The Mara part 14 206
Last night after dinner, Kyle and Laura asked Paul and me if we would mind sharing our vehicle with the German couple tomorrow morning and of course we said the shared game drive was fine. The four of us converge by the dining tent at six a.m. this morning where David and Kapen are waiting with the Cruiser.
The Mara is cloaked in a heavy fog this morning which is going to make game viewing quite difficult. The haze is so thick that even sound seems to be muffled adding to the mystique of the eerie morning. On the hillside we are able to see ghostly shapes of giraffe and the vague outline of the gentle giants is surreal to say the least. On the ridge line a mixed herd of impalas and topi are barely visible, and we must identify the antelope by the shape of their horns. A warthog is sitting near the track and for once it doesn’t take off running, maybe because it can’t see more than a few feet ahead and it is too dangerous to run blindly into the fog bank.
The sun begins to thin the stubborn fog after an hour or so, and when we drive on top of the hills there is actually blue sky. As soon as we descend into the valleys however the fog still covers much of the landscape wrapping itself around the trees and lying thickly in low spots. As we get closer to our destination, the Mara River which is the northern boundary of the Mara North Conservancy, the sunshine is slowly but surely burning the thick fog away.
David and Kapen point to a lioness that is striding through the wet grass where she is heading for some nearby bushes. Since there are several vehicles in the area, either parked or driving slowly around the clumps of bushes, we aren’t surprised when David tells us that the Acacia pride is sheltering in the thickets. The lioness finds a suitable bush and walks into the leafy shelter and lies down. David begins to circle the various patches of brush and we can see bits and pieces of lions as they lay sleeping inside the thick foliage. One lioness hasn’t bothered to find cover and is lying flat on her side in the grass sound asleep.
Since it appears there will be no activity from the lazy pride, David moves on to see if they can find the two adult males that belong to the Acacia pride. David and Kapen must have talked to other guides as they drive to a specific place where the bushes are very thick. David drives slowly in and around the scrub covered ground and on a second pass we can just see the mane and chest of one of the males. There is even less to see of the second male as he is lying deeper in the cover of the bush. We also see a bristly patch of hair that is part of what is left of the warthog. David tells us that the females killed the warthog but the males took possession of the kill and drug the carcass into the safety of the bushes, keeping the whole hog for themselves. Our guides also say that the Acacia pride had 22 cubs this year but the cubs contracted mange and only eight cubs survived!
When we leave the lions we drive into an area of the conservancy where flat-topped Acacia trees among others dot the beautiful grassland as far as the eye can see. The scene that is spread out before us is just breath-taking as the sun lights up a variety of plains animals while remnants of fog and a darker sky are in the background. Wow, an indelible image to say the least. As we drive through what almost seems a dreamscape, there are two young bull giraffe mock fighting. They sidle up to each other and then take aim at one another by swinging their long necks and landing a blow on their opponent with their heads. It would be the human equivalent of using a mace I guess. I saw a program that says a mature bull giraffes’ head weighs fifty pounds so imagine the damage that could cause your enemy!
We can see a sliver of the Mara River beyond a large herd of impalas that are glowing in the bright sunlight. Even from this distance we can tell that a lot of water is rushing between the rivers’ banks. When we arrive at the river all of us climb out of the Cruiser to gape at the rushing water and the huge raft of hippo that are mostly submerged in the muddy water. David begins to unload everything needed for our breakfast which we will eat while overlooking this wild scene. Kapen walks with us tourists along the edge of the river, but not too close to the edge, as we look down at the active hippos.
The current is really strong in the main part of the river and even along the bend of the river where the hippos are situated; the current is still tugging on the massive animals. We watch as two youngsters emulate the adult gaping as they touch muzzles, which I assume is a pecking order thing among adults. We witnessed this gaping lip to lip contact several times among the mature hippos and it didn’t look to be a friendly encounter!
Paul and I watch a monster hippo as it appears to be trying to hold a smaller hippo underwater. It suddenly dawns on us that perhaps the hippos are mating. Since Kapen has left us to help set out our meal, Paul wanders over to the guides to report what we have witnessed. Sure enough, David tells Paul that in order to mate; the female hippo must lie flat on the river bottom in order for the male to be able to mate with her. The problem seems to be that this female isn’t really ready to mate and hence continues to battle her way to the surface. Facing off with the big male in a gaping battle is hopeless for the feisty female. Finally in frustration the small female retreats to the middle of the river, where she settles in a heavy current that she must fight relentlessly in order to maintain her position there in order not to be swept downstream. The male follows her but he too ends up putting all his effort into staying put! The two were still struggling in the forceful current while we ate breakfast and after we left and I can’t imagine how long their strength will hold up in that situation.
