The Final Kenya blog, 2016
Today is Paul and my last day in Kenya. The good news is that we don’t fly out of the Mara until four p.m. so we get to take a morning game drive and have one last bush breakfast. Whatever this morning brings will just be icing on the cake because what a wonderful variety we have experienced throughout our safari. The young man from New Zealand is going with us this morning.
There is a beautiful sunrise this morning and no sign of haze or fog. It is going to be a gorgeous morning! David and Kapen decide to cross the river and see if Frank and Jesse have stayed on that side since they were not with the pride last night. Say what?? We question our guides on why Frank and Jesse would be on the other side of the river since they stayed on this side of the river the three days they were separated from the rest of the pride. “No, not the abandoned cubs, the two brothers that are the adult males of the pride” David tells us. What the heck, Paul and I thought the cubs were named Frank and Jesse when all along Frank and Jesse were the big males that run the pride. The two males were dubbed Frank and Jesse because they are brothers and the duo stole the pride from the single male lion that had been the king of the Offbeat Pride. I thought we had been getting a few funny looks from people when we kept lamenting Frank and Jesse’s predicament!
David drives for quite a while in the area but there is absolutely nothing to be seen. All the grazing mammals we saw yesterday have vanished and we do not find Frank and Jesse. David and Kapen survey the surroundings with their binoculars looking for wild animals of any kind. David or Kapen see something across the river on the farthest ridge and speak to one another excitedly in Maa or Swahili. David then tells Paul and me to look along the ridge near a certain tree because they have seen either Frank or Jesse. Sure enough, standing on the horizon is a beautiful male lion in what is a classic head lifted proudly, I’m the king, pose.
David drives back to the river crossing and twenty minutes later we arrive at the place where the big male was spotted. The handsome male with a thick, reddish-brown mane, (our guides identify him as Jesse), is lying down and two lioness are also resting nearby. We spend some time with the sleepy trio but soon leave them because a couple hundred yards away a number of lions are piled together obviously feeding on something. Frank, who has a much darker mane than Jesse, is recumbent not far from the scrum of feeding felines. David maneuvers the Cruiser very close to the group that is eating so we are able to observe and hear all the interaction of the lions.
There are seven big cubs and a lioness still licking and chewing on what little is left of an impala. One of the cubs is dominating the other cubs and if they get to close to the part of the bony carcass it has latched on to, the feisty rascal will lay its ears back and growl deeply at his pride mates occasionally lashing out with its front paws. The lioness is feeding right across from the aggressive cub but it knows better than to challenge the adult. Our New Zealand companion is astonished at the sound of the chewing and crunching the feasting lions are making. Frank stands up and smells the ground not far from the kill which causes him to open his mouth and curl his lips, making it appear that he is snarling. A cub gets up from the mob and rubs against Frank, (who is rather thin), and the big male seems fine with this act of affection from the little guy.
As usual there is a jackal skulking as close to the lions as it dares, while three hyenas are slinking around at a safer distance hoping that something will be left for them to scavenge. There is another lioness and cub lazing a few yards from the group that are still scrapping for the leftovers. That makes four lionesses, eight cubs and Frank and Jesse but I forgot to ask if this was all the members of the pride darn it. Anyway, an impala for this many lions is hardly a snack let alone a fulfilling meal. No wonder the felines are working at getting every bit of edible worth out of their kill.
Eventually the dining lions begin to drift away from the remains of the impala, starting with the lioness. The pretty female runs her tongue over a couple of the cubs then stands up, walks in front of our vehicle, then joins the other lioness and cub. One by one the cubs abandon the carcass, one cub passes by carrying a leg bone of the unlucky impala, and they flop down next to the two lionesses. With the departure of the other lions, Frank decides to gnaw and lick on the skull and spine that was left behind. Now that there is only one lion to keep an eye on, the spry jackal darts in then quickly retreats several times, searching for any tidbits the lions might have missed.
Jesse is now walking towards us with his head hung low and he is staring at his brother Frank. David informed us that Frank used to be the dominate male but Jesse has now taken over that position. By Jesses’ posture we wonder if Frank has committed some pecking order crime and is about to pay the price for it. As Jesse approaches his brother, he stops to smell the ground in the same area Frank had earlier. Jesse’s reaction is exactly the same as his brothers, his mouth opens and lips curl in what appears to be a reaction to some pungent smell in the grass. Frank doesn’t stop licking and chewing on the skull and Jesse walks over and sniffs at his brother’s head. Then he lies down and rolls over in what could almost be seen as a submissive posture. So much for the idea that an altercation might take place!
Frank gives up on getting anything worthwhile from the spine and skull of the impala and rises to his feet and walks in the direction of the cubs and lionesses. Jesse decides to see if he can lick off anything of worth from the skull now but after a couple of swipes of his tongue he too gives up. The impertinent jackal has come quite close to Jesse and the big male sits up and stares at the little whippersnapper! Jesse stands up and starts to walk towards the jackal and then suddenly veers off in what appears to be an “it’s not worth the energy to chase the varmint” decision. As the lions are all retreating for some nearby bushes to beat the heat, we decide that we will move on to see what else might be awaiting us.
