Maasai is the name of a local tribe in Kenya
Mara means “spotted” in Maa (Maasai language)
Maasai Mara! T.I.A. This is what people come to Kenya for!
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is covers some 1,510 km² in southwestern Kenya and is the northern continuation of the Serengeti National Park game reserve in Tanzania. The entire Mara-Serengeti ecosystem covers approximately 25,000 km². We had a full day of game riding ahead of us, and we were eager to get started as soon as possible. It was a beautiful morning, albeit a bit chilly in the park. We made sure to wear warmer clothes for our game ride, especially since we wanted to keep the safari van roof open for the entire ride. We also created a playlist for our game ride, which was essentially the entire “Lion King” soundtrack.
When Mital first wrote on the itinerary that we were going hunting for the Big Five, I was taken aback as I thought we were literally hunting. I didn’t know… I thought that was just a T.I.A. thing to do. Thankfully, game riding just meant driving out in the reserve to spot the game animals.
The Big Five game animals include the Lion (simba), African Elephant (ndovu), Cape Buffalo (mbogo), Leopard (chui), and Black Rhinoceros (kifaru). We had already seen the black rhino at Lake Nakuru National Park and so we were on a mission to find the remaining four at Maasai Mara. The African elephant we spotted right off the bat; there was a herd we could see approaching from the distance and so we just parked and watched in awe as the magnificent beasts just walked right in front of our van.
Cape buffaloes were plentiful in the reserve, and we knocked off another Big Five off the list!
One of the most spectacular sights in the Maasai Mara is the Great Migration, which is a massive animal migration that takes place in July and August every year. At this time, there are some 1,300,000 wildebeests (nyumbu), 360,000 Thomson’s gazelles (impala), and 191,000 zebras (punda milia) migrating from the Serengeti plains north to the greener grasslands.
It was incredible to see the striking black and white stripes of the zebras scattered throughout the massive herds of wildebeests with their dark chestnut glossy coats.
With millions of herbivores migrating through the savannah, there had to be carnivorous predators, mostly lions and hyenas, to keep the balance. We saw plenty of carcasses of buffalo and wildebeests surrounded by hungry vultures (tai).
We then saw our first predator animal, a cheetah (duma)! Since we never located a leopard from the Big Five on our safari, we decided to dub the cheetah as “close enough.” There were two cheetahs perched on a rock under a tree, who seemed to be posing for all the paparazzi tourists that were surrounding the area. Two more emerged from the grass, and the cheetahs on the rock stealthily slipped off to join them.
We also saw some of the long necked animals, including the majestic giraffe (twiga) and the… well honestly not so majestic-looking ostrich (mbuni). Is it wrong I didn’t feel so bad eating ostrich at Carnivore restaurant later?
We started see more fresh animal carcasses at we approached a large brush area near the Tanzania border. At one point, seemingly out of nowhere, Mital started shouting “Simba!” at another safari driver who was heading to the brush to answer nature’s call, so to speak. Simba means lion in Swahili, and there was an entire pride of simbas lying in the brush just 15 ft away. They all seemed to be napping and from the multitude of carcasses surrounding the area, I suppose they were recovering from a food coma.
We counted 4 lionesses and 2 male lions hanging out in the brush. Another Big Five spotting! We spotted one lion running from one bush to another, and the paparazzi all followed him and swarmed the bush like vultures.
The lion gave a sleepy yawn and as much as I would have loved to hear its roar, that would have probably implied we were all in mortal danger.
At the border with Tanzania, Mital told the group that we could cross into the Serengeti of Tanzania briefly and asked us if we had our passports. I told him that I had left mine in Nairobi because he has said we did not need it, but half of the group did have their passports. So Miraj proposed that he would take us to the Mara River to wait, while the rest could go. I got upset and Mital tried to appease me by apologizing for the last minute change of plans and said that he didn’t know we would have time to do this earlier.
We finally arrive at the “border” which is marked by a simple stone. Obviously no official passport control here. I was massively fooled and Mital could not stop laughing and to this day continues to reference this infamous gullible moment. Natalya had said the whole time that Mital and Miraj always lie, and so I wondered if she really knew it was all a farce or whether it was just “Natalya’s denial” as Roza calls Natalya’s natural state of being.
We continued onto the Mara River, where there were tons of hippos (kiboko) sleeping, floating, or generally not moving on the bank.
“Is a hippopotamus a hip opotamus, or just a really cool Opotamus?” — Mitch Hedberg
We piled back into the safari van to return back to the lodge for lunch. Along the way, we spotted a warthog (ngiri) in the distance. Compared to the majority of the animals in the reserve that seem completely unperturbed by human presence (some even seem to pose for the camera and revel in the attention), skittish warthogs are hard to capture on camera because they run away as soon as you approach.
We came across another herd of giraffes and some adorable necking zebras.
Back at the lodge, we enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch and then headed the to pool for some playtime. I tried to teach Herman how to float (yes, the guy who is a certified Advanced Scuba Diver), and taught the other boys how to do backward launch dives. My 14 years of competitive swimming experience has served me so well.
It was very overcast by the time we headed out for an afternoon game drive, but there were several patches of sunlight streaming through the clouds highlighting the golden plains. We had spotted the majority of the main animals during our morning game ride, and so during this drive we just enjoyed cruising around and taking in the glorious landscapes.
We spotted some antelope (pala hala), as well as more elephants, wildebeests, and necking zebra mates.
As we drove through the plains, we could see a single area of rainfall in the distance. It was such a striking sight with these dark ribbons streaming down from the gathering storm clouds. We headed towards the storm, and it was so amazing to just suddenly cross over to where the rain was falling, and then exit into the clearing a few minutes later.
We definitely listened to the song “Africa” by Toto during this time: “I bless the rains down in Africa, I passed some rains down in Africa…”
Overall, it was an amazing day for game riding in Maasai Mara. With the black rhinos in Lake Nakuru, we had successfully seen four of the Big Five game animals — plus the honorary leopard, in the form of a cheetah…