We’re back from our safari! We arrived yesterday afternoon at King’s Kids Village (the orphanage), each had a nice hot shower, and then some fantastic Indian food that Jon (Stern, not Beers) made for us. We both got to sleep in this morning (at their guest house, in really comfy beds) and then had some lunch. We’re planning to go to the Village Market and possibly a water park or put-put golf afterwards.
And now for the safari…
After Lake Nakuru, we headed for Masai Mara and arrived late afternoon on Tuesday. Along the way we picked up a woman from China, a guy from Poland, and another guy from India. The two guys were about our age and the woman from China, though we thought she was just a bit older than us, was actually in her early 40s. Once we got to the Masai park, we did a short game drive, but saw giraffe, zebras (I took lots of pictures Kaela, don’t worry!), lots of gazelle/antelope, and a group of 9 lions! The lions were just sleeping in some tall grass near some bushes right next to the road. It was really fascinating to watch them. There weren’t any grown males, just females with their cubs. Our driver, Fred, told us the male lions are lazy and just sleep all day hidden in the bushes, so people don’t see them very often. The females do all of the hunting and rearing of the young lions. After we had our fill of watching the lions, we proceeded out of the park and to our lodge.
We had actually paid for the cheapest option, which would have been camping with sleeping bags, but the site was doing some sort of renovation, so we got to sleep in the tented lodge which was really nice and much better than what we had hoped for. There was a large tent with a tile floor, two beds, a dresser, and a bathroom attached to the back that was a permanent structure and quite nice. There was also a roof of sorts over the tent, so from the outside it almost looks like a small cabin with tent material for ‘doors’. The first night got way colder than we thought it would, so both of us woke up freezing. I was also told by one of the guards, right before we went to sleep, that they sometimes see elephants, cheetahs and/or hyenas in or around the campsite! While I was sleeping I woke up quite a few times hearing strange noises and was a little bit unnerved by them. There were guards walking around throughout the night though so I suppose we were reasonably safe. Although there are boundaries to the park, the animals certainly don’t have to stay within the lines, but are free to walk around where they please and they are wild even if they look cute when driving by them!
The next morning we got up before the sun, had a quick breakfast, and headed out to the park again in hopes of catching the animals a little more awake than in the middle of the day. The entire day was spent in the park driving around! The top of the vehicle we were in popped up so we could stand to see the animals better or take photos. It was rather difficult to stand while moving, but we spent much of the day doing just that as it was lots more fun. During the drive we saw tons of elephants (and got charged by a couple of the males which is rather scary), giraffes, zebras, antelope (there are lots of varieties if I didn’t already mention this), water buffalo, wildebeasts, creasted crane (Uganda’s national bird), ostrich, and warthogs. Most exciting of all though, were the black rhinos we saw.
Black Rhinos are rare as well as endangered and also very shy so it’s difficult to spot them and few tourists do. While we were intently watching a family of elephants, our driver urgently asked to use his binoculars. Before we knew what was going on, we were turned around and heading somewhere very quickly! We asked what he had seen and he told us there were 2 black rhinos and we were going to see if we could catch them. They don’t like the open space so the fact that they were running where we could see them was great. We didn’t get very close before they headed into the bushes, but we were close enough to tell they were definitely black rhinos.
By about mid-day we had made it to the Mara river which is the river the wildebeasts cross when they’re migrating from Masai to Serengetti. If you’ve watched any of the shows about the wildebeast migration, you’ve likely seen this river. It’s not too high right now and the wildebeasts are much fewer in number at Masai since the vast majority of them have migrated (millions). Hippos and crocs also live in this river, so we saw lots of hippos and several crocs. The hippos group themselves according to family units and spend most of their time submerged in the water except for their heads. They also make the strangest noises! I took a video so I could remember the crazy sounds they made. Hippos also like to fight with each other so some of them were taunting the others and they’d get in little skirmishes and then go back to floating. The crocs were less exciting and I’m not even sure I would have spotted them if it hadn’t been for the guide. They didn’t hardly move and all I could really see were their nostrils!
After viewing the hippos and crocs we carried on across the river and found a little picnic area to eat our packed lunches. Thankfully the picnic spot also had a restroom…by the time we ate lunch we had been away from our campsite for nearly 7 hours, so you can imagine how glad I was to see a bathroom!