A few minutes’ drive from the lions we come upon a group of Thompson gazelle where the ewes are tightly together. The male is snorting and prancing around the herd’s perimeter. One ewe breaks from the herd and runs towards a few gazelle in the distance. The ram snorts with anger and chases after the stray but the ewe manages to escape despite the rams determined pursuit and ends up with the distant gazelle. David tells us that by the way the ram is acting, (grunting, snorting, and hyper), that he has more than likely just defeated the ram that used to be in control of the harem. The ewes are staying bunched tight under the patrolling ram but seem to be looking longingly at the few gazelle that the recalcitrant ewe ran off to join. My guess is that the victorious ram better enjoy his spoils of war while he can because losing the ewes to another ram will likely be his fate in a few weeks!
As we continue driving through the lush landscape on this blue-sky morning we encounter a nice herd of topi sporting their blue jeans and yellow knee socks. The uniquely marked animals mostly ignore us and continue grazing or resting when we stop to enjoy them.
David and Kapen lay out our last bush breakfast on top of a hill where we can enjoy the vastness of the Mara. We are surrounded by various plains grazers in the distance and it is a perfect way to enjoy our meal. We also watch David and Kapen as they scan the area with their binoculars, confer with one another, scan again, gesture and eventually come up with a plan for driving back to camp I guess. This is one thing Paul and I got such a kick out of on all our game drives with the two young men as they constantly consulted one another on everything!
Our drive back to camp is serene and beautiful and we just sit back in the Cruiser and soak in the wildness of the Mara. The two guides drive back to the river and show us that if we had not crossed back over the river this morning due to seeing Frank and Jesse on the horizon, we likely would have been stranded. The river level has risen dramatically, and though we didn’t have much rain last night, somebody sure did. David informs us we might not have made it to the airstrip even though our flight was in the afternoon. Well, I’m not sure that scenario would have been all that bad:).
Once we get back to camp it is time to face the fact that we have to go home. Paul and I have ordered showers before lunch and we also get most of our things packed. When we go to lunch I take all the things like bug repellant and lotion we didn’t use up and ask Lara if they want such things. Lara says absolutely, that most people do leave things like this with them rather than haul them back home. Great! At lunch we relate the story of our misunderstanding about thinking the cubs were named Frank and Jesse. Lara laughs and says “we wondered why you guys were so worried about Frank and Jesse, now it all makes sense!”
Even though our plane doesn’t leave until four p.m. Kyle suggests we take off shortly after lunch so if we see anything interesting along the way we will have time to stop and enjoy it. We agree with this plan and go back to the tent to brush our teeth and finish packing. Wilson comes to help get our luggage and Paul, who has brought postcards with his stone fence featured on them, asks Wilson if he would like to have one. Wilson says yes, hesitates, and then asks if he might have one of the photos of our cows too! Paul laughs out loud and pulls the photos out to let Wilson choose the one he wants. He picks the photo of our cows that are standing on our hill to the southwest of our house. The photo also shows our homestead in the background. What a delightful young man Wilson is.
We profusely thank Kyle and Lara for their hospitality and for taking such good care of us. Paul promises that he will give the camp an excellent review on Trip Advisor too. David and Kapen are waiting to take us to the airstrip and we wave goodbye as the Cruiser takes us out of Offbeat Mara camp for the last time.
Kyle was right; we do see things that are worth taking some extra time for. We stop to watch a cape buffalo enjoying a roll in the mud. There is a pair of grey crowned cranes strolling through the long grass. David drives us to a different part of the Mara River and in a bend of the river a large raft of hippo are residing. We get out and have a last look at the river horses that don’t seem at all happy to see us. The grey beasts do a lot of grunting, submerging and gaping while we look on. Finally we leave the noisy hippos and make our way to the small airstrip.
Our plane hasn’t arrived yet so we take this time to give David and Kapen their well-earned tips plus thank them for doing such a spectacular job. Kapen leaves to greet some friends and Paul thinks to ask David if he would like one of our ranch photos. He smiles widely and says that he would indeed. David too, picks one of the photos that contains our black cows, (what a surprise), and thanks Paul for it. Our Air Kenya plane arrives shortly after and I hold my breath wondering if the fifteen seater plane will get stopped in time on this short runway. Whew, it does come to a stop in time but the brakes sure did squeal.
David and Kapen carry our luggage out to the plane and hand it over to the pilot who stashes it in the luggage compartment under the belly of the aircraft. We shake hands and say goodbye to our two guides who then walk back to the Cruiser. The pilot tells us that there is another passenger on this flight but if he doesn’t show up within a few minutes they will leave. As we visit with the pilot, he naturally asks us where we are from. When we tell him Kansas, his face lights up and he tells us that he took his pilot training for flying Cessna’s in Oklahoma! It really is a small world.
The other passenger does show up and as we prepare to crawl into the Cessna, we wave goodbye again to David and Kapen who are standing along the airstrip. Once we are all strapped in and the pilot and copilot have gone through their checks, they start the plane trundling down the bumpy runway. We turn around at the end and start back with much more speed. The plane lifts off the ground and as I look through my window I see David in his bright red Masai outfit waving with both hands to Paul and me. I wave back and all my resolve to not cry when I leave Africa this time is broken. I watch through blurry eyes as the grassland of the Mara and the scattered antelope grazing on it recede and then it is gone. Nancy