Staring a lioness in the face when she’s about 3 feet away from you kinda puts things in perspective. You no longer worry about trivial things like cellphone coverage or work. Especially when her mouth is all bloody from a recent kill and her eyes still have that murderous glint in them.
The vehicle we were in was open at the top, though the windows were left closed at all times during the game drives, which offered some protection. But that didn’t mean anything really. You just knew she could easily jump onto the van and smack you into oblivion with a casual wave of those powerful paws, if she were so inclined.
Our guide refused to let us out of the vehicles even for a second during the game drives. Even when we were helping tow another vehicle out of the muddy track it got stuck in, he got out to tie the rope and help the other driver out, and the people from that vehicle were outside as well, but our guide insisted that we stay in, cos.. what if?!
I’ve seen some videos of people being attacked by lions and the life being jerked out of them in mere minutes (don’t google it if you’re squeamish!), so I guess I see why our guide was concerned.Plus, we had a 3yr old with us who absolutely loves all animals and would have tried to hug the lion if we she could (have I told you about the time she laid her eyes on a zebra and started singing ta ta tada tada… afro circus afro circus? She’s hilarious!) so we kinda had to be careful!
We saw four of the Big Five at the Masai Mara. The hippos are elusive things that apparently live only in Tanzania and not so much in Kenya, so we didn’t see any of them. But we saw a lion (looking all regal and lazy and snooty as hell), several lionesses, an ocean of zebras and wildebeests, chilled-out hippos, mean looking crocodiles, funny ostriches, arrogant cheetahs, wrinkly elephants, graceful giraffes (did you know giraffes run in slow motion?!! It’s like you’re watching them on TV in slow motion! It was surreal!), meerkats, foxes, vultures … more animals than I even knew the names of! I mean… I’ve never heard of a topi or a marabou stork before, have you?!
We stayed at the lovely Keekorok Lodge, where my room looked out into the beautiful savannah. So I’d wake up in the morning and look out the window to see a buffalo or a warthog ambling by about 20 feet away from me. Of course, not all of the animals kept their distance. The lodge doesn’t have a boundary wall, just a standalone gate with their name on it and trees all around.
It’s quite amusing to drive through a gate that doesn’t have a wall attached to it! But these are the best kinda game lodges, cos the animals can roam around. Of course, this also means you gotta be careful about unannounced visitors! While we were checking in, the receptionist instructed us to not step out of the rooms by ourselves after dark. We were to call for an escort, someone with a rifle who could scare away a buffalo or something if we happened to cross paths with one on our way to the dining lounge!
One evening we were at the bar, chilling out with drinks when one of the men who works at the hotel came up to us and invited us to go for a walk. We followed him away from the buildings and into the dark, following the path he led by instinct rather than sight, as there were no lights save that of a torch he was holding. Though it was a clear night, the moon and the stars were hidden by the trees overhead. The path led to a circular expanse of grass, surrounded by trees.
There was a long table covered in white tablecloth waiting for us, all laid out with silverware and twinkling from the lights of the candles lit around it. A bonfire burned merrily a little away from the table; that along with the lamps and lanterns lit around the periphery gave us light and also kept the hyenas and other curious animals at bay!
This was the venue of V’s surprise birthday party, thrown by her husband S! The masai warriors came and danced their traditional dance, after which they presented V with a lovely birthday cake. We sat down to dinner under the stars, listening to a man sing lovely songs in Swahili while strumming on his guitar. We danced to the music, learned the famous Jambo Bwana song and sang a few stanzas along with him, ate a lot and drank even more… it was quite a magical night!
After seeing all those magnificent animals and then coming back to the lovely lodge to a dinner like this, you’d think there was no way this vacation could any better. We were there a couple of days, but when we checked out, we all looked back wistfully at that standalone gate of Keekorok, wondering if we’d ever be able to go back, knowing we probably wouldn’t.
Surprisingly, Mombasa had a treat waiting for us to top even this amazing experience! That, however, is a story for another post!
Until next time.. Kwaheri!