest, their behaviour is so interesting to watch, they are very social animals and we saw a pride of them with their cubs.

We drove on to the Sand River embankment where the great wildebeest and zebra migration takes place, a few were still crossing, but we had missed the spectacle of the main event. The timing of this event is not predictable as it largely depends on the rains and so for anyone who wants to get out for the great migration it is best to keep watch and get advice nearer the time to try to forecast it a little month by month. Though later on in the safari we did get to see some later crossings.

Wilderbeasts still crossing, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

We saw some vultures circling in the air and so headed for that area on getting there we found there were a small group of vultures finishing off a kill. I wondered what had started eating it as there was clearly a whole half of the unfortunate animal left, formerly a Gazelle, the other half must have been dragged off further away. The Vultures were interesting to watch as they swooped in one by one to take some of the meat, the ones already on the ground would try to prevent them from getting closer, they opened their wings to make themselves look bigger.

Another vulture swooping in, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

I could have watched these things all day, I would have liked to have waited and observed how many came for the meat, there were still about ten of the vultures circling above the kill, which would alert more vultures and mammals that there was meat to be eaten in the area.

We then drove around until 6pm when dusk was coming and saw Baboons, Hyenas, Jackals and a Bat Eared Fox, which was fantastic; I did not think we had a chance of seeing one of those as the foxes are so shy.

The safari today was again very exciting as we saw a pair of Cheetahs after a kill, the male has to eat before the female and he had a huge stomach to show for it, as they walked past he looked right at me and growled baring his teeth, he had a mean face; the female looked friendlier.

The Male behind held my stare and would not break away from it, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

The male held my stare the whole time as he walked by making me feel uneasy, I think it must have been the whirring of my zoom lens that he did not like as I had a Sigma lens that sounded as though it was making the tea whenever I tried to focus.

We later spotted a large Hippo standing in the bush, it looked terribly sad and thin, the drought has been awful for animals and man alike in the dust bowl that is the Masai Mara, people and animals are dying from thirst and fighting at waterholes. I was quite sure that this animal would be dead by the next day. I desperately wanted to help it but was told that we are not allowed to interfere with nature in any way out there, it seemed such a shame as we could have got some water to this animal.

We went back the next day and sadly it was dead.

With the sadness and cruelty of nature though also came the wonder and excitement of seeing so many mammals at close range, my favourite animal being the Lion and watching these felt very special to me.

The Lionesses playing, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

We approached a mounded area surrounded with trees and saw a Lioness walking through the area. Suddenly she crouched down into stalking stance and started to creep forward slowly, she had spotted a Wart Hog who was oblivious to her presence (up wind) and snuffling about in the grass.

Another Lioness appeared and joined her in the stalking game and added a two-pronged method of approach, however the Warthog then realised it was in danger and stood to face the Lions, they both gave up as Lions will not attack an animal facing them, the only ever attack from behind or the side. They tend to go for the back of an animal; Lions dislike confrontation as it causes injury making themselves weak and vulnerable against others in the pride.

Female Lions, Lionesses, hunt together and the two in the picture below were play fighting with each other, this is essential for play for them to practice their hunting skills.

We drove on to a waterhole where we saw about 30 Hippos all wallowing lazily in the water, they reminded me of ‘Moomins’and it was lovely to see the families all snuggled together in the water grunting and snorting contentedly.

Hippos contented in the water, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

There were also some very large crocodiles resting in the water, they looked magnificent and being such old reptiles are fascinating to see in the wild, you can see the prehistoric links that these crocodiles have.

These crocodiles can grow up to 5 metres in length and are considered to be the most intelligent of the reptiles, they have no predators apart from human beings. They will eat fish and turtles as well as large mammals even buffaloes and big cats.

Crocodile, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

Antelope are often easy targets for the crocodiles when drinking at the waterside as  the crocodiles lay in wait with just eyes and snout visible, then they will suddenly snap at the unfortunate victim with full force.

