Maasai Mara – Day 7

Last night we dined at a restaurant in the hotel called “The Spur.” It was furnished with Native American decorations and its logo featured a chief in a headdress. We found this amusing because this sort of restaurant would never fly in California. It violated the laws of political correctness on so many levels, so maybe it would do better in Texas (or Eastern WA for that matter). But we weren’t in the US, we were in Nairobi, Kenya so …. we let it be. We enjoyed ordered buffalo wings and burgers as a nice change from the more traditional fare we had been eating. You know, as much as the “traditional” food in the US is terrible and unhealthy, there are some things I appreciate a lot about it – burgers for one. Eating in Kenya has been a great experience for the most part. The food has been relatively simple, but well-flavored. The quality of the food is good; I can tell that most of the ingredients are fairly fresh and natural, sourced from nearby farms for the most part.

Our experience here has been very heavy on the “outdoor living” so it was also very nice to have an air conditioned room and reliable Internet. I take these things for granted so often in the comfort of the US. I must plan regular trips out side of my comfortable world. Just once isn’t enough because I am so short-sighted! What is out of sight becomes a memory and memories are so easy to forget.

We arose early again for the beginning of our safari. We were picked up around 8:00 am from the hotel and then we began our long trip to the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Our driver’s name was Joshua and he gave us a brief overview of the journey before we began. First we stopped for gas and about an hour outside of Nairobi we began the descent into the Great Rift Valley. I hadn’t done much research on Kenya before we came so I was surprised to learn that this Valley runs north-south along almost the entire African continent.

Along the road there were several turnouts and curio shops where we could stop to take pictures. Our driver chose one and we stopped to stretch our legs and get a few photos. The owners of the shops started talking to us and tried to entice us into their shops with some very sly techniques.

“Which direction is Lake Victoria from here?”

“Oh I can show you on a map. Do you want to see? Come inside and I’ll show you!”

We were all beginning to pick up on the persistence of salespeople in Kenya so we tried to evade their efforts for as long as possible. Eventually we did go inside for a few minutes but quickly extricated ourselves.

It’s can be a sad and unsettling experience to be a tourist here. In some places we’ve been intentionally honored, such as at the schools. The service at the hotel seems good and most people seem very eager to demonstrate the quality of their establishment, but this facade falls away fairly quickly in other settings. For example, anyone doing sales is very, very, very pushy. They seem intent on making a sale through almost any means possible. This might be culturally more normal here, but it is not pleasant when I am used to browsing goods at my leisure without a seller hovering over my shoulder and shoving things into my hands. While I believe that some people are happy to host us in this country, I have a suspicion that some don’t really like tourists, especially white tourists, and they only put on a happy face if we can pay them. This is perhaps a harsh judgement, and not based on any concrete facts, but it is still a feeling. Part of this is a more neutral experience with customer service. Again this is probably culturally normal here, but I notice that most service people do not tend to smile or engage in small talk. This is distinct from those who are actively trying to sell goods. The sellers are extremely animated and will smile broadly and talk to you all day as long as there’s a possibility you might buy from them.

We drove on a bit further and then stopped for lunch at a small roadside cafe (called a hotel here). When we finished we stood around outside in the parking lot for almost a full 45 minutes before we got back on the road. This is pretty common, even with Fred and the drivers for our work the past few days. I’ve noticed that people here don’t go quickly from place to place, they kind of saunter and meander their way, as if they didn’t really intend to go anywhere at all.

Shortly after lunch we ran out of Tarmac. The last two hours of the drive were on bumpy dirt roads similar to those that led to the schools. A wide, decently graded road morphed into a one-lane track that was more or less a river bed some of the time. Every few kilometers there was a makeshift gate blocking the road and Joshua had to pay a toll to a gatekeeper to let us pass. Joshua didn’t comment much on these toll gates – he expected it and had a wad of 100 Shilling notes ready. The first few were only 100 or 200 Shillings, but I saw him hand over a full 1000 Shillings (about 10 USD) before the last gatekeeper would let us pass. We also saw young children walking along the roads as we had seen in Kisumu and Nairobi. Some of them called to us with the familiar “How are you!?” or waved, but some of them adopted a strange posture as our van passed. Even the littlest of them, not more than 3 or 4 years old, stuck out a hand in a receiving gesture and stared at us. They were asking for something: food, money, I don’t know. This was the thing that made me the saddest of all. How would a little child learn to beg even from this early age, and why? I don’t know the answer, but I want to understand.

The landscape was gently sloping grassy plain with low hills surrounding. It was perfect for grazing and, indeed, we saw herds of cows and goats, with the occasional sheep. At the camp where we are staying I read that the Maasai tribe consider the cultivation of land to be dishonorable so they sustain themselves almost solely from their cattle and the foods that grows naturally in this area. Our driver said that this land is actually really good for cultivation though and a few outsiders have been buying up land and planting tomatoes. The cows grazed alongside larger and stranger creatures: wildebeest.

This is Lion King territory. Everything is here.

Before going on the evening drive, we first checked into out accommodation for the next two nights. The camp here is called Lenchada and it’s decent and livable. There is a dining hall with wooden tables and a small bar area. Outside there is a campfire pit. Cassie and I are staying in the “Mt. Kaningop” tent which has two beds with mosquito nets and an attached bathroom with running water and a flush toilet. The water comes from a rain barrel which I presume is on the top of the tent. I haven’t showered yet but Cassie said it was warm! It feels good to be in the open air. We won’t be suffering from heat tonight! Our hostess said her name is Helen. She spoke careful and practiced English as she introduced herself and told us the camp rules. We have electricity from 6-10 pm and 5 – 7 am. Otherwise there is darkness.

The evening drive through the Maasai Mara National Park was absolutely amazing! I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves (once I upload them). We saw several lions and cubs, elephants, an ostrich, a Crowned Crane, as well as a huge array of other grazing animals: gazelles, hartebeests, buffalo, and wildebeests. This was an experience as I had only heard about in travel magazines and on National Geographic. A true bucket list experience. It was incredible to see the animals in the wild rather than in a zoo. They seemed unimpressed by the van so we were able to get very close to all of them. Nithya and Michael have good cameras compared to mine so after awhile I decided to give up and just let them get the photos. I brought along a small pair of binoculars that were fun to play with. They only magnify things 3x so it’s not a huge improvement, but it is nice to see the detail on the animals as they move. We were happy to see so many animals even on our first brief drive. The view of the sunset over the plain was absolutely breathtaking.

At dusk we returned to the camp for a very tasty dinner – more traditional fare: rice, beans, lentils, chapati (a type of flatbread similar to naan), and stewed vegetables and beef. After dinner Prof Spencer taught us how to play Spades, and I was thoroughly confused by the end of the first round. I don’t understand the strategy in that game at all…