We had about an hour break and then headed to the Masai village. The Masai people live very simple lives and have little to no technology. They are one of the most famous African tribes and the people usually depicted in magazines like National Geographic. There are many different Masai groups, but they are all related and have at least some similarities. The most famous of these groups is the group near Ambroseli, not near Masai, but we were still excited to meet these people and see how they live.
The man who lead us around their village was the first born son of the chief and seemed very well educated. Most of the members of the tribe, or at least the men anyway, do get a modern education. Before we actually entered the village, we met some of the villagers outside and a few of the men did a welcome dance for us (it mostly consisted of them jumping up and down!). Jon got to join in on this part. Once we entered the village, we toured one house, which was smaller than most rooms in an average American house, and the whole compound of this particular village. Inside the tiny houses is a room for the baby animals which are kept there until they are about 3 weeks old at which time they leave the house and go with the herd. The houses are all made of sticks and cow dung and constructed by the women! The men, from what we could gather, only tended to the sheep, goats, and cows. The women did all the rest, including building and carrying water from ‘nearby’ streams! A small group of women also did a dance for us and a girl on our safari and I joined in on this dance. :) The village is basically a large circle with sticks as a fence to create a barrier for protection from the wild animals. Inside the fence are many houses as well as a smaller circle fence where the animals are kept at night. Just outside the fence of the village is a small market area where the women sell different craft items for extra money. When we asked what the people do for an income, we were told that a great source of their income is actually tourists. They make some money from selling an occasional cow, but it seemed that the majority of their income was made by showing visitors how they live.
The younger men were really easy to talk to and we were able to ask all sorts of questions. We found out the reason they wear red is to stand out when they are herding in order to be seen and also to be seen when hunting so another hunter doesn’t shoot one of their own. The red color is also protective against wild animals as they seem to be afraid of it. In respect to the large holes they put in their ear lobes, this is for decoration or beauty. They use a small spear to create a hole and then slowly make it enlarge. The women often put beads around their ears and some of the men even put the lower lobe of the ear over the top of the top portion! We also learned where they get the dye for the red cloth, and it’s found in a green plant that is a member of the mint family. The plant itself didn’t smell like mint, but it definitely looked like it. Another great thing we found out is the young men actually do have to kill a lion. They don’t each kill one, but rather a group of them go out to kill one. Once they have done this, they can find respect from their village members and are allowed to wear a lion tooth around their neck for good luck.
All in all, the experience was very interesting and humbling to see how simple these people live.
The next day we headed out again before the sun for a short game drive before heading back to Nairobi. We got to see lions again (our guide spotted them…none of us would have noticed at all!), but unfortunately still no cheetahs. Although not seeing a cheetah was disappointing, we just decided it just means we’ll have to come back some day!
On our way back to Nairobi, we picked up a guy from Germany who needed to catch his flight back home. Somehow through the course of the drive, Christianity came up and we had quite the conversation! There were six tourists in the van and 3 of us Christian. The other woman that was on the safari with us is from China and her story was quite incredible. She grew up being taught there was no god and you should not rely on anyone but yourself. Through much searching and some missionaries who were teachers at her school, she finally came to be a Christian about 10 years ago. The German guy was trying to use every type of reason and science to explain how foolish all of us were and I found it a bit frustrating because his arguments were anything but reasonable. Beth (the Chinese lady), however, had lots of patience with him and very much understood his lack of faith. She told him she would pray for him and that with time he would understand. It was pretty incredible!
We finally made our way to Nairobi and have been here since Thursday afternoon. Yesterday we went to a water park which was lots of fun. It was great taking a trip back to childhood for a few hours and having Sarah and Joe around makes this much easier! Today we went to a shopping market where Molly got some great bargains and I picked out some African fabrics. We then got to visit the New Life Home (a home for abandoned babies) which was wonderful as you said Arlene. The home itself is beautiful and very much baby/toddler friendly. Most of the kids were sleeping, but I did get to hold one adorable little girl.
After the baby home, we went downtown for a few hours and then came back to the Sterns’. We leave bright and early tomorrow morning for Kampala and then leave on Wednesday for home! It’s been a great trip, but both of us are ready to get home and back to our normal.
Oh, we are going to be getting together with Chris and Jane Palacas as well. Chris called Thursday and said somehow their phone had quit working entirely so they lost all of their contacts! They had just found the piece of paper they wrote my number on so we’ll finally meet up with them.
This will likely be my last blog as we’ll be home in just a few short days! See you all soon!