Kenya: Masai Mara safari

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The Masai Mara National Reserve is a relatively small triangle of land on the Kenyan side of its southern border with Tanzania. On the Tanzania side,  the park continues southward as the much larger Serengeti. I had been on safari in the Serengeti and surrounding areas of Tanzania three years ago, and it was wonderful. I didn’t feel the need to repeat the experience in Kenya, except for two things. First of all, we had hoped to see the annual wildebeest migration in Tanzania but just missed it – the herds had already moved north into Kenya by the time we arrived. I happened to be in Kenya at the beginning of August, prime time for the migration, and so I felt compelled to take another shot — after all, I had heard that the migration is truly epic. Secondly, even though the Tanzania safari taught me that it is impossible for me to commune with wild animals when surrounded by a million other safari cars and the people leaning out of them to snap pictures, it also taught me that the scenery in that part of the world is breathtaking. I wanted to go back not to see safari animals but to see the landscapes around them.

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It is lucky that my first safari was a nearly perfect experience. We saw the Big Five (and beyond), had an amazing guide who truly loved sharing his knowledge and expertise with us, and were able to spend solid chunks of time just staring at animals as they did their thing. The three day, two night safari I went on in the Masai Mara afforded none of those things. The biggest problem was that the guide was terrible in just about every way possible. I won’t get into it except to say that it taught me two valuable lessons. One, your guide can make or break your safari, so it’s worth spending time to research both the safari company AND the guides who work with the company, so that you can request a well-reviewed guide by name. Two, many safari companies sell packages that are actually provided by other companies. If you don’t book directly with the providing company, you’ll be paying a hidden fee to the “broker” company, and there will be less accountability if something goes wrong.

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With that said, while our safari guide was an asshole who spoiled a lot of things, I still saw amazing things and had a great time. Because I was there primarily for the landscapes, and the landscapes delivered in spades, the things that went wrong didn’t upset me for long.

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Because the other people on the safari had never been on one before, they didn’t realize the extent to which their experience could have been better if the guide didn’t suck, and they, too, were mildly annoyed but still in good spirits.

When you go on safari as a solo traveler they stick you on a “joining safari,” which is a hodgepodge of other singles and couples. The group of people I was with – four individuals from Germany, Sweden, India, and Spain, as well as a Spanish couple – was really wonderful. We liked each other so much that we created a WhatsApp group before parting ways. Who knows, maybe one day our paths will cross again.

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Unfortunately, though I saw thousands of wildebeest migrating (which was indeed epic), we didn’t see them crossing the Mara River in NatGeo-worthy numbers.

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The most I saw was a single-file line of wildebeest detouring around a puddle that was what was left of the dried-up river at that crossing point.

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I felt like I was looking at a real-life New Yorker cartoon about unfulfilled expectations.

I chose to blame it on the driver being too lazy to drive us to a more swollen part of the river where we might have seen more. But I am not really sure if he or nature take ultimate responsibility for the wildebeest fail. Either way, I didn’t sweat it too much.

I saw so many other beautiful things.

Sky paintings…

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An adorable baby monkey…

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If you look closely s/he is breastfeeding.

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Several lions…

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…one of whom looked MGM-like…

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Animal salads, aka various species amicably co-existing and intermingling…

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Vast, beautiful savannah topped by vast, beautiful skies…

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And all manner of gorgeous light.

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For me, the Masai Mara safari ended up being less about animals and much more about enjoying beautiful views with nice people (aside from the driver, of course).

And that concludes my Kenya posts…just in time to go back to Kenya! I am attending a work conference in Nairobi at the end of January, so I will be heading back in a few weeks. It’s surreal that after wanting to go to Kenya for decades, I will now be visiting twice in six months. It’s also disquieting, vis a vis my carbon footprint. 2020 is going to be a year of reckoning for me in that regard…

 

 

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