In early August we arrived in Nairobi for a two week safari to Maasai Mara (Kenya) and Tanzania. We were a group of 5 couples all doing a safari for the first time. Little did we know what all we would see and experience. We spent a couple of nights at the Ole Sereni Hotel which overlooks Nairobi National Park. From our hotel we could see our first African wildlife out in the park but soon we would forget about these initial sightings that were so far away. While in Nairobi we visited the Giraffe Center where we were able to feed some giraffes and learn about the different species of giraffes. What gentle and pretty animals. We then went by the Elephant Orphanage where each couple had adopted a baby elephant. We were able to see our baby elephants and take pictures. They were very cute and everyone was excited to see them. There was also a blind Black Rhino there called Maxwell who was being cared for due to his condition.
From Nairobi we took a small plane to Maasai Mara which connected to another even smaller plane which flew us very close to the first camp we were staying at - Eagle View Camp. On our ride from the dirt runway to the camp we saw countless number of zebras, wildebeests, impalas and various types of antelopes. We also saw several giraffes, ostriches and even a pride of lions. What a start to our first day in Maasai Mara. Eagle View is a camp located in the Naboisho Conservancy which is a 50,000 acre game reserve. It is a block of land leased from some of the Massai tribe landowners to five tour operators. This creates a much more private environment to view the wildlife unlike the other parks and reserves that have hundreds of vehicles driving around looking for the wildlife. We stayed at the Eagle View Camp for 3 nights and during that time we saw more animals than we ever imagined possible. On the first afternoon drive we saw a lion steal a small antelope from a jackal and eat it. During our second night there we saw a “kill” where a jackal went after a Thompson gazelle and injured it but did not kill it. Shortly after the injury to the gazelle, a hyena appeared and both killed and devoured the gazelle savagely. The sounds of the animal’s screams and the tearing of flesh definitely left a lasting impression. Welcome to the law of the wild where only the strong survive!
We won’t talk about each animal sighting we encountered since we saw things almost every minute of the day. To give you an overall perspective of what we saw there are two big break downs in the mammals we saw: the carnivores (meat eaters) and the herbivores (grass eaters). The primary carnivores we saw were lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, and jackals. Other non-mammal carnivores we saw were crocodiles and vultures. The herbivores are probably too numerous to name but here is a pretty good list of what we saw: giraffes, zebras, elephants, wildebeests, gazelles (several varieties), antelopes (several varieties), impalas, dik diks, hippopotamuses, warthogs, waterbucks, elands, cape buffalos, baboons, monkeys (several varieties), and mongooses. A few of these animals such as the baboons, jackals and warthogs are really omnivores which eat both grass and animals. We saw many different species of birds but we will not list them here. You will see some pictures of our favorite birds and what they are called. Africa is a great place for a bird watcher. If you have ever looked at animal books for Africa, we can guarantee that the bird books are twice as large as the mammal books because there are some many different types of birds in the area. Of the Big Five (Lions, Leopards, Elephants, Cape Buffalos and Rhinoceros), we saw everything except a Rhino although we did get some up close pictures of a Black Rhino at the elephant orphanage. There is also an Ugly Five that we had the pleasure of seeing every one of them: wildebeest, hyena, vulture, warthog and marabou stork. Most of these animals were seen at all of the camps we visited but certainly some animals like the leopards were much more elusive.
During our second day at Eagle View we took an optional excursion to go see a Maasai Village. We were greeted by the native men who demonstrated some of their dances and got us to participate with them. The men and women both dress in bright red plaid robes and capes. We were shown their crude houses made out of water, mud, grass and cow dung. The women also came out and demonstrated one of their dances before taking us over to some tables where they offered us to buy some of their hand made jewelry and other items. It was educational to learn more about the Maasai tribe that owned the land and grew up here in the midst of all of these wild animals. We were shocked that drinking cow blood was something that all Maasai people did and enjoyed. In the old days each Maasai man could only become a warrior if he killed a lion but they have sense stopped this tradition. They still have maintained one interesting tradition though of circumcising each boy (at around 16) and if one tear is shed or he flinches during the procedure he is not considered a warrior and kicked out of the house. Greg is certainly glad he wasn’t brought up in this Maasai tradition!
