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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

11/20: Early Game Drive in Masai Mara Game Reserve

We were up before 5:30 to grab a cup of tea before going on an early morning game drive in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve with Anthony, our very good driver and guide from Nairobi. 

Photos of our bathroom that was located behind a curtain at the head of our bed in the tent: I thought it amusing that the window opening had a UN World Food Programme canvas bag.

The sun had risen a little earlier but we could still see a pinkish hue on the horizon. 
The van with the raised roof was perfect for being able to take in 360 degree views of the wildlife in the Reserve.
My improvised cup holder: the very light plastic mug from Walmart has been all over the world with me. Unfortunately, I need to search for a new one before our next trip as it was lost in the last few days of our trip several weeks later.
A number of wildebeest were our first sighting of the day.

I loved the trees silhouetted against the dawn's early light.
Our first sighting of Ugandan cranes; they are the only crane that can roost in trees, because of a long hind toe that can grasp branches. The crane is the national bird of Uganda and is featured in the country's flag and coat of arms. 
Although the crane remains common over much of its range, it faces threats to its habitat due to drainage, overgrazing and pesticide pollution. Their global population is estimated to be between 58,000 and 77,000. In 2012, its ranking was increased from vulnerable to endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.
The crane has a booming call which involves inflation of the red gular sac. It also makes a honking sound quite different from the trumpeting of other crane species. Both sexes dance, and immature birds join the adults. Dancing is an integral part of courtship, but also may be done at any time of the year. How lucky we were to get such a good look at these multi-colored birds. 
It was very nippy standing up in the open van but so well worth it when we spotted five giraffes poking their long necks out from behind the trees.

A little while later, we saw this hyena. Anthony mentioned it had the strongest jaw; not sure if he meant of any animal its size or any animal period. It had been too early in the day for me to have thought of my asking for clarification!

The hyena had watched us patiently for a good while until my admittedly very loud sneezes caused him to run away quickly!
Look closely and you can see a jackal running in the distance by the grayish green tree on the right. Jackals even eat bones, Anthony told us.
One of the ubiquitous, very thorny trees present throughout the park:
The most common type of trees were these acacia trees that we had seen for the first time when touring the tombs around Cairo, Egypt.
We passed three rangers out on an early patrol in their 4x4. 
The dense undergrowth was perfect camouflage for many of the Reserve's shorter animals.
I couldn't begin to count all the dead trees we noticed like this one in the Reserve. Anthony explained that they had died because of giraffes having eaten the treetop leaves.
More black back jackals: A moment later, we spied a group of four more of them.
One of the more unusual termite mounds we'd seen:
I thought the golden-colored grasslands looked stunning in the early morning light.
This large herd of impalas was followed by a herd of zebras a few minutes later.

These were the only palm trees we had seen in the park.

To be able to see The Great Migration of millions of animals midsummer from Tanzania to Kenya must be a sight of a lifetime, I thought. What we had seen yesterday and already this morning had been fabulous and beyond our wildest dreams but witnessing the annual migration must be even more incredible. We saw about 120 wildebeest and zebras and a couple more Ugandan cranes and that was absolutely phenomenal.

Anthony mentioned that there were 156 national parks and reserves in Kenya. Maasai Mara is a reserve operated by the city of Narok, the nearest city to the Reserve. As soon as he finished telling us this, he heard over his CB radio that an animal was spotted and he high tailed it to get to the spot before the animal left the area.
Obviously, the word had gone out to the other guides/drivers in the area too, as five vehicles converged on the spot to see two male lions!

It was fantastic seeing them lumbering across the grass after crossing right in front of our van.

A coalition (the official term of a group of fewer than ten male lions) of four male lions converged on a number of zebras and wildebeests but the latter didn't run away. There appeared to be a 'Mexican standoff' with just one lion acting as the one in charge. He finally retreated and joined the other three.

The wildebeests didn't cross the road so they could stay well away from the lions.

Fifteen minutes later, Anthony received another call on his CB radio and were we glad that he had!
Just a few feet away from the van, we saw two female lions eating their kill. I think we stayed put for a good twenty minutes or so as we were totally engrossed watching them.

We were so glad that Anthony had wisely suggested we get an early start for our game drive so we could see so many animals. Many of them hide in whatever sun they can find when the sun gets strong.

Guess one of them hadn't finished or wanted to save part of the carcass to snack on later!
Eagle-eyed Steven spotted this warthog:

Anthony told us this was a sausage tree and was used to make beer as well as traditional medicines!

Vultures eating a zebra carcass:

We returned to the same watering hole we had stopped at twice yesterday, hoping to see hippos, but again we weren't in luck.

We sure didn't complain when we 'only' spotted huge numbers of both wildebeests and zebras at the watering hole as we never grew tired of seeing them or any other animals!

On the way back to camp AND breakfast, Anthony counted 43 giraffes all together! Sadly, they turned out to be our last animal sighting on our three hour morning drive at Maasai Mara Game Reserve. We knew, though, we'd still be lucky enough seeing many more animals in another week or so while spending close to a week in South Africa's Kruger National Park.
At the park exit,  there were 20 women thronging both sides of the van, each thrusting necklaces, bracelets, masks, etc through the open roof. I am sure you can imagine how very difficult it was to pick out the items to buy and know who had made them, with each woman beseeching me to buy from her. 

After a quick breakfast, we packed up our things and were on our way for the five hour trek back to Nairobi at 10. A couple of hours later, Anthony stopped at a different curio shop than the one we had seen en route yesterday. The salesperson said the prices were 'friendly' which meant negotiable! They weren't 'friendly' enough for us, though, as we didn't buy anything. I did find amusing, however, the signs for the bathroom!
We passed probably a hundred of these 'Car Washes' on the way back to the capital. I wonder how clean the cars got after one of these car washes!
A better view of the entrance to the wee Catholic church built by the Italians in 1942. As I wrote in the previous post, the church was located up the hill from the entrance and only had a capacity for eight people.
Anthony dropped us about 4ish off at the same hotel in Nairobi we had stayed at after flying in from Ethiopia a couple of nights previously. After checking in and dumping our bags in our room, Steven and I decided to explore part of the area around our hotel since it was in the heart of the city.
At the end of of the block, we saw a huge group of people gathered around a man speaking about his transformation from having been a 'Most Wanted Grave Robber.' We've seen a lot of spontaneous speakers in cities around the world before but definitely never a former grave robber!

We walked to the nearby August 7th Memorial Park. On that date in 1998, a terrorist bomb attack on Nairobi's US Embassy resulted in the death of 218 people and seriously injured thousands more. The explosives, loaded on the back of a truck, were intended to be driven into the embassy's basement car park. However, security guards stopped the truck at the gates, at which point the terrorists detonated the bomb. The explosion ripped through the building and killed many on the street.
Simultaneously, a terrorist strike was unleashed at the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 11 people. The Memorial Gardens were opened on the bombing's anniversary three years later, on the site of the former US Embassy in Nairobi. 
The statue was made of debris from the attack.
A plaque on the granite wall listed names of those who died on that tragic day.
The almost two days we had spent getting to, from and, more importantly, in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve had been nothing short of spectacular. We still looked forward, though, to playing tourist most of the next day in Nairobi before flying onto Johannesburg, South Africa.

Posted on January 3rd, 2016 from Littleton, Colorado.


  1. African animals are on my Bucket List!!!!! Lil Red

    1. They weren't on mine particularly before seeing them up close and personal. THEN, I was hooked and couldn't get enough!


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