Masi Mara, Kenya

This is the first half of a letter from Mt. Kenya National Park.  It deals with our trip to the Masai Mara.  The second half of the letter will be in the post from Mt. Kenya.


April 27, 2012

Nanyuki, Kenya

(Mt. Kenya National Park)

Dear Friends,

Victor, the deputy chief of the radio project for South Sudan, asked me why Americans want to come to Africa to see animals.  It’s people he is interested in.  I gave some feeble answer about how we had seen elephants, (Barbapapa) lions (Lion King) and hippos (Hungry, Hungry Hippo) in kids’ books and wanted to see them ourselves.  But as the progress of our interrupted safari continues I understand more what he means.  Several times we have been solicited at the various national parks or game reserves to help “save the animals.” Not once did anyone ask us for money to help save people.

This is an interrupted safari (safari is Swahili for “journey” perhaps my whole life has been an interrupted safari) because the first two and a half days we spent in the Masai Mara and the second three and a half at Mt. Kenya National Park.  The Masai Mara is the Kenyan extension the Serengeti Plain across the border in Tanzania.  We flew to a lodge on the Mara River in a small plane (spectacular in itself) early Sunday morning and flew back to Nairobi Tuesday midmorning so I could put in time at the office.

I once read a report in “The Economist” on research where subjects were hooked up to monitoring devices and shown photos of different landscapes.  The researchers thought water would have the most calming effect but it turns out that pictures of East Africa’s savannah were more calming.  Researchers were baffled and could only posit that this is where humankind evolved so something deep inside responded to these scenes. It certainly had that effect on me.  While I will not soon forsake my Alaska seascape for views over the Masai Mara with its rolling prairie, spotted with trees (“Mara” means spotted), the region has magnetism.  There is such abundance.  I wonder if our West looked something like this before the plow broke the plains and the bison were decimated.

The Serena Safari Lodge looks like it was designed by Antoni Gaudi, with curves and swoops and colors taking it beyond Art Nouveau. Sometimes well beyond, like Art Nouveau meets 50s Jersey Shore.  We set off in Land Cruisers for game drives each morning, early, and each afternoon taking in dawn and dusk.  We saw too many species to name, or for that matter remember, but memorable were the cheetah, elephants, hippos and impala running across the plain.  Monday morning after having been out for a bit more than than two hours we pulled up for breakfast by a hippo pool where could watch those huge beasts along with impressive crocs.

It’s rainy season, which means that we can travel without seeing other land cruisers.  It also means cars get stuck.  Twice our guide had to call for a tow out of mud holes.  I say call and not radio because there is cell service.  Grossly out of proportion “trees” poke up from high spots.  They are concrete cell phone towers with the antenna hidden by plastic leaves.  All of this was is search of lions, which we never saw. When it rains they go to high ground.  They are cats and don’t like water. We may be the only safari goers in the whole Serengeti not to encounter “the King.”  Everyone else at the lodge (there were only 15, it has a capacity of 150) saw lions.  It became running joke. But we were more than pleased.  The weather added to the drama of the landscape, sun, rolling thunder storms, rain, sun breaking through, rainbows.  Between game drives I spent most of my time watching the landscape over the Mara River.   We could see giraffe, antelope, oryx, warthog, topi and other residents.  I also got in some swimming and reading.  This is a relaxed safari.  In the evenings there was a campfire with a guy singing camp songs like “you are my sunshine” and some Bob Dylan pieces. (At the hotel in Nairobi some guy with a guitar was singing “City of New Orleans” in Swahili.)   Suzi recalled a Girl Scout song;

“Have you ever watched a campfire, when the wood has fallen low, and the ashes start to whiten round the embers’ crimson glow. With the night sounds all around you….”

The night sounds, bellowing hippo calling from the river providing the bass line for insects and frogs.

We went to sleep with those sounds and woke up to the sound of a premature alarm clock.  Remember those cell phone towers?  Suzi and I, like almost everyone else at the lodge, use cell phones for alarm clocks. Cellphone clocks automatically sync with the cell towers. Somehow the Orange cellphone company tripped up and set its clocks three hours early so alarms went off at 2:30 or quarter to three rather than a 5:30 or quarter to six.  A rooster would have worked better.

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