On our second morning drive at Eagle View we were treated to a very unusual viewing of lions fighting each other. We had learned previously that there were 3 lion prides (families of a female lion with her cubs) in the area and 4 male lion brothers were the kings of these prides. During the past week “intruders” (3 brothers looking for their own pride) had killed most of the cubs in one of these prides. There had been several previous lion fights where two of the intruding lion brothers had since left and the third brother had been injured (supposedly castrated) but had not left. We arrived with several others on looking vehicles to see two of the brothers walking around and growling at the remaining male intruder who was both younger and stronger than the two brothers. The male lions attack one at a time against intruders even if there are more than one lion fighting against a single lion. We caught one of these fights in a picture with the other brother looking on. A little while after this, another brother (3rd brother) came walking into the situation and attacked the intruder also. This was caught on a video as this 3rd brother came walking directly to the intruder with total focus. It was really interesting to watch these fights and to learn about lion prides and the family nature of lions. It was also interesting to note that after watching these lions fight we drove off and parked 5 minutes away and ate our breakfast out in the wild on blankets so close to where these lions had just fought. The wildlife there is just not bothered by the humans and they just go about their lives as if no one is watching them. Equally the wildlife doesn’t bother the humans as long as they don’t do anything stupid.
In the afternoon after viewing the lion fights we went off to see the hippo pools. We literally saw over 50 hippos in the water going up and down while snorting. When you first get to the hippo pool the hippos start diving down as soon as they see you. They are very noisy with all the snorting and boy do they stink! You know you are getting close to a hippo pool when you start smelling them. We saw many hippos at other places during our other drives and even had an up close and personal look at 3 hippos one night. The night after our first viewing of this hippo pool we spotted 3 hippos with our infrared lights but when someone snapped a picture with a flash the hippo got confused and backed up close to our vehicle. As it sat about 20 feet to our left it backed up again to within one foot of our vehicle and then jumped around, bumping our vehicle, before running away. The bump caused our vehicle to bounce around a little but no damage was done to the vehicle because the hippo hit the roll bar by the bumper. It was a very exciting experience!
After our third night in Eagle View we did a walking safari in the morning to Wilderness Camp where we spent one night. The walk took us around 2 ½ hours and we had our guide Richard with us along with four Maasai Warriors to protect us. Most animals tend to stay away but it is interesting to walk through herds of wildebeests and gazelles to have them just wander away from you as you get closer to them. We were taught many things about the land and animals as we did our walk. One of the things we were shown was an animal skin hanging from a tree. This turned out to be a 2-3 day old leopard kill and they place it in a tree to eat it over a period of a few days. We saw hives with honey, owls, monkeys and salt licks as we did our walk. Along the way it is amazing to see the number of animal bones just lying around on the ground from past kills. It was a very comfortable and enjoyable walk to our next camp.
The following morning out of Wilderness Camp we came across another lion kill. This was a little different than the previous kills since there was a full pride of lions chomping down on a wildebeest that had become breakfast. There wasn’t much left of the animal by the time we got there but these lions were chewing and ripping away. Around the pride were 3 or 4 hyenas along with several jackals trying to get their portion of the kill. The lion pride would send out one of the pride members to warn off the other carnivores every now and then. We were told that if the hyena count got high enough (2 hyenas for every lion) then the hyenas would scare off the lions and take over the carcass. That didn’t happen while we were there and just before we left the lions started to drag the carcass into the bushes. They did leave the entrails for the hyenas and jackals since lions do not each this part of their kills. On the way back to the camp we saw 8 ostriches with one male that seemed to have just had sex with one of the females. We watched for a while to see if it would happen again but had no luck.