Eating breakfast by the river was quite different from our other peaceful breakfasts in the bush. The sound of the rushing river, mingled with the constant grunting and complaining of the bloat of hippos made for a noisy breakfast but we sure had a variety of behavior from the blubbery hippos to watch while we enjoyed our meal.
Once we have left the river, David drives back to where the Acacia pride was lounging to see if anything has changed. They are still sleeping in the shade of the bushes so we begin our drive back to camp. David drives through the valley where we found Amani yesterday and Kapen spots the cheetah lying in the shade of a short tree. Amani raises her head to look at us and then lashes her tail as if to relate her irritation that these pesky tourists are staring at her again. We can’t drive closer as the ground between Amani and us is very marshy but we feel privileged to have seen the cheetah four days in a row! There are a few elephants about not far from the lounging cheetah and we stop to watch one spray himself with mud. We also marvel at the brilliant red and blue color of an agama lizard that is perched in the top of a small bush.
We make it back to camp an hour before lunch and I remind myself at how hard our guides, particularly the driver, works on these game drives. We have been gone for six hours this morning! The guides are always cheerful and try to answer any questions we have, while searching endlessly for wild animals. You can’t help but admire them.
A young man from New Zealand has arrived while the four of us have been out this morning. We learn that he has quit his job in Boston and is joining a friend in Kenya in hopes of landing a job with a nonprofit organization. I can’t imagine quitting your job before you have another lined up but then the man is quite young and full of optimism. We all wish him good luck in his endeavor.
This afternoon Paul and I are finally getting to take a bush walk. Kyle and Kapen are leading us; Kyle carries a rifle while Kapen carries a bow with arrows. One might find the bow and arrow a bit amusing except this man is a Masai and I have no doubt that he is a deadly shot with the antiquated weapon. Not far from camp we watch some elephants in the distance as they feed in the long grass. Walking just gives you a whole different perspective, for one thing you feel very small in the scheme of things!
Kyle schools us on the many different trees and bushes, including the toothbrush tree and the sandpaper tree. Kapen relates the story of when he and a friend were in the bush when a lion attacked them. His friend ran away and climbed a tree and left Kapen to fight off the lion alone, which he obviously did or he wouldn’t be relating the tale. He shows us the large scar next to his knee where the lion bit him but the lion payed for that wound with his life. I can’t even imagine facing such a fierce opponent with only a spear and winning the battle.
As the four of us traipse up the hill that looks down on the camp ground we see scattered across the hillsides, topi, Grant’s and Thompson gazelle, impalas and a giraffe with a very young baby. Again the feeling is totally different gazing at these animals with your feet on the ground. As the four of us are soaking in the beauty of the landscape in the early evening light we see a lion far below us approximately where we saw Frank and Jesse last night. There are a couple of vehicles there too and pretty soon another lion appears, then another, and another. By the time the parade of lions has ended there are nine of the tawny felines, a good portion of the Offbeat pride. The people in the Cruisers are getting a front row view as the lions walk or lay practically next to the trucks. I for one am tickled with our hillside seats as the lowering sun makes the lions glow like pieces of gold. The pride is too far away for a decent photo but I take a documentary photo of two of the group that are farther away from the vehicles and other lions. What a wonderful way to end our lovely trek plus no more worrying about Frank and Jesse!
When we return to camp, Paul and I are relaxing in our tent before dinner when Wilson, the young man who usually escorts us between the dining tent and our tent, calls to us from our tent porch asking if we want to see lions. Paul and I assume he wants us to load up in a vehicle and drive to where the pride was while we were walking. We thank him for the offer but say no thank you. Wilson asks in a puzzling voice, “you don’t want to see the lion”? This makes me feel guilty, the young man must think we are getting jaded, and I get up, walk to the tent flap, unzip it and stick my head out of the opening. My mouth falls open as I see a beautiful lioness walking along the far edge of the tall grass that borders our tent. I rush back into the tent to get the camera but when I get back the lioness is gone. Paul who came to look as soon as he saw and heard my reaction was able to catch a glimpse of our visitor before she disappeared.
We apologize profusely to Wilson and tell him we thought he wanted us to leave in the Cruiser to go look at the pride. He laughs good-naturedly at our stupidity and since we couldn’t get a photo of the lioness, we take Wilson’s photo instead! Since it is nearly time for dinner, Wilson just waits for us to get our shoes on and then escorts us to the mess tent. We quiz our friendly chaperone on where the lioness has gone and if she could be hidden in the tall grass that we are walking next to. Wilson shrugs his shoulders and says “Oh no, she has gone that way” and he waves vaguely in the direction away from the camp. Since it is pretty dark by now we would never know if the lioness had bedded down in the tall grass! Our story about Wilson and the lioness by our tent does make good dinner conversation :).