Lots has happened since I last wrote. I wonder why I don’t write more. But believe me. Lots has happened.
We took a little holiday to Kenya with our kids and grandkids. We had an opportunity, through the kindness of someone I had helped and flown here in Congo, to stay at a safari camp overlooking the amazing Maasai Mara, where the wildebeest migrate to from the Serengeti plains in Tanzania. You may have seen pictures of the wildebeest jumping into crocodile infested rivers only to be eaten by lions or hyenas if they make it across. But when there are so many thousands of animals, who cares about a few less wildebeests? It is a rare and amazing treat to take part in such a world-class spectacle. Being a lover of African wildlife and nature I was in my element.
As a licensed Professional Guide in Zimbabwe, it is always strange to be confined to the vehicle and unable to walk around, but that is the way of it in the game parks throughout East Africa. This is one of the wonderful parts of being on the boarder of the park at Mara West, where we stayed. Although I don’t get to have my trusty .416 Winchester in my hands, I could take off walking along the beautiful escarpment overlooking the Mara and there would be herds of giraffe, impala, zebra and topi all around the camp. I saw a lot of elephant spoor as well as lion, leopard and hyena spoor, so it is more than just plains game around. It is in a Maasai tribal area and being with the people who interact so comfortably with the animals is also a wonder. Many Africans are very afraid of the wildlife and not without reason. Lions commonly take their cattle and will kill people. Elephant eat their meager crops and kill people. But the Maasai seem unbothered and we saw many boys of 8-10 years old herding goats or cattle by themselves in areas where lions come regularly. It is said that the Maasai men are not really men until they have killed a lion with a spear or sword. This, of course, is changing but they are ready and willing if the need ever arises and you get the feeling that they truly are men of a bygone day. When men were really men.
The Park is beautiful grassland which brings the large number of animals. The Mara River cuts through the area with lush riverine growths of trees all along its banks. We watched a herd of wildebeest come down to the river, already full of dead animals from previous crossings and crocodiles so big and fat it seemed they would blow up if they ate another bite. In fact there was one enormous croc with a big hole in it’s side from what could have been just such a thing, but really it was most probably horned by a wildebeest. The predators don’t always get it their way. Vultures and marabou storks were everywhere to pick at the dead animals. I don’t know if it was the sight of all the dead animal or the eyes lurking just under the water or the crazy tourists looking on, but after about 20 minutes of hesitation all the animals just turned and ran off to wait a bit for the grass to really be greener on the other side.
We got permission from the warden to get out and have a picnic along the river one day and it was like being back in Zimbabwe. Freedom in the wild. We stopped in a secluded spot in the bend of the river with a pod of hippos just across from us and had a wonderful time. I even showed my grandkids how to juggle elephant droppings and figured out that they work very well if snowballs are not available for a little fight. I guess I have spent too much time seeing how old the elephant spoor is as I follow them.
Probably the best part of the trip for me was on our last day. I got up early and walked down to the edge of the escarpment overlooking the Mara before the sun came up. The stars were still out and the sky was brilliant with them. There was a small light patch in the east as I sat down to look over the valley below. As it was just getting a bit lighter and the hot air balloons were just starting to be filled for their morning aerial safari over the park, a herd of 18 elephants broke out of the treeline to my left only about 100 meters away from me and started walking straight toward the pile of rocks I sat on. The shear size of these animals takes your breath away as they walk up to you, but they were on a mission as they strolled down the steep side of the mountain not 50 feet in front of me, unaware of my presence. It was great.
Thanks to Jeff Willner of Kensington Tours and Andrew Aho of Mara West for their part in our wonderful time.
So, Grandkids get tired of the hot vehicle and looking at more wildebeests and zebra, so Cher and I started telling stories of the bush and old African legends of how Zebra got his stripes and why Hippo poos with his bum in the air and splashes the poo around with his tail and about Baobab Tree’s pride and even a few of our own adventures of dancing with elephants and running from rhinos. It was a wonderful way to break up the day when we were not riding around or throwing elephant poo at each other. Africa is great!