The next day we left for Basecamp which was located off the Talek River which borders the Maasai Mara Reserve. The reserve was very different than the conservancy we had just been to. This is a totally open area to anyone who pays the entry fee and therefore is much more crowded with vehicles. Our primary reason for going to the reserve versus just staying in the conservancy was to see the Great Migration. The migrating animals don’t go as far north as the conservancy. We did a day long drive in the reserve bringing boxed lunches. It was amazing to see the herds of wildebeests, zebras, impalas and other animals. Although we had seen all of these animals in the conservancy we had not seen them in the herds with such quantities as you can see during migration in the reserve. We saw our first cape buffalo in the reserve and also spotted a leopard by a creek taking a drink of water. The real reason we were at the reserve was to see a river crossing that is a very unique sight of the Great Migration. The migration is the journey of one and a half million wildebeests along with hundreds of thousands of zebras, impalas and gazelles as they move from the Serengeti in Tanzania to Maasai Mara in Kenya. They make this trek in July each year in order to find greener grass for grazing (at least that is why most people think they migrate). In October they reverse their direction and head back to the Serengeti. Along the way 400,000 wildebeest die as they are picked off by lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and crocodiles. Each year 300,000 to 500,000 wildebeests are born to replenish the herds. We wanted to see a river crossing which is the perfect picture of the Great Migration that you see in so many books and on the internet where thousands of these animals rush across the river in a frenzy trying to not to get picked off by crocodiles looking to stock up on their food supply for the winter. Crossings of the Mara River are most famous in the pictures you see but every time we saw a herd of wildebeests approach the river they seemed to get scared off by some stupid tour driver who blocked their path to the river. There aren’t enough rangers in the reserve to control vehicle drivers who don’t seem to know where they need to position themselves to see a river crossing and still allow the crossing to actually occur. After spending a full day trying to catch a river crossing we went back to our camp a little disappointed. We had barely missed one crossing when we got stuck in a traffic jam of vehicles trying to get to where some of the wildebeests were crossing the river. We saw some of the herd run by us in a frenzy to get to the river but unfortunately we really could not see much. We were told that sometimes the herds did not cross the river for 2 or 3 days and this was the only full day we had to catch a crossing. When we got back to camp we discussed with our guides what other options we had to see a crossing. We were heading to a new camp the next day but some of our group was willing to get up really early and try to catch a crossing on the Talek River (smaller than the Mara River and less crowded with vehicles) which would be our only opportunity to see a river crossing. A group of 6 of us went in one of the vehicles leaving at 6 AM the next morning to take one last shot at seeing a river crossing. We spent 3 to 4 hours looking for herds that wanted to cross but saw nothing. As we started to head back to the other camp we caught sight of a herd on the other side of the river that looked like they planned to cross. There were only two other vehicles around us at the time but then we saw one other stupid driver on the other side of the river that blocked the herd and we groaned that we were going to miss a crossing once again! Just then we spotted a rush of wildebeests crossing the river just a little way down from where we were. We raced over there just in time to miss the last one running up from the river bank. Someone then yelled that they were about to cross were we had previously been. We raced back and were finally treated to a true river crossing where the wildebeests were running down the side of the far bank and racing across the river and up the bank where we were sitting to watch the event. We had a perfect view! After several hundred crossed, the stampede seemed to stall. Some of the animals were drinking water in the river. Fortunately, they had picked a portion of the river that was apparently free of crocodiles although we had seen crocs just down the river from where they were. After a quick drink a lone wildebeest started walking up the river bank and then another stampede started with hundreds of wildebeests crossing again. This stampede stalled again and after a little while a lonely zebra started walking up the bank which started another rush of animals running across the river. It was a great sight to see over 2,000 wildebeests and zebras crossing the river in a hectic frenzy. The only thing that would have made it better was to see a few crocodiles snatching some of the animals as they ran across. That is probably a pretty sick thought but we wanted to see the river crossing in every sense and animals getting killed along the way are unfortunately part of the overall experience. Regardless, we were able to see our first river crossing during the Great Migration and it was truly a great sight. A sight we will never forget!
