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Sunworld Safari Review - Dramatic Wildlife, Fascinating Maasai People, Essential Eco-Tourism

By Georja Umano and Gerald Everett Jones

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Maasai Mara (Part 3 of 3)

CLICK PHOTO FOR LARGE IMAGE - Mama cheetah and cubs, their bellies full

The vast and beautiful Maasai Mara, home to the great wildebeest migration, the largest migration of animals in the world.  It is also land of the Maasai people. Kenya has been populated by many tribes, most of whom have chosen to adopt a more Western lifestyle. But the proud Maasai for the most part prefer to live their rural nomadic lives, herding sheep, goats and cattle. For the Maasai, wealth consists of many children and many cattle. They often live in small, temporary huts made of soil and cow dung, or sometimes of grass. They usually wear red cloth and lots and lots of beaded jewelry. Besides being herdsmen, many are artists. You can’t help but admire their carvings and bead work, not to mention their erect and statuesque posture, and the honesty and fearlessness they exude.

Wildebeest take a plunge across the perilous Mara River, filled with hippos and crocs

Traditionally, Maasai go through severe ritualistic ceremonies, are polygamous, and still practice circumcision of both boys and girls. In the past, their bravery was proved by the killing of lions. Today there are many educational efforts afoot to prevent the continuation of the female genital mutilation, as well as the slaughter of lions. If a lion kills one of their herd, there are programs to repay for that animal as an alternative to killing the lion.

Hippos own the river

At the beginning of each game drive, our guide Raphael set an objective. "Let’s go see elephants today," he would say. Or, "Today I think we can find some wildebeest crossing the river, if we are lucky." We saw wildebeest by the hundreds, among the hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra that migrate into Maasi Mara. They are on their way to Tanzania, or back, depending on the time of year. They eat all the grasses on one side, and then cross to find greener pastures. By the time they have eaten all the fresh growth, they can return and the grass will have grown back.

Wildebeest wait for their family members to cross the river

Unfortunately and to the dismay of most Kenyans, wildlife enthusiasts and naturalists, neighboring Tanzania plans to construct the Serengeti Highway right in the middle of the migration path, which is bound to have a detrimental effect on the animals. The issue has stimulated widespread protest, and there are petitions to be signed online against the highway plan. (www.savetheserengeti.org)

Crocodiles eat well

Kenya is in the forefront of conservation in Africa, with strong wildlife laws in place. They seek to protect elephants from poaching and indeed all killing of wildlife. Not all of the neighboring countries have shown such wisdom. And some, including neighbors on Kenya's borders, prefer to allow some killing to reap the short-term monetary rewards of trading elephant ivory, rhino horn and other animal products.

CLICK PHOTO FOR LARGE IMAGE - A pride of lions play with their food

Maasai Mara is one of Kenya’s larger preserves, with an incredible variety of wildlife. The vegetation is thick, the terrain is and hilly and the park is immense.

He naps while mama lion hunts

So its not quite as easy to spot wildlife unless you have a very experienced guide, such as ours, who had been a tour guide exclusively at the Maasai Mara for five years before joining Sunworld.

Lion guards wildebeest catch

We had many great viewings of lions and cheetahs in this park. They all had full bellies because they now have thousands of prey to choose from. As Raphael said, "This time of year, the supermarket is always open."

Comfortable tent accommodations at Mara Bush Camp

One of the saddest things we witnessed was three cheetahs with a fresh kill – a baby wildebeest, while its mother watched. She got so depressed she had to lie down. This was horrific and cruel, and yet we want the cheetahs to live too. Nature can be an enigma. As the cheetahs were feasting, vultures, Maribou storks, and a jackals started to move in, waiting their turn at dinner. The mother cheetah got annoyed and chased them away a few times. How amazing for us to watch the whole drama unfold from the safety of a 4x4 just a few yards away!

