We are now at Fig Tree Camp, which is situated on the Mara River in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in south-western Kenya. This huge expanse of open plains is actually the northern continuation of the Serengeti National Park game reserve in Tanzania. It is named after the Maasai people (the traditional inhabitants of the area) and their description of the area when looked at from afar. Their word “Maa” means “spotted,” an appropriate description for the circles of trees, scrub, savanna, and cloud shadows that mark this open area of grassland. The Nature Reserve covers some 1510 square kilometers.
The Mara is famous for its large population of big cats, and the annual migration of zebra, Thomson’s gazelle, and wildebeest from the Serengeti every year from July to October as they follow the cycle of available feed. This migration so immense that it is known as the Great Serengeti Migration.
Being on Safari is hard work! We are up at 5:30 every morning, off on a game drive at 6:30 for the morning, back to the lodge far a late lunch and then out again from about 3:00 pm. When we return at about 6:30 pm, there’s just enough time for a quick shower, uploading of photos onto computers, dinner and then to bed to start all over again.
Our day yesterday, began with a hot air balloon ride. It was a wonderful way to see the sunrise and the massive herds of wildebeest and zebra on the plains below. Our pilot was an Australian. Alan, who knew the pilot who had taken us over Capadoccia in Turkey and my friend Rob Robertson with whom I worked at Control Data. There were five balloons flying, along with about eight others from different companies. At the end, we had a traditional champagne breakfast in the open.
We were picked up after breakfast by Joseph, one of our two drivers. He is a Maasi and, as a young man, went through the initiation process as a Maasi Warrior. He is now one of the custodians of Maasi culture and he knows this area well, having sent an entire year in the bush during his training.
He had heard over the radio that a large herd of wildebeest were gathering at one place to cross the Mara River. Word had clearly got around over the radio system, as there were 35 other vehicles assembled at the spot waiting to see this remarkable event. On the other side of the river, we could see thousands of wildebeest gathering. They looked as though they would cross soon in a mad stampede. Some of the signs were good. We could see vultures circling in the sky, as somehow they knew that a number of animals would be killed in the rush, or taken by crocodiles, and they would be in for a good feed. For some reason, known only to themselves, this gigantic herd decided to move further along the river and we gave up waiting. We had already sat watching for a couple of hours, and with nothing happening, we decided to go and look for other things.
Throughout the day, we saw lion, gazelle, topi, many birds (including a Secretary Bird) and a jackal. Some lions were in pairs, or as individuals. Many were in family groups of up to fifteen animals. On the previous evening, we had come across a large pride – two males, about five lionesses and eight large cubs. We watched as two of these large lionesses stalked some buffalo but they were out of luck on this occasion as the buffalo were just able to outrun them.
More of the Mara today as we venture across to the other side of the river to see what we can find.