Masai Mara (part 1)

Masai Mara. 

Perhaps the words mean nothing to you, completely foreign and unfamiliar. Or maybe you have heard them, but know nothing more about the place besides the fact that it is a safari destination. The Masai Mara is in the southwest of Kenya, about 5 hours drive from Nairobi. It is well known for being the top safari in Kenya, and many would argue the best safari in all of Africa. 

I hear Masai Mara and a thrill runs up my spine. For weeks this thrill was one of anticipation; now it is one of pleasure. Everyone we spoke with said that Masai Mara was incredible. We weren't sure how it could live up to the expectations. Somehow, it far surpassed them. 

The stripes of the zebra, announcing themselves like red tomato sauce on your mother's white tablecloth, are actually intended for camouflage. Zebra's stand head to hind quarters alongside one another, hoping to confuse the lions. Astoundingly, it works. Not always, but enough that the zebra is one of the most plentiful animals on the savannah. From far away, all you see is black. 

Layne's favorite was the cheetah. All he wanted was to see it take off at full speed. We weren't lucky enough for that, but we did see a mama cheetah and her two cubs. I still think she was this >< close to stalking some prey, but our guide insisted that none  of the nearby animals were small enough, and that there were too many of them for the cheetah to try anything for fear of being outnumbered. Later in the day, we saw another cheetah, this time trotting quickly away from a family of baboons. Surprisingly vicious, the baboons will swarm and attack pretty much any animal to keep their family safe. 

This is the cheetah, taking off and giving the baboons a wide berth. Raawwwwrrrrr! 

This is the cheetah, taking off and giving the baboons a wide berth. Raawwwwrrrrr! 

Seeing giraffes was, again, one of the highlights for me. These were all Masai giraffes; you can tell by their irregular spotting pattern. We came across these guys in an open field. Giraffes are one of the quietest animals, and all you could hear as they gracefully maneuvered across the grass was the little patter of their feet and the wind blowing by. There is something absolutely enchanting about watching a giraffe walk. It is somehow so graceful and yet you're struck by the power of these giants. 

I told Layne that these are two giraffes in love, off to explore Africa together just like us. He only sort of rolled his eyes. :D 

I told Layne that these are two giraffes in love, off to explore Africa together just like us. He only sort of rolled his eyes. :D 

We were lucky enough to come across two separate packs of hyenas, despite the fact that they're largely nocturnal. Watching them walk, all I could see was the various personalities that Disney animators had given them years ago. One even walked with its tongue out and its head listed to the side, giving credence to the idea that maybe it was a little crazy. And there's something about  their necks, careening out sharply as if they're always looking for their next angle. These guys could easily be villains.  Surprisingly, we learned that hyenas rarely hunt, but instead scavenge the remains left behind by larger predators. Despite their looks, maybe they don't deserve their bad rep. 

Mufasa, Mufasa, Mufasa! 

Mufasa, Mufasa, Mufasa! 

Although we missed the Great Wildebeest Migration, we did see wildebeest throughout the park, sometimes in large groups but occasionally obliviously munching in a field of zebra or antelope with no other wildebeest in sight. I was actually glad to have avoided the crowds of the Migration; it felt so much more peaceful. We could sometimes drive for 30 minutes and never see another car. Wildebeests are the joke of the Masai Mara, ridiculed universally for being ugly, dumb, and diseased. With their long faces, eyes directly on the sides of their heads, and scraggly beards, it is easy to see why people poke fun of their looks. 

Poor, ugly wildebeest. 

Poor, ugly wildebeest. 

I have SO much more to share, but I think this post is long enough! Tomorrow I'll be sharing the real good stuff - all my pictures of the Big 5! We were lucky enough to see at least two of each of the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino!

Seriously, how is this place so beautiful??? 

Seriously, how is this place so beautiful???