In the afternoon we went to our next camp, Leopard Hill. This was a higher end camp with nicer tents and facilities. We stayed there just one night to see what this camp had to offer compared to the other camps. It was very nice and certainly a more enjoyable way to stay at a camp and see wildlife. We did our last night drive there and saw a lion pride set up all around a small field waiting for their prey. We didn’t have the time to stay and actually watch them complete a kill but it certainly would have been interesting to watch. It seemed like every game drive we went on we saw something interesting and unusual which made our group hungry for more. We never got tired of going out on the game drives.
The following day we went back to the dirt landing strip we started at 10 days before to catch a flight back to Nairobi and connect to a flight going to Arusha, Tanzania. Part of our trip included 4 nights in Tanzania to see what it offered in the way of wildlife compared to Kenya and Maasai Mara. Our new guides met us at the airport and took us to our first camp on Lake Manyara. The next day we went to Tarangire National Park which was very nice but we didn’t see anything new that we hadn’t already seen in Maasai Mara. We think our guides were tired of hearing us say to keep moving on when we spotted different animals during our drive. We had gotten spoiled in Maasai Mara and just seeing some of the same animals didn’t hold our interest unless they were doing something exciting. The park itself felt like a big Lion Country Safari, where you had to stay on the main roads, and you were driving down the same road as a hundred other vehicles. It was a nice park and we took some good pictures but we really didn’t see anything too exciting.
The next day we went Lake Manyara National Park. This was a much wooded area and very different than the other areas we had been too. Once again we were forced to stay on the main roads and unless the animals were right on the road it was hard to see them. There were a ton of baboons everywhere and they made for some great pictures. In the lake we saw many hippos and all sorts of different birds. The most interesting thing we saw at this park was a herd of elephants that kept coming out of the bushes and trees along the road to get to a creek bed. The elephants would pass right by the vehicles close enough to touch. Some of them were playful and one baby elephant rubbed his belly on a tree stump for 20 minutes. Eventually there were at least 16 elephants. In the creek bed the elephants would paw in the mud to create a hole deep enough to fill with water which they could drink. We watched these elephants for about an hour before heading to our next camp.
The next camp was located an hour and a half away and was down a road called African Massage Road. This was a term we had heard before – African Massage. Since the dirt roads we rode over were so bumpy the guides would say that you were getting an African Massage with the bounciness you experienced traveling down these bumpy roads. We would have to say though that the road that was appropriately named “African Massage Road” was the bumpiest we had driven on while in Africa. From this camp we did a full day game drive going to Ngorongoro Crater. This was a very interesting area to visit. The name itself means “big hole” in Maasai. The crater was once the tallest mountain in Africa but was also a volcano that erupted three million years ago. Today the crater has 1800 foot walls all around it requiring you to drive up and then down to get into the crater. In the middle of the crater is a big lake and we finally saw one of the elusive animals we had hoped to see – the flamingo. We saw hundreds of these birds but they were not flying. We saw many animals and enjoyed taking more pictures. The one animal we had really hoped to see was the Rhino but we could find none. We were disappointed in not seeing any and we were told that each Rhino had a locating chip in them to allow the rangers to know exactly where they were. We were told the rangers would close down roads if the Rhinos started to get too close to people. This is disappointing for anyone wanting to see Rhinos in the wild. The crater was a truly unique place to see the animals but it was a very crowded place with many vehicles once again.
The next day we headed back to Nairobi. Three couples headed off that night to go back to the US while the other two couples spent a night at the hotel to recover before making the long flight home. Having that one night to relax and get ready for the flight was certainly worth the cost of a hotel room.
This turned out to be a fantastic vacation and one more item off the bucket list! Although we are cruisers at heart, we will certainly do more safaris in the future. Sharon is already starting to set up a few more safari groups for 2020. One group is almost full and she is getting a lot of interest for the second group. We learned so much from this first experience and will do several things different but if any of our future safaris are even half as exciting as this one, they will certainly be worth it! If you want to do a safari in July/August 2020, make sure you give Sharon a call so she can put you on her list.
A huge THANKS goes out to Base Camp Explorer staff - Eveylne and our AWESOME guides Richard, Jacob and Banji. Thank you for making this safari adventure beyond our wildest expectations!