Day 319: A Very Close Encounter

Fri. 28th June 2013

Our vehicle makes a good lookoutAs we left Nairobi at 7am we passed many locals walking from the outskirts into town for work. Those not walking were waiting to pile into the many minibuses or local buses of which there many weaving through the traffic and stopping anywhere and causing even more congestion. The road conditions were worse with more potholes and the housing changed from brick built to corrugated iron as we headed away from the town centre. Also the side of the road was covered in garbage as we headed through the poorer areas of town, reminiscent of many other built up areas we have seen in Africa.

Great Rift ValleySoon the houses gave way to large fields many of which were well cultivated with wheat and maize. The road climbed onto an escarpment overlooking the Great Rift Valley which runs about 900 km from Jordan to Mozambique (good we had researched Kenya so we knew to expect this –not!). We stopped at a viewpoint surrounded by souvenir stalls and were immediately pounced on to buy something for using their facilities. It was a pity it was so misty as could not see far, so we hope we can get some better photos on our return to Nairobi in a few days time.

We are looking at youThe road then headed down into the valley and back up again to Narok where we turned off the main road towards Maasai Mari National Park. After another comfort break which included a coffee stop, which kept Dave happy, the tarmac ended and it was time for the African Massage to begin. The road was even more bumpy than we had experienced in Janis in Namibia, or maybe it was just that Paul drove faster in our 4×4 jeep. The Maasi objected to us taking photos of them working as we drove by, but were quick to thrust souvenirs in our face through the open vehicle windows whilst we stopped at the entrance of the Park for Paul to pay.

Plus point - a decent bar areaWe drove along various tracks while we headed though the park and out a different gate to get to our camp. The track to the camp passed through a Maasai village and was waterlogged in places. Apparently it had rained hard yesterday and the track was impassable until 8pm, so I hope there is no rain today as it is still squidgy and four wheel drive essential. We have so far only seen rain once since we arrived in Africa two months ago, but as we keep being told it is winter here now so do not expect wall to wall sunshine.

Sophisticated plumbingThe JK Mara Camp is an ecocamp and run jointly with the local Maasai who greeted us in their traditional red dress. We were shown to our tent which was canvas with a ground sheet and housed two single beds. At the rear are two areas curtained off one for the proper toilet and the second has a shower. It is not until you go around the back that you find the toilet flush is run from a 250 gallon plastic tank. The shower in on request and a local brings hot water in a tub in a wheelbarrow and fills a smaller tank behind the tent. The first night sufficient flow was gained by one of the staff holding the pipe high using a long handled mop, so we had to let him know when we had finished so he could let go! The sink is the height of sophistication with an urn of cold water and a bucket under the plughole.

Seeing double?We were excited to head off for our afternoon game drive to see what we could find. To my surprise we did not see any elephants but we did see the usual impala, zebras and giraffes. As we have already taken far too many game photos I try to restrict my photos to only unusual or special poses to avoid yet another zebra or giraffe photo but that is hard as it is all special. The scenery is spectacular and just as we imagined with the light corn coloured grass, small green bushes and a few acacia trees.

On the prowlWord soon goes around the drivers in their safari vehicles that cheetahs have been spotted and we go and join a semicircle of 4x4s and minivans around a pair of cheetahs at a water hole. The number of vehicles increases massively as word gets around, and the cheetahs stretch and go for a stroll. They spot or scent a lone Thompson’s Gazelle 100m away across a stretch of grassy plain and begin to stalk it.

The drivers all reposition the cars jockeying to get the best view of what we hope will be a chase and a kill of the gazelle. The cheetahs approach very slowly keeping low and patiently slinking forward before splitting up and  circling around the gazelle. However the younger of the two gets impatient and runs onto the track which spooks the gazelle and it runs off. They will need to find another unsuspecting prey and start again as the younger cheetah’s stalking skills leave a bit to be desired. More practice required to avoid leaving two hungry cheetahs.

Like a zoo!Good viewpointThey then decide to find high ground to look for alternative prey and pick on the roof on one of the safari vehicles. After about ten minutes and hundreds of camera clicks (except for the Japanese in the vehicle who could not see what was going on) they get bored and stroll off a short distance. All the vehicles move to get better viewing positions, except ours which I am convinced lines itself up as a new viewing platform despite my plea to Paul. They are beautiful, beautiful animals but there is such a thing as too close.

Not many people get this view of a cheetah!Sure enough they jump on our vehicle next and lie on our roof. We do not have a sun roof but an open space making it all the more scary as we have a very close up view of the cheetahs as we look at them and they look in at us. One of them leaves a present on our roof (we nearly do similar inside!) and the fact that the cheetahs often clamber on vehicles does nothing to allay my nerves. It does beg the question over whether this is more like a zoo than the wild for the animals as being watched by over twenty vehicles is hardly natural.

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