Exploring the grasslands of Masai Mara
The time was 7.00 p.m. We had just stepped back into our cream colored tent, our secret getaway for the next three days. Although the staff insisted that the furniture and the setting that surrounded me were truly African and quite characteristic of the Masai tribe, I felt more like an Arab princess amidst its high-rise fabric roofs, embroidered cushions, ornate carpets, leather trucks and antique lanterns that I often associated with tales straight out of Arabian Nights. I had just put on my little black dress and was all looking forward to a quiet romantic bonfire dinner with my husband. I was about to grab my jacket as the weather was slowly starting to get a bit chilly when I heard a knock on the door. It was a bit unusual because it was rather late for housekeeping and we definitely hadn’t ordered any room service. “Maybe we are getting a complimentary bottle of wine,” I joked to my husband.
When I opened the door, I was surprised to see a lean old Masai standing outside, his expression almost unreadable yet somewhat menacing. He held a spear in one hand and with the other he supported the red-checked shuka (the Masai blanket) draping his boney frame. His skin was wrinkled with a huge scar that went straight from his lips all the way up to his cheekbones. He was unlike the Masai who had greeted us at the hotel lobby or unlike the pleasant English-speaking Masai who had acted as our guide a few hours ago. He didn’t even look like any of the Masais who had eagerly waved at us as we passed by them, signaling us to stop for a lift or simply to take a picture with them. This man at my door…was probably the oldest I had seen yet. With blood shot eyes, there was something ominous in the way he stood by my doorstep gesturing us to hurry.
He told us in his broken English that he was there to escort us to the restaurant which was just a few minutes’ walk from our tent that was cut off from the rest of the hotel that housed the restaurant and the main lobby. We had specially opted for this tented accommodation located right on the Savannah. The tents had no boundary walls surrounding it and one step outside and you could see the grasslands of Mara stretched out in all its glory right in front of you.
We were a bit surprised and even a bit annoyed as we weren’t expecting company at the time and we definitely didn’t want anyone telling us what time to exit the room for dinner on our holiday. As we stood there staring at him, not budging a bit without having given an explanation for his strange appearance, he simply smiled at us and pointed his spear at something moving in the grass outside.
“Lioness,” he said… “Three of them…they are out on their hunt.”
I peeped outside to see what this strange old man was talking about.
And there right before my eyes, on the grass, at the point where the artificially laid lawn of the hotel met the tall golden grass of the Mara lay three lionesses…majestic, peaceful and extremely beautiful…her golden skin almost shimmering in the moonlit night.
That’s Masai Mara for you…raw, untouched and extremely wild. Known for being one of the finest and the most popular game reserves in Kenya, extending to an area of over 500 square miles, in the grasslands of Mara spotting a lioness relishing a wildebeest or hyenas dragging a kill to its den is nothing out of the ordinary. Vultures preying on a left-over gazelle or a pride of even 15 lions consisting of cubs and lionesses taking an afternoon siesta, quite oblivious of the safari vehicles surrounding them, are all common sights here.
Situated at a mere 140kms from Nairobi, the best way to get to this game reserve is to rent a four-wheel drive from the capital city as the roads leading to the game park is far from smooth or welcoming. And there is no doubt that the best and the most sought after period to visit the magnificent Mara is during migration, also referred to as The Great Migration. From July through October, every year almost a million wildebeests, thompson gazelles and zebras cross over to the Mara from the Serengeti in search of sweeter grass that is specially found in this region during these months. Thousands of wildebeests and zebras grazing on the grasslands of Mara make for an absolutely breathtaking view if you travel to the National park during this time. Though the price you pay can be rather steep, having a packed lunch at a specified picnic spot amidst the countless wild animals makes it well worth it. If you are lucky and you make it at the right time when the animals cross the Mara River you may even see them fall prey to the large number of crocodiles and other predators that anxiously await their arrival this time of the year.
Though there are several game lodges and hotels to enjoy a perfect blend of luxury, elegance with a splash of adventure opt for the several tented options at Mara that offers a little something for those wanting to enjoy nature in all its rawness. If you are staying in one of these luxury tents or camps situated near a water hole and not protected by any boundary walls, you are sure to see a hippopotamus grazing in the night or even a herd of tuskers by simply peeking through the drapes of your tent. Here you are also sure to see a family of baboons fighting over a fallen fruit, watch a single tusker quench his thirst at the river or catch a glimpse of the Masai giraffe nibbling at the acacia while you lounged around in your king size bed, or while savoring a five course gourmet meal at their fancy restaurant or enjoying a rejuvenating massage at its tree-top spa.
Apart from the big five, Masai Mara is so famous for that include lion, leopard, elephant, black rhino and the buffalo, it is also home to plenty of others like the hippopotamus, gazelles, topi, eland, giraffes, crocodiles, cheetah and zebras amongst many others. Mara also sees several birds mostly raptors like the vultures, long-crested eagles or migratory birds like the hornbills, crowned cranes and African pygmy-falcons.