Day320: I Taught I Taw A Puddy Tat

Sat. 29th June 2013

In the Maasai jumping competitionWe only have two complete days in the Masai Mara. As we have our balloon flight booked for tomorrow, today is our only chance for an early morning game drive. Paul wants us to get off at 7am whilst it is still cool to give us the best chance of spotting some cats before they settle down to snooze through the day. Still, at least the cold water poured from a miniature milk churn into the small metal basin in our room helped to wake us up as we washed our faces.

Can giraffes look thoughtful?The JK Mara camp where we are staying is a couple of steps down from the previous safari camps that we have stayed in. Before we arrived at the Moremi Crossing camp (in the Okavango), this is what I was expecting – a large tent with proper beds but otherwise pretty basic. After Moremi and then, particularly, Hwange (Zimbabwe) expectations are a lot higher – good rooms, albeit with canvas walls, stunning central lodge with views out over the wildlife. Hwange was more expensive than here, but it included game drives, all drinks and even laundry.

Lets pull this!What we should bear in mind, though, is that it is a couple of steps more luxurious than our camping whilst on Sabie and that we have more fantastic game viewing on our doorstep. Paul certainly seems to know his way around the park as he dives off the main track onto a smaller one and then dives off again onto a track that is barely two sets of wheelprints in the grass. Our first sighting of the day is a trio of elephants eating and trampling their way through a row of bushes. Like so many of the animals here, it doesn’t matter how many photos of them we have, there is always room for a few more.

Lions hidden away in the long grassThen we see a row of other 4x4s with their passengers all peering and pointing cameras at the same spot – a clear sign that something feline has been spotted. We head over and jostle for position and it turns out to be lions who have ensconced themselves in a grassy hollow deep in the shade of a bush. They have settled down for a snooze and their low profile and long grass make taking photos and even counting them tricky. There definitely are some cubs, just lolling around looking very cute and cuddly. We need to keep in mind that mum would take a very dim view of us approaching too close to her cubs.

Properly stuck!We’re now up to 3 of the Big Five game animals in Masai Mara (and 4 if you count the rhinos we saw in Etosha). That just leaves leopards and so Paul continues on the path less beaten looking for the shady spots where leopards might be resting up. We’re in a Toyota Land Cruiser, which are easily the most common vehicles here and have a good reputation of being able to go pretty much anywhere. Paul certainly gives both the suspension and traction a good work out until he bites off more than the Land Cruiser can handle and we get stuck in a patch of ground muddier than expected.

Dik Dik - Africa's smallest antelopeThe back of the Land Cruiser is grounded and there is no way out even with 4WD and diff. locked. Even more embarrassing for him, the front winch isn’t working. Both passengers and the driver in the next Land Cruiser that came along a couple of minutes later were highly amused. After they’d finished laughing they got to work with the tow cable and hauled us out. I suspect that Paul is going to get a ribbing over this for some time to come. Even worse, it wasn’t helping our leopard spotting. The best we managed was a carcass wedged at the top of a tree where it had been dragged by a leopard unwilling to share dinner.

So ungainly (and vulnerable) when drinkingUndeterred, we carry on and find a pod(?) of hippos wallowing in the Telek River but refusing to show more than ears, eyes and nose. Paul says that he is confident that we’ll see more of the hippos tomorrow when we go down to the Mara River. We’ve seen plenty of giraffes in our time in Africa but we’ve only seen them drinking from a distance, so we are very happy to see them up close. They are so ungainly as their legs are longer than their neck – they have to splay their front legs out before they can stretch down into the pool. This is when they are at their most vulnerable and the giraffe we are watching is clearly very nervous as he drinks.

Colourful clothes for the womenIn the afternoon, we are signed up to do a visit to a nearby Maasai village, it is perhaps a little gringo but we want to understand more about the way of life of the indigenous people – particularly as the camp is run in collaboration with the village. [Side note: we were confused as to the correct spelling, but Paul assures us that the people are Maasai and the place is the Masai Mara.] On arrival we are welcomed by traditional dances by the men and the women – participation mandatory! The men’s dance incorporated a jumping competition and the women’s extensive shaking of jewellery.

How many Maasai does it take to light a fire?We were then given a demonstration of making fire by rubbing sticks together (hard work but possible – even I managed to make smoke) and then a tour inside one of their traditional huts. The Maasai are tall people and so it is a surprise to find that their huts are short as well as cramped and dark. With half the hut partitioned off for space to keep young livestock away from predators it is unsurprising that the rest was subdivided into a couple of tiny bedrooms and a kitchen area complete with open fire. This is even more basic than the people we visited in Lake Titicaca.

Small huts for tall peopleWe do learn a little about their lives and traditions. They are livestock farmers and keep cattle, sheep and goats. Their costumes are modern versions of traditional animal skin clothing but red is a Maasai colour. Other Maasai characteristics include having large holes in their earlobes; their lower two front teeth removed; and burn scars on their arms. A hard life and more so when we learn that their diet consists of meat, milk and blood (and, sometimes, blood mixed with milk). No thanks.

What's for dinner?Paul then meets us at the village and we head off to resume our cat spotting. The lions that we saw this morning are now rested up and are starting to get ready for the night’s hunt. We get to them just as they come out of the bushes and onto the grassy plain. Even more obligingly, they come out in ones and twos and right past our Land Cruiser. The total tally is 12 – 3 adult females and 9 cubs. There will be a male somewhere but apparently he leaves the hunting to the females and only turns up when it is time to eat. Janet tells me not to get any ideas!

Playing with mumJust a little Puddy Tat!Whilst not quite at the level of yesterday’s cheetah experience, it is still an astonishing spectacle. These beautiful, powerful creatures walking right past our jeep. The lionesses are all grace and power but the cubs are all innocence and mischief (do they go together?) Like our boys used to do, they just barge up to each other, have a bit of a bundle and then move on. Captivating and another unforgettable day.

 

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