Driving on we saw an Ostrich with its young, these flightless birds will flatten themselves against the ground when threatened, though also have a powerful kick that could break a human arm and can run up to 43 miles per hour. The adult ostrich, pictured below did not look the least bit concerned that we were there, although the vehicle drove quite close, it stalked off in a steady walk with its chick alongside.

Ostrich with young chick, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

On the way back we stopped and watched the most spectacular sunset that I have ever seen, it was magnificent and the sky was striped red and orange, just beautiful.

I was very curious to get to the Masai village as I had heard and read much about their Tribe ad could not quite believe that we were going to their village. On arrival we were greeted by the Masai men and women who walked out in single file singing and dancing in our honour as a welcome, the leader had a Lions mane on his head as the song was about the strength of the Lion.

They were all dressed in their trademark red costumes and sang beautifully in harmony, they practice new songs and dances every day and really seem to enjoy their singing.

On entering the village we saw a circle of mud huts with small children some of them in traditional red Masai clothes and others dressed in ragged western clothes running about the place and watching us wide-eyed from doorways.

Running boy in Masai village, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

A tall Masai boy called Thomas showed a few of us around and told us he was 18 and that when he is aged 25 he can take many wives. The village chief walked slowly past, he was 96 years old and had 5 wives and 26 children, the chief walked with a stick and did not see very well. I thought about his life and how different it was from mine and the people back home.

I talked to Thomas about the lack of rain and he said that they were worried as they thought the Gods were angry with them and that is why it had not rained, it was so interesting to hear his point of view on why the rains had not yet come, the beliefs of the Tribe fascinated me.

They have a tradition of leaving the dead out in the open to be eaten by hyenas as they believe that the bodies would pollute the soil, so will not bury them. The bodies are often coated in some fresh meat to attract the hyenas as if not eaten the Masai believe that the body brings shame on the Tribe in being rejected.

Thomas demonstrated how to make fire by rubbing sticks together very briskly, it was surprisingly quick and very effective.

Thomas working to get the fire going, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

The Masai make their own huts which last around 10 years, the present ones had been up for 4 years, so were still in good condition with a good 6 years before deterioration sets in.

Thomas told me that his people drink the blood from cattle as a source of nutrition and milk mixed with maize, they certainly looked healthy on that diet.

The Masai are very keen on jewellery and wear many necklaces all together, they also like to pierce and stretch their ear lobes and do this by using thorns, sharp twigs and even part of elephant tusks. It sounds like a painful process, yet they proudly show off their earrings and stretched lobes so it clearly means a great deal to them to keep up the tradition.

We watched some of the Masai men jumping high, this looks difficult to do as they start from the ground, a couple of the men in the group had a go at it and I wanted to go and join them, however was told not to as it is for men only, women are not allowed to jump.

The dance is known as ‘adumu’ though rather than a dance it is more of a jumping competition between the men, they must remain as straight as possible and it certainly is an art form that requires practice.

Masai jumping, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

Some of us went into a Masai hut, it was absolutely stifling hot in there, so much so it was difficult to breathe and reeked of strong manure as young calves and goats sleep in with the Masai at night, there were two beds which are communal, one for all the children and one for all the adults.

The Masai had 30 cows and at night they were all brought into the circled enclosure of their huts to protect them from the big cats and that is why the young calves sleep in the huts.

Thomas told me that the lions now tend to stay away from their area, as they have learnt that they will be hunted down and killed if they take any cattle.

We went to look at their hand made goods which were displayed in a round space surrounded by chicken wire and filled with all nature of trinkets, jewellery and wood carvings, I bought a beautiful wood carving of a Masai Mask with the Masai and animals on it. I talked to the traders and asked if I could take a picture, I was told to wait while one of the traders put on all her necklaces then was permitted to take the photo, she was very proud of all her necklaces and would not have her picture taken without them on.

One Masai man took an interest in my Dads Army tag, which I now always wear when travelling as I believe it brings me luck, he was after all once shot at by a Gurker in Burma who mistook him for the enemy at night, he was narrowly missed and now calls it his lucky tag. When I explained the story behind the army tag, the Masai man got very excited and started to shout to the others, they all came rushing over and crowded round me admiring the tag and touching it making cooing sounds.

