It was only four days, but time in the Maasai Mara seems to go in slow motion – especially the nights. The daily routine – up at dawn, out for a drive to spot animals, return for food and a few hour’s rest, before another afternoon drive, followed by a long, dark night in a tent – was very seductive and relaxed. We saw lots of animals and we ended our time with a stunning sunset before taking the long and gruelling road back to Nairobi.
The landscapes of the Maasai Mara are almost as breathtaking as the animals that inhabit them. When I was there, just prior to the greatest migration of land animals anywhere on the planet, the whole region seemed covered in long golden grasses. The Maasai Mara forms a continuous landmass between Kenya and Tanzania, where it becomes the Serengeti. Each year over one million Wildebeest and eight hundred thousand Zebra migrate north from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara. The nutritious grassland wouldn’t last long when they arrived.
On our final drive through the National Reserve we would head to the Mara River where, in just a few weeks, two million plus Wildebeests and Zebra would risk life and limb crossing it to reach the grassy plains of the Maasai Mara. Waiting for them in the river would be giant Nile Crocodiles, the size of which inspires a sense of awe and terror. These pre-historic death machines reach six metres in length and 900 kg in weight; while their speed, powerful jaws and razor-sharp teeth make them fearsome predators.
While humans occasionally fall prey to crocodiles, a bigger threat is the Hippopotamus (a name given to them by the Ancient Greeks, meaning ‘River Horse’, despite the fact that their closest relatives are whales and porpoises). Hippos are generally considered one of the most dangerous creatures in Africa: they are very aggressive and can run faster than humans. It was reassuring that an AK-47 wielding park guard accompanied us along the river bank.
As we returned from the river, we came across some other giants of Africa. We had spotted a small band of elephants on our first day in the park, but after that they had been conspicuously avoiding us – difficult when you’re the size of an elephant. On our final drive we spotted a large herd of elephants. Pre-occupied watching them walking and eating with their young, we neglected to look behind us; when we did, this huge bull elephant had crept up on us and was only a few metres from the jeep.
Joseph quickly started the engine and moved a safe distance away – elephant behaviour can be unpredictable, and our small vehicle was no match for a 7000kg male elephant.
Driving off towards the camp, we saw giraffes, hyenas, ostriches and many other animals amidst the sweeping vistas of the Maasai Mara.
This East African journey came to an end with a sublime sunset, bathing the landscape in a surreal and beautiful light…