The road was “sawa” (ok) for a while, but after descending down the dramatic grade from Nairobi into the Great Rift Valley, it
got progressively worse. The pot holes got bigger and more prevalent; to the point that everyone just gave up and drove on the
shoulder at an angle /. Then there was no pavement at all. We continued on, slogging through the rain when, after three hard
hours, we reached Narok. It was a drab town, crowded with huge trucks slowly bouncing down the pot holed street through
the center of town, then we struggled through more mud, past forlorn vendors sitting in their leaking lean-tos, finally up the
other side where we stopped for a snack of samosas – with a welcome beer.
We couldn’t believe we were only half way, but it was to get worse, much worse. We climbed up onto a desolate plain; the only
vegetation a scattering of forlorn “whistling acacias” – so named for the sound made as the wind passes through the fruit that
symbiotic ants have bored holes in. The ants protect the acacia bushes by swarming onto the lips and noses of any browsing
giraffes or camels. They not only bite but leave a stinging saliva (Geoffrey, our guide, was very informative).
What little pavement there was disappeared entirely about fifty kilometers short of our destination. Now it was just mud, lots of
it, and very deep. I was sitting in the front and must admit I covered my eyes at times as we approached impossible looking
situations. We passed Maasai shepherds standing with their cattle in the rain – usually fortuitously located by the worst
stretches, in hopes of some extra cash gained by helping any trapped vehicles. We were alone and isolated – all the other safari
vans had passed hours before us; they were on schedule, we weren’t.
About 5:15, we pulled up to the park entrance. Fortunately we were not bothered by the infamous Maasai hustlers at the gate.
They weren’t prepared for anyone that late in that terrible weather. The roads inside the park were a bit better, and the rain
lightened up a bet, so we did a bit of a game run, detouring on our way to the lodge.
We saw a recent kill, with four or five lions gathered about. They had finished their meal, but were not allowing any of the
surrounding buzzards or jackals near the carcass. We drove around and were astonished at the plethora and variety of wild life;
zebras, gazelles, topis, giraffes; and the incredibly beautiful impalas. In a little over an hour it became obvious that the long
challenging drive was worth it – if the weather would cooperate.
We checked into the Keekorok Lodge, an impressive, recently remodeled inn set into beautiful grounds.
The next day we left the crowds of vans with their Wazungas perched under the raised roofs – many with very expensive
“safari” clothes and expensive looking cameras with huge zoom lenses – and followed the sounds of a roaring lion to, of all
places the small airport runway.
The Masai Mara National Reserve, along with the adjacent Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is one of the largest game
preserves in Africa, if not in the world. We found it a challenge just to get there:
The next day we had an early breakfast, then set out on a long four hour drive. Our destination was the river Mara to see the
hippos. On the way was our highpoint of the day. Geoffrey made a quick stop. “Do you see that?” We couldn’t see
anything, but after some time and repeated directions where to look, there it was. A beautiful Leopard sitting in the bush. We
got a good look for about a minute before the beast disappeared into the bush. Geoffrey was properly proud, as apparently no
one else saw him that day, or any other leopard for that matter.
The highlight of our next run was a large, mature cheetah. We had him to ourselves, away from the masses, and watched him
for twenty minutes or so while he rested only about twenty feet from us. I must interject here to mention that we were amazed
about the animals reactions to our vans and ourselves with our prying binoculars and cameras – there usually were none. It’s as
if we were not there. The little white vans wandered freely about the plains like white insects, peering wherever they wanted.
We continued on over the Serengeti plains driving through and past huge herds of wildebeests and zebras, many with their
young. Thousands of animals browsed while making their way towards the Serengeti plains in Tanzania, and even further
south, on their annual migration of some 2,200 kilometers. In the distance we spotted small herds of elephants. At one place
where we stopped to watch some baboons, I was able to also see, gazelles, impalas, wildebeests, zebra’s, elephants, and topis
while myriad large birds soared overhead.
There was a contingent of young military men at the river where the hippos were. One man accompanied us with his loaded
rifle – he proudly showed us his full magazine as we walked down to the river
The rains returned the following day and accompanied us on our drive back to Nairobi. We only had a few days left.
It was difficult to leave Kenya. Everything is very difficult there. The roads are practically impassible; forget about the phones and
electricity. The water out of the tap looks like mud. But life was always fascinating.
We will miss it.
Jungle Notes from Trish!!
A female elephant gestates for 22 months and nurses till the baby’s tusks get too uncomfortable! They hear with their feet! It is a
matriarchy and she will kill if you endanger her young! We met a young Swedish girl with a big wound on her head. While she was
Giraffes – “Twiga” in Swahili – gestate for a very long time too, about 14 – 16 months and the mom keeps the baby a little longer if
there is a drought...pretty cool huh? Her tongue is long and sticky and has a natural antiseptic for when they prick themselves on
thorny Acacia bushes as they eat. We fed them at the Giraffe Center in Karen. They are unbelievable with their big, big brown eyes!!
The baby giraffe that is about 6 ft tall at birth and is dropped about 6 ft when born. It must be a shocking but a Happy Landing.
We saw many herds of Zebras and Wildebeests, migrating together. The animal kingdom is so family and (especially) baby oriented.
There are so many symbiotic relationships – the ox picker and cattle egrets are continually picking ticks and flies out of noses and
ears (and other parts) and go along for the ride.
A new form of commuting! A dung beetle makes a perfectly spherical ball of dung with the baby eggs inside and then gives mom a
ride on top!
Maasai women crave dirt and rocks when they are pregnant, a habit the government is trying to break as they get sick and the dirt is
full of bacteria. They also believe the women should be skinny while pregnant. Go figure!! Maasai men often have several wives.
Each wife gets a separate hut, with beds made of twigs and dung and the roof too. If it rains you can see the women on the roof
smearing on more dung to prevent leaks. The women shave their heads and do all the work.
Just call me the Trishie, the Paris Jungle Channel!!!
We do miss it. We saw the most intriguing birds and biggest bugs. Our neighbor, Valerie Leakey, of the Leakey family, suggested
just throwing birdseed out to attract birds. It was amazing all colors and sizes. The prettiest little bird with a black kite tail spent all his
energy bossing all the other birds away. The brightly colored weaver birds make beautiful basket nests during the rainy seasons.
Trees will be full of them gently hanging.
Of course there is the safari ant which will eat you up if you are in its path – they crawl all over you, then with an amazing feat of
synchronization, they all bite at once! We saw a drunken native on a Sunday passed out on our dirt road; too much Changa, a lethal
home brew. If a team of safari ants got him he could lose an eye (the choicest part!)
We met a charming young Kenyan, Dino. He is a Harvard Fellow and an Ethno botanist. He was left in the jungle with Pygmies as a
small child and then adopted by Missionaries and then the owners of Kitengela Glass. He was fascinating as he showed us a rare tree
orchid and how it was pollinated.
There is also a thorny bush that in Swahili they call Wait a bit, as it really traps you with its thorns and you have to wait a bit to
untangle yourself. The Maasai use it to surround their cattle and animals at night to protect them from lions and other predators
Of course there is the hairy caterpillar that drops on you and its hairs stick under your skin and a rash spreads. You can either closely
shave the hairs off or use white vinegar. It is an incredible world out there. There was so much rain and flooding, and Malaria is
really taking its toll. Our friends get Malaria all the time, but the medicine is expensive for natives
Tune in tomorrow to Channel Trishie