I explained that I could not give them the tag as it was sentimental, however I took off the rose quartz necklace I was wearing and offered it to them, I thought one of the ladies might have liked to have it but instead a Masai man stepped forward and took it, he put it on to wear straight away and proudly showed it to all his friends.

I gave two young children some biscuits, the Masai were lovely, they walked all round me asking me to stay, they had a wisdom in their eyes that I will never forget and a light about them, very special people indeed. I felt so emotional just to be with them and they kept coming up and hugging me and crying so then I too had tears rolling down my cheeks.

The group were in the jeeps, so I had to go, but felt very close to these people and did not want to leave, it was a very strange experience, the others did not seem to share the same feelings as me at all and were intrigued as to why I stayed so long. It was most odd really.

Back at camp I decided to try to send clothes and pens to the Masai village through the camp owners perhaps, the driver over heard me and later came to speak to me asking what I would send and saying that I must send it only to him and not through the camp people. I neither trusted nor liked him so knew that I would not send anything his way as I was quite sure that the Masai would not get the parcel.

At lunchtime, we were treated to hand cooked pizzas, they were cooked on a fire and were absolutely delicious and the best I have ever tasted, afterwards I did my washing and hung my clothes in a tree to dry by my tent.

I decided to read in a hammock before the late afternoon Safari, while reading suddenly a large monkey jumped into the hammock with me and then scrambled off up a tree up over the top of the tent and then off up another tree. He was being chased by a Masai as he had stolen a small sugar bowl off the dinner table, the scene was rather like a cartoon.

I started to read again all the time aware of what animals might pass by, sure enough it was not long before a group of Gazelles walked right by me and further off some zebras trotted past the campsite, it was a real pleasure to be out there witnessing all this at close range.

My tent mate Leslie was ill today and so stayed in the tent as she felt too tired from the heat to go out. The remainder of us went out on a Leopard drive, but did not see one, instead we spotted DikDiks, Grants Gazelles and Hyenas which was fantastic, all the animals here are exciting to see regardless of what they are.

The Buffalos are tolerant of Egret birds as they clean flies and ticks off them therefore providing a very convenient service to the Buffalos.

Buffalos with an Egret, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

Back at the tent, Leslie was very poorly and was sick everywhere in the tent, this was pretty grim, I cleaned it up and tried to radio for someone to come but our radio was down, she kept being sick and we needed a bucket fast. I was not allowed to leave the tent alone as it was now dark and the leopard could be in camp, I kept flashing my torch and tried to radio again for help, no one responded which rather showed how ineffective the radios were.

Eventually I got the attention of a passing Masai and asked for the doctor to come over, he arrived quickly along with the manager of the camp.

Leslie was given tablets, however they made her vomit even more as well as giving her constant diarrhoea, it was a bad night for us both as a tent is not a good space to share in those circumstances. I skipped supper to stay with Leslie, but felt miserable at being trapped in the tent with this person, I spent much of the night cleaning up her vomit as she did not seem to want to use the bucket, the night was long and I hoped for morning to arrive quickly.

I woke up very tired, as I expect did Leslie, she had been very poorly throughout the night, we had the hot chocolate outside the tent, Leslie was still not quite well enough to go out so stayed behind and rested, I felt so sorry for her but in honesty was glad to leave the tent and get out in the fresh air.

Some of us went on a walk with two armed Masai guards, we tracked animal footprints and looked for herbs, it was lovely to be allowed to walk out in the open, I looked for insects in the dry grasses that we walked over and found some needle grasshoppers, may colourful Dragonflies whizzed by, however I could not get any images of them as they did not land in any areas that we were in.

We got back and had a huge breakfast, I persuaded Leslie to eat something, then we went out on a game drive for the morning and success. We were lucky enough to see a group of vultures with a fresh kill squabbling and flying at each other for the prize, more and more flew in and were fascinating to watch, I could have stayed there for hours watching the scene.

