03.05.2009 - 06.05.2009
, I know I'll sound like a snobby world-weary backpacker on this blog entry, but I really have seen a lot of good game parks and animals. Lots of them. In biiiiiig quantities; prides of up to 30 lions, schools of hippos totaling up to about 100 each, dozens of elephants grazing; I've been attacked by a frustrated rhino, I've seen a pack of nearly-extinct African wild dogs hunt, and i've been face-to-face with giraffes on a walking safari. So, as far as everything goes, I've been pretty lucky; or even more than lucky- I've seen South Luangwa, Chobe, Kruger, and Etosha, all amongst the best game parks in Africa, and many of the smaller ones in various countries. Still, I really wanted to go to Masai Mara. Mainly because after a long scrutiny, it seemed to have all the possible African animals in it. So I haggled a while, booked a 4-day trip to the Lake Nakuru and the Mara, and left Rich in Nairobi to work on his friendship with the staff at Nairobi hospital.
Now, the one thing everyone wants to see whist in Africa is the so-called Big Five. So-called, because although (some) of these five animals are actually big, not all of them are rare or even interesting; they are simply called so as they all were prized hunting trophies to the rich Europeans in the early days of African safaris. However, a huge business centers around the “Big Five”- t-shirts, keyrings, carvings and other odds and sods that people lug back to Europe or States to show everyone that they belong to that special caste who've been to Africa and seen the Big Five.
Admittedly, I've never really been sure what belongs in the Big Five. A lion, yes, and elephant and rhino, all big and impressive, but I was a little unclear on the other two. Hippo? Certainly big. Cheetah? Fastest land mammal, so surely it as well?
A British man on the tour found it impossible to understand that I did not know these essentials. “But how do you know otherwise what you are meant to see?”, he wanted to know. Err, I thought you just look out of the little car, and see animals. The park was full of giraffes, zebra, various antelopes, wildebeest and buffaloes. At one stage, we were surrounded by a heard of 300 buffaloes. But it is wonderful. People seem to carry a little check-list of “animals seen”, which instantly earns them cool backpacker points amongst other travellers. Now, I've never really seen a leopard, the holy grail of any animal spotter, except hiding in some distant tree, with only a tail showing, so I never really considered that I'd actually seen one. Fortunately, and quite unexpectedly, I'd seen one walk right past the car in Lake Nakuru, with two young ones hovering in the background. A set of stunning, magnificent animals (although very small in real life) and I was incredibly happy to have seen them. Unfortunately, though, I was suddenly the object of hostile-ish envy in Masai Mara; some people actually went as far as suggesting I might have been, if not lying, then certainly exaggerating this rare sighting. Animal spotting is fierce some business.
Anyhow, I had a great time in Masai Mara, except that I did finally get some sort of a stomach bug and spent most of the time outside the game drives sleeping and feeling feverish. We saw a tiny jackal pup chasing a large heard of very disinterested -looking impala, getting breathless- if impalas could laugh, they certainly would have done. We saw a large pride of lions eat a wildebeest, with the smallest cub getting tangled up in the tail it was carrying around. We saw a huge male lion stalking a heard of nervous-looking buffaloes, a female cheetah with two young cubs, and a lake full of pink flamingos. It was, all in all, money well spent. And my total amount of cool backpacker points is on the rise since leopards and cheetahs. Now, if I could only get hold of a Lonely Planet somewhere I could find out all the other stuff I need to see in Eastern Africa. It's an awfully long tick-list.