Saturday, June 14, 2014

Masai Mara: Day 2 AM

I had a leisurely start to Day 2. D, L, and M were up at 4am to go for a balloon ride; I personally couldn't justify the $450 cost given the amount of safari-ing I have lined up. At about 6:45 Isaac brought tea and biscuits to my tent. I had woken up a lot during the night; between the unfamiliar bed, the morning light, and the hippos right outside, I slept quite lightly.

After getting dressed and grabbing my stuff for the morning I headed to the main lodge for breakfast. They had several tables set up on the terrace overlooking the hippo pools, but I was the only one dining at that time. Breakfast was filling and delicious, and I enjoyed taking time to eat.

Joseph and I were scheduled to set off at 7:30 to pick up the others and go on a game drive; I went back to the formal entrance and waited. I didn't realize there was another pickup spot closer to the lodge. While I waited, though, a large black and white monkey came out of the trees and walked across the wall right in front of me. I didn't have time to grab my camera, but he was so close! Maurice came to see me off, and he agreed that it was probably a black and white colobus and that they occasionally popped into the lodge to steal food. There's an electric fence around camp to keep the big animals out, but fences don't stop monkeys. Or leopards, as we later heard.

Anyway, Joseph found me, and we set off. Right outside the camp gate we ran across a flock of guinea fowl. Then more ellies as we entered the park. Sanctuary Olonana is located just outside the northern border of Masai Mara but still within the Mara Conservancy. The park here is called the Mara Triangle, and the park management is different than the other 2/3 of the park to the east of the Mara River. This side of the park is dominated by the Siria Escarpment, which runs for 60 kilometers through the park and provides a very dramatic backdrop. The gate we used, Oloololo, is next to a section of the park abutting the escarpment and which was the filming location for much of the film Out of Africa. As such, this section of the park is known among the guides as Out of Africa.

We were driving along at a decent clip when both of us did a double take. There, right on the side of the road in the grass, was a male lion! As we stopped to marvel at him, Joseph saw another one walking toward us. As the second one was close to an off-road track and was moving, we decided to head to see him and what he was doing. As we got closer, Joseph jerked the car suddenly to avoid the prone lioness lying in the road. The male settled down near her, and Joseph excitedly said they must be a mating pair. He told me how rare it is to see a mating pair. Sure enough, the male got up and checked in with the female, and we were the lone witnesses to said copulation. It lasted approximately 8 seconds and, Joseph told me, would happen 50 times a day for seven days. What a sight!

We were a bit late to pick up the others so left our new friends lying in the grass and headed off. On our way we passed large herds of various antelope and saw lots of birds. The Mara was teeming with wildlife!

D, L, and M had had an amazing balloon flight, spotting buffalo, elephant, two lions, and even a rhino from the air! We shared stories of our adventures and then set off in search of cats.

Out first sighting was a heavily pregnant spotted hyena, sporting a radio collar as she's a member of a research study. In the same area we saw both bat-eared fox and black-backed jackals, so our canine predator trifecta was complete! I didn't get photos of the latter two, though, as they were a wee bit far away. Plus, I was beginning to think that predators would be super easy to come by so I might as well wait for a great photo. I wasn't really wrong.

We took off in search of cheetah, scouring an area where a female with cubs was known to be, though there had only been a couple sightings of her post-partum so far. As we searched, Joseph heard over the radio that cheetahs had been spotted (get it?) not too far away. So we abandoned our hunt and headed in the other direction. We were driving down the road when Joseph stopped suddenly and started backing up. He said he had seen a snake that had been run over. We backed up until, sure enough, there was a tiny little snake, not more than two feet long. It was not, thankfully, hurt. It was, though, a deadly black mamba. We watched it for a while until Joseph worried it would be run over since it wouldn't leave the road. M lent his GoPro mount, and Joseph coaxed said mamba onto the side of the road. We asked if the babies were also venomous; even more so was the answer, since they have all the venom at a fraction of the size of an adult.

Exhilarated from this exciting detour, we sped on to the cheetahs. And as we reached the spot, where only two other vehicles were parked, the two brother cheetahs descended from their tree and walked away, not far from us. We watched them for as long as we could, until they crested a hill, marveling at their beauty. I haven't seen a cheetah in the wild since 2005, so this was quite magical.

Joseph thought he knew where they were going, so we headed back onto the road to try and follow them. Along the way we found a beautiful herd of topi and stopped to watch them bask in the sun. They have a tendency to bow their heads while they secrete pheromones from a large gland below their eyes, but it gives them a thoughtful look. Very cool.

We emerged on the other side of the hill in time to see the cheetahs heading toward us. They were not afraid of the car at all, walking within a few meters and then stopping at points to survey the savannah. We stayed with them for the better part of an hour, getting some spectacular views as they played with one another, paused for a drink, and generally posed looking awesome.

Finally they walked off on a side of the road where off-track driving is not allowed, so we waved goodbye and headed back to the lodge. Yet again, our game drive was going much longer than expected. We were supposed to be back by 11:00; it was already 12:30, and we were a ways from camp.

On the way back we stopped off at a hippo pool with a squat toilet complex and a ranger, where you can alight from the vehicle and walk to see the hippos. The hippos were huge, as was the one crocodile we saw on the banks. We climbed back in the car and headed back.

We detoured into the Out of Africa section to try and find our mating lions, unsuccessfully. We did see some great elephants though! While we were on the side of the road watching them, a band of mongooses ran out of the grass and swarmed around our truck. They were all making little squeaking noises, and the movement of the 50+ of them was a bit mesmerizing. We watched as they made their way to the shade made by our truck where they all settled in to cool down. Among them were a number of babies, who alternately ran or were carried in the mouths of their mothers. So cute! We finally left them and headed to camp, arriving in time for a late lunch on the terrace.

The beetroot/potato salad and fresh pizza hit the spot after a long day of driving, and I indulged in a facial at the spa before the afternoon drive. Located at the far edge of the camp in a separate tent, the spa has a treatment terrace where you can relax to the sounds of the river and the hippos. Pure bliss!

Guinea fowl!

Dancing elephant :-)

Is this not the most gorgeous sight ever?

Surprise lioness!

Lion mating; the first of many sightings on this trip and the butt of most jokes.

And back to sleep.

Lion prints on the side of the road.

Pregnant hyena with radio collar.

Siria Escarpment in the background.

Baby black mamba!



So majestic.

Pretty poser.

Smile for the camera.

Just look at that beautiful animal.

Time for a drink.


Topi with mud-encrusted antlers.

I love it when the topi stand on termite mounds. It makes me giggle.

Kori bustard, world's heaviest flying bird.

Go home hippo, it's noon and too hot for you!

Baby hippo on the river bank.

OMG I love this landscape.

Bunny in the grass! We spotted this but no lions, interestingly. We found out later we were looking on the wrong side.

I mean, really. This is amazing.

Hello friend!

Banded mongoose.

Seeking shade in our car's shadow. So cute!


Lydia Durant said...

More AMAZING photos-- so incredible to see cheetahs!! WOW, I am so envious!! I want to come next time ;-)

Sadie said...

Yes please! I'll safari with you anytime, anywhere :-).

Nomads By Nature said...

Fascinating! Such wonderful photos, Sadie! And I know they pale to the real experience of it all - but what incredible photos to look back on. And share!! (thank you!)