Crack of dawn at the Maasai Mara, one of the best times to see animals

All of the roads inside the preserve are dirt, and rules of the park do not permit trucks to go off those tracks except in exceptional circumstances. Even with that, an experienced game driver can take you within 30 feet of even the most dangerous animals. And as the driver well knows, that’s about as close as it’s safe to get. True, you are relatively safe inside the truck, but even a truck is no match for an offended rhino, buffalo or elephant. And keeping a respectful distance, not harassing or disrupting the animals in any way, is part of responsible eco-tourism.

The better to hear you with, my dear

We lodged at Sunworld Safaris’ own Mara Bush Camp. The camp has 10 guest tents, a large bar-lounge tent and a dining tent. Guest tents are equipped large comfortable beds, sink and running water, flush toilet and hot-water shower. In keeping with the camp’s eco-friendly philosophy, electric lights in the tents are battery-powered from the camp’s solar panels. AC power for recharging cell phones and computers is provided at night in the lounge tent, where there is a generator.

Living room-lounge tent

Camp was scarcely less accommodating than the best-equipped lodges. Because the camp is relatively small, it seems there is always someone handy to meet any request. For example, when you return hot and dusty from an afternoon game drive, an attendant greets you to ask whether you want a hot shower. Each guest tent uses a bucket system on the roof to dispense 20 liters of hot water. Attendants have to operate the system manually while you’re having your shower, communicating discreetly through the tent wall to ask you whether the temperature is just right.

Luxury bedding inside our tent

Charles Lemiso, manager of Mara Bush Camp, explained to us that the logistics of operating luxury accommodations in the wild are challenging, but ultimately practical. The biggest supply item is fresh water, which must be transported from 30 miles away. Food and other supplies are flown-in to the Mara airstrip. Waste materials from the camp are separated. Organic matter is buried in the ground with active bacteria compounds to hasten decomposition. Trash and recyclables are transported out. 

Member of Kenyan Police Dept. and Maasai warrior accompany us on a hike across the savanna, just outside the park

Living in the camp for three days turned out to be a highlight experience. We slept like babies, serenaded by the sounds of the animals in the forest. We felt close to nature, while at the same time we relished being served lavishly by the sweet and attentive staff of native Kenyans. As with many of their countrymen whom we met, they are open, cheerful, and quick to share a story or their feelings. President Obama, of course, is a favorite topic and proudly revered as "our son, too." One kindhearted server, Owuor, gave me neem tea to get over a little cough I had and was sure to check up on me at every meal to see how she was feeling. It was a wonderful healing experience.

Each zebra has its own unique print

We have to admit we were very sad to leave. This was the last stop on our fabulous nine-day safari, after which we were driven back to the big city of Nairobi. We may have left the wilderness behind, but it is still in our hearts and minds. Sunworld was a wonderful gateway to the riches of Kenya, its beautiful land, amazing animals and awesome people. 

Gazelles and antelope dot the landscape

We feel grateful to Gabriele Nowak, naturalized Kenyan from Austria and her husband, native Asian Kenyan Dave Choda, for creating such a world class touring company. Not only do they cater to your every need while in Kenya, they also take impoverished Kenyan children on field trips to the great parks, give to the schools, and work with conservation groups to help preserve the treasures of Kenya.

We enthusiastically recommend a trip to mother Africa, especially to wonderful and fascinating Kenya, hosted by the skillful and caring planners at Sunworld Safaris.

King of the jungle

To read part one of this series on Sunworld, where we describe our game drives through Amboseli National Park, please click here.

Please cick here to view our trip to see the flamingos and rhinos of Lake Nakuru, by way of Lake Naivasha, where – no joke – we had a close encounter with a truly fearsome beast.

Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.
Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.

Photos by Georja Umano

Sunworld Safaris, Ltd.
"4x4 Specialists"

Off Riverside Drive
On Riverside Lane
P.O. Box 390094
00623 Nairobi, Kenya
Ph +254 020 444 5669 / 444 580 / 444 5673 / 444 5850
Mobile 0722-525400 / 0733-614055
Fax +254 020 444 5673
email  [email protected] / [email protected]

Mara Bush Camp http://www.marabushcamp.com/en

Published on Dec 15, 2010

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