Monday, February 28, 2011

The Masai Mara... no, really

Yes. At long last, through many a trial and tribulation, we have attained the fruited land of action that is the Masai Mara. Car-wise, today was relatively uneventful, which was a change- left the house by 8:15 and had a lovely 7-ish hour drive down to the camp in the Mara. Passed along and through the Great Rift Valley, saw giraffes just hanging out about a hundred yards from the road, got some tasty samosas along the way. But driving through the Mara was simply incredible. In the 45 minutes between the gate to the Mara (it's a national park, but thanks to Tracy's know-how we didn't have to pay to get in) and the research camp, we saw zebra, something I can't remember but which is a large horse-sized antelope that Tracy really likes, a giant secretary bird, gazelles (Thompson's and Grant's), giraffe, and probably more that I'm not remembering. I had no idea the wildlife here was so abundant- I thought we would see each of those things once each day, if we were lucky.

After getting in to camp, meeting the others (Joseph and Benson, assistants and chefs; their wives and Joseph's adorable 2-year-old daughter Olivia; and Brian, who is also applying to graduate school Master's programs, including Yale), unpacking the various things we bought, we had a brief hour and a half to lie down, and then: evening observations! (Or "obs" as it's referred to here).

This is basically what I've been waiting for. Though Tracy is out looking for hyenas, the span of their various territories is such that there was ample opportunity to see, well, everyhing. We got great views (and pictures!) of everything mentioned above, plus warthogs (including lots of baby warthogs; warthogs' tails, when they run, stick straight up in the air and are pretty delightful), hyenas (only 3 though- Tracy says she usually finds about 20 or so), various birds that I am unable to identify but certain readers of this blog would have no trouble doing, an amazing sunset, and, as the light was fading, what else but a pride of lions at a fresh zebra kill! Two males were busy gnawing away, as 4 females and 9 adorable cubs wandered nearby. We stopped the car about 30 feet from the lions; not only was it incredible to be so close, but hearing them chew/ tear/ lick the flesh, and growl and snort (adorably) from time to time was equally amazing. I got a few pictures before it became too dark, and we just sat there watching and listening. What was perhaps most remarkable was that they ignored us completely, even after Tracy gave one of her trademark sneezes (they are loud, violent, and always unexpected). We drove back to occasional sightings of rabbits, 2 jackals, a few surprised giraffes, and many cows (which aren't allowed to be in the Mara, but this is not enforced, apparently).

Upon our return, we feasted on the promised delicious food, courtesy of Joseph and Benson; chatted, looked at a genet cat (so cute, built like a weasel but still a cat, with ocelot-like markings) that they sometimes leave some tuna fish out for, and watched as 2 small bats flitted around the lights, devouring the bugs that gathered there.

Now, as I lie on my bed (yes, a real bed!) in my own tent, I listen to the electronic-sounding chirps of fruit bats, as well as a variety of unidentified squeaks, groans, chirps, etc.

Tomorrow morning: Morning obs, roll out at 5 am! Can't wait to see if the Mara sunrise is as amazing as the Mara sunset (I suspect I will not be disappointed).

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