Back at lunch I felt rather drained from the night before, so slept in the hammock for half an hour before going out again. We went back to the spot where we saw the Hippo in the hedgerow, two of us were stood upright looking out of the open top and instantly smelt a horrendously strong, unpleasant smell. We knew instantly that it must be the hippo we had seen the day before and on further inspection saw that it had died from starvation and thirst, how sad. I took two pictures of it but later deleted them as I could not bear to look at it.

The Masai Mara looked like a dust bowl, it was so dry that dust would fly up as our vehicle drove along, everything was dying and if the rains did not happen soon then more animals would die and people too. Some of the Masai had told us that they had been finding it hard to get water as they had to walk very far to get to the same water holes that the animals all used and often the buffalo would get territorial about it and charge them off. It was hard for all out there whether animal or human, the battle for water was just as essential for survival.

At 4pm we went to a special reserve where we climbed a hill and walked with White Rhinos, they were magnificent and a real privilege to be near. I got very excited as I found a tiny praying mantis in the grass and photographed it, some of the group came over to have a look, but I am sure found it odd that I could get so excited about a tiny Praying mantis when there were Rhinos behind me.

On the way back we saw a family of elephants in the distance then as we drove further on we came across a whole herd of Elephants at much closer range, they struck me as looking very sad. The herd moved slowly off in step with each other, but I really felt that something was worrying them, I can only guess that they too had walked far in their search for a waterhole, just like the Masai and the buffaloes.

We spotted storks in trees and hawks, eagles along with colourful Roller birds, it was beautiful watching the red sunset each evening and the acacia trees look so dramatic against the red skyline.

Had hilarious evening at the dinner table that night, it was one of those evenings where the wine flowed under a starry night and the jokes and stories poured out from the group and the laughter grew more and more raucous and the evening went on.

By the end of the evening I was feeling pretty drunk and stupidly walked off in the darkness to my tent unescorted. As I approached the tent I saw an animal in the dark, its eyes glowed yellow, my head torch showed that it was spotted and it started to show its teeth and growl at me. I froze in fear and then suddenly it made a loud barking/snarling sound at me and I ran to the tent madly grabbing the zipper and throwing myself inside it.

The others think it may have been a Jennet Cat, but to me it looked more like a Hyena, it had been very aggressive when I approached it, I think I must have walked to near its natural path and disturbed it.

After breakfast the next morning at 05:30am we set off on the last of the safaris and saw families of Warthogs and banded Mongeese, we drove on to a huge river crossing which had all but dried up, but even though we were out of season witnessed Zebras and Wildebeest crossing over, they jumped and kicked up dust as they crossed over the dried out embankment.

The jeeps had to cross also and it was a tricky, bumpy ride over, we got stuck a few times in the deep dried out ridges, but luckily the jeep sprang back to life and got us up the banks.

The highlight of the day though was pretty special, the radio crackled and our driver suddenly sat up straight and started driving madly and diagonally across the dusty terrain to a group of trees.

We knew from his reaction that he was onto something good and then we saw it.

High up a tree was a magnificent Leopard with a kill, the victim was a wildebeest and although it looked to be three times the size of the Leopard had been dragged up the tree.

We watched and photographed in awe, I was conscious of my zoom lens whirring away loudly, but the leopard took no notice of it, the doctor found the whirring sound amusing.

Suddenly a leg fell off the Wildebeest dropping down onto the ground and the Leopard jumped down to retrieve the leg, it picked up the leg in its mouth and then walked towards what looked like a den.

Leopard with the leg of the wilderbeast, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

There must have been cubs in there as the Leopard was making strange noises to the entrance of the Den, we were desperate to see if any cubs would come out, but our driver suddenly said we had to leave and drove off. Despite us all begging to stay he was adamant that we had to leave, we were all bitterly disappointed as we were sure that we would have had a sighting of some cubs had we waited quietly.

Though we what we saw was amazing in itself.

