Masai Mara

This weekend I took off my internship badge and put on my tourist sunhat.

It wasn’t my first time traveling in Kenya—I’ve been to Nairobi National Park and Hell’s Gate National Park. Nairobi National Park, however, only took up half of a day. Hell’s Gate was more of an adventure—I biked through the park right next to the wild animals, lived in a tent and helped make my very first campfire.

Masai Mara was also an adventure (I had some wild experiences there, let me tell you), but though it lasted three days, it sometimes felt a little touristy.

We were lucky enough to see the Big Five—black rhino, lions, leopards, elephants and African buffalo. We even saw a pair of cheetahs! It was thrilling to see all of them.

It was less thrilling, however, when humans outnumbered our black rhino. It stood in the middle of a small field carved out by tire tracks, swinging its head from side to side, staring with annoyance at the ten vehicles full of excited, picture-snapping tourists as if to say, “Er…how do I get out of this?”

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Even the lions, waking from a nice nap and apprehensively contemplating the zebras surrounded by the more dangerous elephants, were harassed by furious whispers and the snap of pictures. The picture to the left was taken just as they were startled out of their passively annoyed state by the loud rumble of an engine.

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The leopard we saw hung elegantly from a branch, its stomach swelling from its meal and a flesh wound on its thigh—it was gorgeous. You could see the power in its muscles, right under that beautifully spotted skin. And the gleam in its eyes was so wild. Except, of course, for the fact that the first people to spot it radioed the entire fleet, and five vans were clustered under the tree, their passengers gawping at the cat.

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We even saw a pair of cheetahs. Our driver heard something on the radio and sped us over the bumpy trail to the site. They were adorable, but also very frustrated.

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They had been trailing gazelles, but were rudely interrupted by tourists stalking them as they stalked their prey.

I think it’s because there were just too many buses there. And this was at the end of June, at the very beginning of the high season. It must be worse in mid-July, when wildebeest migration will be in full swing and tourist migration will be too.

Still, Masai Mara was worth it despite the plethora of other people. We were quite alone, when we went a little off road, for instance. Our driver has driven for National Geographic photographers, so he knew where the animals liked to hide.

He drove us into this underbrush full of elephants. There were several close calls when we got a little too close to them, and they threatened to charge us.

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We also saw this adorable little fellow to the left.

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At one point, we were literally surrounded by buffalos. And by zebras: Zebra panorama.

Even back at our hotel, we could see a family of hippos. In the late afternoon one of the employees began feeding the resident crocodile. That croc is technically trained—as soon as you call out, “Croc Croc Croc!” it surfaces out of the river. Slowly it dragged the six feet of its lethal body out onto the bank and chomped down the raw legs of beef. Here’s the footage: Crocodile.

Afterwards, monitor lizards and a random creature—something that looked like an ocelot, but was probably a mongoose—stole the remaining pieces of meat.

Robbed by a monkey—again

The tiny fellow had already stolen three cakes from the snack table. One stuffed into his mouth and the other two in his front paws, he ran away on his hind legs. He hadn’t touched the coffee, so I poured myself a cup and got a pack of sugar, placing them at a nice table right next to the railing. I turned to look at the scenery—and then my mother shrieked behind me.

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The monkey had jumped down straight onto the table, had grabbed my pack of sugar and was inches away from my coffee. Torn between shock and outrage, I screamed bloody murder. It paused, and stared up at me with a startled look on its face, like, “What are you screaming about? I’m just taking some sugar.” Before I had time to grab my camera, it had made its escape onto the thatched roof.

I should have known better that to sit near the outside. I even told my mother that there was a possibility the monkey would go there.

How did I know? Experience. And a scarier one at that.

A baboon at Hell’s Gate stole two ciabatas from our table. And I, being the ignorant mzungu, threw a balled-up tissue I had been using to clean a coca cola spill at it—and hit it on the arm. Said baboon paused, sniffed tissue, and then climbed up on a rock and stared at me.

Baboons, if you didn’t know before, are not afraid of humans. They don’t respect women. They can also differentiate between park rangers and tourists, and they are even less afraid of tourists. They are further known for their violence.

Uh oh.

Thankfully, a male park ranger stepped in and threw rocks at the baboon, driving it away and thus saving my life. And I live to tell the tale to you and to keep writing posts about my adventures in Africa.


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