03.01.2012 - 03.01.2012
Morning came early with a 6:30 a.m. calling for the sunrise game drive. The sun was trying to push it’s way over the surrounding hills as our vans drove out into the bush. Having seen four of the big five yesterday afternoon, everyone’s eyes were open wide with hopes of spotting the elusive rhinoceros. While black rhinos are more numerous than the whites, both sub-species are endangered and not seen nearly as often as the large animals. We drove around for miles until nearly 9 a.m. Along the way, herds of elephants, buffalos, zebras and impalas were grazing. At one point, another cheetah posed for us before trotting between the vans to head off for the morning hunt. We also spotted different varieties of birds along the road. However, no lonely rhinos were out for breakfast wherever we wandered.
Arriving back at the lodge, we were all ready for a big breakfast and then a walk around the grounds to wear it off. We travelled down the elevated path again to view the hippos and then sat on one of the side decks to watch for other animal visitors until 10:30 or so. Everyone met in the lobby before 11:00 a.m. for a trip to the nearest Masai village.
The Masai people have lived in this area for hundreds of years. They are nomadic people who base their society on cattle. Their traditions have it that the Masai were once the sole owners of all the cattle in the world. They settle in one area for no more than three years and the men herd their cattle, goats and sheep out to different grass lands each day. At the end of the day, the livestock is brought back to the village to be kept within the village compound.
The “corrals” constructed of sticks and brush we saw yesterday are the “city walls.” Inside are the homes as well as open space for the animals. The homes are built with a framework of sticks that are covered a plaster made of mud and cow dung. Inside there are three rooms, two bedrooms (one for adults and one for children—each room only as big as a bed) and a small, central area where a fire burns on the floor. In the room above the fire is a small hole for the smoke to escape. With no windows and no lights, it is pitch dark inside. This is a polygamous society, so one man will build a home for himself and his wife. When he marries his second wife, he builds a second home next to the first...and so on as he continues to marry again and again.
When we first stepped out of the vans, the young men of the tribe gathered, garbed in their bright red cotton outfits, beads and jewelry, black cord wigs resembling braids, and some with large hats made from lion or leopard skins. Although hunting lions is no longer allowed, but traditionally the Masai warriors were known for their prowess at hunting the huge cats; in fact, killing a lion was considered a rite of passage for a young man. The dancers eventually pulled some of our group into their ranks to dance and jump; it was quite a spectacle! Then the chief’s son and another young man narrated a demonstrated how they create fire by spinning an olive wood stick in a grooved sliver of cedar wood. It took less than a minute for smoke to appear. John gladly accepted the offer of the “fire making kit”...for a nominal fee.
By this time, many of the women and children had gathered round to see us. Many of us had brought simple gifts or treats for the people: pencils and paper for the children, baseball caps for the young men, and—our contribution—individual packages of trail mix for the women. The women entertained us all with a song as a show of gratitude. Finally, they brought us into a small area ringed with neat tables made of sticks and dung plaster that were arrayed with jewelry and wood carvings created by their own hands. They were hard bargainers, but everyone in our group had made some purchase by the time we boarded the vans for the ride back to the lodge.
Late lunch and a walk around the grounds filled the period of time between our return and the scheduled 4:30 game drive. One way to stay entertained was to watch the Vervin monkeys cavort on the lawn and in the trees. There was quite a downpour for 20-30 minutes, which is normal as this is just the start of the rainy season. The occasional shower has helped to keep the temperature tolerable, though; we’ve only had a short period on one day that was warm enough to bring on a sweat.
The afternoon game drive — the last one scheduled — took us out onto the now slick and muddy roads. We travelled about for an hour and a half or so...until the rain started again in earnest and Benson, our driver, headed back to the lodge with real purpose. We had experienced large enough mud holes and slick roads in the past without trying to navigate through an additional inch or two of water. The rhinoceros eluded us again — so we decided we would have to settle for the “Big Four”.
Along the way, we did see herds of more zebras… oddly enough, we stopped slowing for zebras because they are everywhere-including the front lawn. There were more elephants and buffaloes and giraffes that were very close.
The biggest thrills of the afternoon presented themselves just before the rain started again. Sitting in a lone standing tree, upon a branch 25 feet in the air was a young leopard. He remained oblivions to the half dozen vehicles parked below him. Then shortly after that, we came upon a pride often lions, a young male and mine lionesses and their young. All of them were asleep in the tall grass, so getting a good picture was impossible; the blend right into their surroundings, but the young male poked his head up when he heard an electronic beep of a camera. A perfect ending to our drive!
Back at the lodge, we ate dinner and watched a movie and sacked out. Tomorrow is the long drive back to Nairobi.
Note: Lions have been celebrated throughout history for their courage and strength. They once roamed most of Africa and parts of Asia and Europe. Today they are found only in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, except for one very small population of Asian lions that survives in India's Gir Forest.
Other than humans, African buffalo have few predators and are capable of defending themselves against (and killing) lions. Lions do kill and eat buffalo regularly, but it typically takes multiple lions to bring down a single adult buffalo.