The last bit of the afternoon was spent in the hammock under the tree, I could hear a mosquito, some crickets and the loud clacking of a beetle flying by.

In the evening I bought a bottle of wine to share and as it was the last night a few of us got drunk, we finished the first bottle then ordered another and sat round the camp fire finding everything hilarious for absolutely no reason.

We later tried to look for Bush babies in the trees with our head torches but had drunk too much wine by then, I walked into a tree, although how on earth I missed seeing it is still a mystery as it was huge, perhaps that is where the saying ‘blind drunk’ comes from; it was fun at the time.

I really cant remember much after that, I think we had a third bottle of wine and fell over, but anyway needless to say the next morning I had a dreadful headache and my tent mate was not happy saying that I had walked into the tent singing loudly and had then fallen over some shoes, I remember nothing of that.

The next morning after breakfast we went on a very quick final drive around the Mara, just an hour then it would be time to leave and drive for the 8-9 hours back across to Nairobi.

The drive was really special, it was light 06:30 but the light had an luminous glow about it, on this drive we saw giraffes in the distance by some trees, they looked little statues standing there by the acacia trees.

I could not help looking at all the bones scattered about everywhere, there really were hundreds of them.

Bones and carcuses were scattered everywhere, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

A group of Jackals started running and playing near the truck, they were a pleasure to watch. as they played, jumped, fought over a stick and bit each other, crept up and surprised one another. They were learning the skills to stalk and chase.

Two Jackals playing with the shadow of their mother in the background, Kenya 2009 by A.K.

On heading back my last images are of the acacia trees through the hazy landscape and a battered old army jeep driving past stirring up dust in the distance, it was a lovely final scene of the Masai Mara with the giraffes still in the background standing by their tree.

Back at camp after packing our rucksacks, we said our goodbyes and headed off back off up the long, long bumpy, dusty road past old shacks, buzzards, a group of children waved to us and looked so happy, past women working at a quarry and past the huge Candelabra cactus trees.

A warm farewell from the local children

Back on the streets we passed busy markets and dusty houses piled on top of one another, crazy cyclists, mules carrying huge loads of hay, piles of tyres and old broken down cars that were still not yet fixed.

On the way back we stopped at a side gate and drove into a Colonial hotel for 2 hours in the afternoon to wait for our flights as we would be too early. I instantly went off into the gardens bug hunting, the others stayed at the table drinking juice and chatting. I found katydids and hummingbirds.

I did not like the hotel, the national anthem kept playing loudly over loud speakers and a wedding was taking place with the bride dressed up as a zebra in white stilettos, it was pretty surreal, I was glad to leave, though the gardens were nice, it was run by a militant woman whom none of us liked as she had continually barked orders at her staff who all seemed a little nervous of her.

Outside of this false oasis, real life went on. I stood by the entrance for some time and photographed a local girl carrying a water jug on her head, it looks so elegant to carry things in this way.

We left and continued the journey to the airport, every second of the drive through Nairobi was interesting as there was so much to see, little back streets with markets, it bustled with life wherever you looked.

Whenever the van slowed down or came to a halt at traffic lights, adults and children would suddenly descend and offer to clean windows or try to see something, some of them started to clean the windows anyway, regardless of whether the driver wanted them clean or not.

On arrival at the airport first checkpoint a guard threw my camera bags onto the floor which coud have smashed up all my equipment, this was a needless act and made me very angry.

Once through, we queued and were asked to take off our shoes a second time and were once again checked, then you walk around the corner only to go through the whole process again, we took our shoes off three times in total.

It was stifling hot in the airport, we wandered about aimlessly killing time but once on the plane it was good to sit and think about all that we had seen.

This trip was a great insight into how safaris work and the chance to view the animals at such close proximity from the safety of the open top vehicles was superb especially from a photography perspective.

I would go again, what I would change though would be to hire a private driver and ask to spend more time with the animals, so that you can have more freedom on  what you photograph and document. I really like to watch the behaviour of animals and in order to do this you need time and lots of it.

Thank you for reading 🙂

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