A 30th birthday safari in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve

Complete photo albums –

Lion pride with cubs :: Big cats :: Birds & water animals :: Grazers/herds :: Landscapes/misc animals/random shots

I think it’s difficult to describe going on safari.  Although much is seen, there’s not much to say.  It’s a lot of driving around and watching.  And I don’t mean to detract from the experience by explaining in it that way – it’s a really amazing thing to have the chance to do – but it’s not exactly action-packed.  I saw more animals than I can even begin to estimate, but generally they were in some fairly mundane situations (read: napping or grazing).

a pride of about 15 very sleepy lions near the Musia Swamps

The landscape was truly beautiful, in its typical African Savannah way: Acacia trees dotting the horizon, vast expanses of tall grasses and bush and slow-moving brown rivers winding through it all.  The Masai Mara national reserve in south-western Kenya is actually the northern continuation of Tanzania’s better-known Serengeti reserve.  The Masai Mara has got its own claim to fame though, the Great Wildebeest Migration – a migration of around 2 million animals (mostly wildebeest, but also zebras, gazelles and the like) moving from the Serengeti into the Mara during the months of July through October.  They must cross the Mara River to get to and from their final destinations, an event which has been well-documented as it causes something of a feeding frenzy for the local crocodiles.  As I was visiting in November I did not get to see any of the migration (there were some left-over herds at the Mara River’s edge, looking as if they wanted to cross, but never got around to it while I was watching) however I did see plenty of skeletal remains in and around the river from the vast amount of kills made in the preceding months.

a herd contemplating the Mara river crossing

I may have missed the Great Migration, but instead I was there during the birthing season.  There were loads of adolescent and baby animals.  Especially baby warthogs which could be seen running around almost everywhere after their mother.  My favorite sighting, and possibly the highlight of the entire trip, was a small pride of lions with 5 little cubs, which could not have been more than 8 weeks old.  I had an excellent view of them for a long time and really could have watched them for hours.  As they suddenly appeared, bounding down from behind a small hill while mewing all the way to their mother, it was simply a cute overload.  Yes, cute even as they were digging into some gnu(?) flesh which the mother had ripped off for them.

The Masai Mara reserve is also known for being one of the homes to the Big Five – African elephant, African buffalo, lion, leopard and black rhino.  I was lucky enough to see all of them, although considering the flourishing number of all animals in the Mara, it probably wasn’t unusual.  The leopard and the black rhino were the hardest to find.  I only saw one of each of them; the black rhino a very brief sighting and the leopard I saw much more of, but it was hovering over a kill so did not seem so inclined to make a dash at our appearance.  As for the rest of the Big Five, they were seen in very decent quantities.  I was particularly impressed with the number of lions I saw.  Never once did I go out on safari without seeing lions, they were absolutely everywhere!

The other animals I saw were really too many to recall: cheetahs, hippos (so fun to watch, they make hilarious noises as well), crocodiles, hyenas, jackals, warthogs, Thompson’s gazelles, water buffalo, zebras (fat!), giraffes, vultures, ostriches, Marshall’s eagles (HUGE), secretary birds, colorful small birds of all sorts, mongooses (mongeese?), lizards, baboons, antelope, ibex, elands, gnus…  Yeah.  A lot.  Sometimes you might go a little bit without seeing much of anything, but more often than not, there were animals everywhere you looked.  It was really astonishing and very impressive.  To top it off, they all looked remarkably healthy and happy.  It was nice to see them outside of a zoo for a change, they looked far better off, each one a really stunning specimen in top condition.

As for accommodation, it seems to me that the Masai Mara (as well as most other parks in Africa) are full of more luxury tented camps and lodges than you can shake a stick at.  I stayed in a permanent tented camp site (the tent was fully suited up with a proper bathroom, electricity and everything – it was basically a hotel room…but in a tent) right on the Talek river.  The tent had a nice wooden porch from which you could watch the river and the animals, such as baboons, come down for a drink.  It was very relaxing and peaceful all in all.

Talek river & Masai Mara from the tent porch

The weather was also gorgeous, cool mornings and evenings with dry heat during the day, but I must admit as a desert-dweller I was really hoping for a good couple rain storms (which never came).

So yah, good times!  I think maybe better told through photos though, of which I took more than 800 during my fairly short 4-night/5-day stay!  I’ve posted some of my favorites here, but of course you can see the whole lot (of the 800 I picked through to upload) at my Picasa album.

On a final note about this trip (yeah I ended up writing a lot more than I intended to, or thought I would be able to write about, hah!) it was how I spent my final days as a 20-something.  Upon landing back in Dubai I was officially 30 years old.  A bit crazy to think my days as a 20-something are done and dusted, but I am actually very excited about my 30’s.  I think there are a lot of amazing possibilities for me in this decade and I am really looking forward to it – and cramming in as much world travel as I possibly can!

Next up is a trip to Switzerland in late January.  I am really excited because although I certainly am no fan of cold (or even chilly) weather, I do miss strapping on my snowboard very much!  Most of the time in Switzerland will be spent on the slopes in the ski resort village of Wengen in the Alps (no motorized vehicles are allowed there, I love it!) but I’ll also be making a brief stop in Zürich.

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