I arrive back in my spiritual home, Kenya. The plane lands on the dusty air strip and as the doors open I feel the warm breeze on my face and I take in the scent of the land, a mixture of wild sage, herbs and croton bushes. I have new guides this trip as my friend and guide Jonathan has moved onto another camp. Judy and Denise are warm, friendly and welcoming. I arrive at lunchtime so we lunch under the welcome shade of an Acacia tree. As we sit and chat we watch Masai ladies collect wood in colourful ornate Masai dresses and jewellery. They are so beautiful and at one with their environment, I can feel their peace. It is a hard life working on the land in the sun but they seem blessed and happy.
Herds of Wildebeest and Zebra graze around us seemingly content with our presence. Denise, Judy and I discuss my plans for my safari and as always I express my love of the big cats and how I want to capture their actions and reactions to their environment, I want to document their lives, born free and living free. Every family, social and conflict interaction. How they live, hunt, mate and eat. I talk of the prides of Lions and individual Lion, Leopard and Cheetah I have documented over the last decade coming to East Africa. There has been so many highs and lows seeing first-hand the circle of life, the birth and deaths of my favourite cats, how prides have grown, divided and changed and then grown again. This is why I come back to often, each trip is an emotional rollercoaster and very different to the last. I am constantly amazed at the ever changing landscape and balance of nature. Life really writes the best stories but never more so than here. African is my heart spiritual home, peace, love and happiness.
Shortly after lunch we find the beautiful, graceful Cheetah Amani (Swahili for peace) with two female 18 year old cubs. She is lying under a bush whilst her cubs almost the same size of her frolic and roll around. The Cheetah is widely known as the fastest cat in the wild, her beautiful, athletic body is built for speed and endurance. She sits up to observe the plains looking for prey and predator. Even though her cubs are now able to fend for themselves and will shortly leave her she still protects them. Until they leave her she will continue to teach them how to hunt and protect themselves against predators. She barely sleeps for a minute as she is constantly alert. I could sit and watch them for hours, I am in awe of their grace and beauty.
It is migration season and we drive through herds of hundreds of Wildebeest, Zebra, Thompson Gazelle and Topi. By grazing together they can protect each other from threats from predators. It is quite thrilling watch them part as we drive through. We stop in the middle and I gaze around observing these peaceful animals, they have such a great journey from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara and back, they follow the rains and the grazing. In turn the predators follow the herds. They face so many dangers from crossing the Mara River to predator attacks to sheer exhaustion but they still make that annual journey so ingrained in their nature.
We observe Hyena running though the plains, there distinctive lopping gait is recognisable even from a distance. They are often running with a zebra leg or part of a carcass in their sharp jaws. They squabble and fight over scraps. I enjoy listening to their high pitch comical laughter, it makes me smile, and they are really a caricature. They are quite shy animals but also very intelligent and highly organised.
We see in the distance Vultures circling overhead. The Lappel face vulture, African white back vulture and Ruppel Griffin vulture are tearing, clawing and eating a dead Wildebeest, it is whole so rather than being the remains of a predator kill it probably died of exhaustion from the long migration journey or illness. The scavengers are fortunate that predators have not come to claim it. I am sure it will not be long until Hyena and Jackel smell the fresh blood.
What is really stunning this time of year after the rains have fallen is the multi coloured grass, the bright sun light picks up the purples, pinks, greens and yellows. The long grass gently waves in the breeze, it shimmers and lends a softness to the plains. It will not take long for the growing arrival of the herds of Wildebeest and Zebra to graze the long grass down to stumps. But for the moment we enjoy how the plains are a myriad of colours. This is also why I come back home every few months, the landscape changes here so quickly and each new season brings its own beauty and life.
We come across two Lionesses from the Cheli pride. This was the very first pride I saw when I came to the Masai Mara so they hold a special place in my heart. They are laying under some croton bushes, seeking its shade and insect propelling properties. They are beautiful cats, their golden fur is dazzling in the afternoon sun. The exude grace, beauty and strength. Sleeping cats are just so peaceful, I feel so relaxed and happy just by being in their presence.
Late afternoon is such a stunning time of the day. The whole Mara is awash with a splendent glow of light from the setting sun. Golds, reds and oranges illuminate the grass, animals and water. Everything shimmers and takes on an ethereal glow.
We have our Sundowner drink with the sleeping Lionesses. Our faces warm from the setting sun. We talk about our beautiful afternoon.
As the sun sets we see Marabou stalks flying and landing in a nearby tree they are silhouetted on dead tree branches, it is a stark dramatic picture.
We drive to Alex Walkers’ Serian main camp in the North Conservancy. The sky is blue black now and covered in a million stars. There is few things more breath-taking than an African night sky. There is no light pollution so the sky is so clear and you can see all the constellations very clearly. It is a magical experience. The night is warm and the air is heavily scented with wild herbs, my senses are overwhelmed. I close my eyes and feel the overwhelming peace and joy this beautiful place brings.
As we arrive at camp it starts to gently rain, it is warm and humid and feels refreshing. I get out of the vehicle and hug Judy and Denis my new wonderful friends and thank them for such a wonderful day. The camp managers and staff are there to greet me with a warm welcome home, a hot flannel and hot drink to freshen up.
To get to camp we walk over a rope bridge, the rapids are bubbling below me and the hippos grunt in the water. I love this arrival into camp, it is a thrilling fun experience.
When I reach the other side more staff greet me with warm hot chocolate before I head to my stunningly beautiful tent for a bath before dinner. The camps here are beyond luxurious with every amenity you can ask for. The attention to details is meticulous and most welcome after a long dusty day out on the plains. The bathroom is separate and it is open so you can bathe overlooking the river. It is the most wonderful experience. I love bathing listening to the night sounds of hippo, bull frog and lions roaring in the distance. Askari patrol around the tents ensuring the safety of the guests. The Askari are local Masai and they carry spears, I feel quite safe with them around. When I am ready to leave my tent I call them and they walk me back to the main tent. We chat about my day and what they have seen in camp.
I join the rest of the guests, managers and staff for drinks before dinner in front of the fire, it is wonderful to swop stories and get to know people from all over the world. I love peoples’ stories and what draws them to East Africa and safaris. Dinner is as always a wonderful delight, the chefs are excellent and food is delicious. We all head off to bed early as we have before sunrise starts for our adventures the next day, you never know what nature will bring.
I fall to sleep to the night sounds of hippo, lions and river bull frogs.
This is my Africa, my spiritual home.
Day 2 –
I wake up to the sound of hippos in the river. One of the staff brings me delicious aromatic Kenyan coffee. I feel peaceful and tranquil.
I once again walk across the bridge over the rapid water; I look down to see hippos and crocodiles below me, yawning in the sunrise.
I greet Denis and Judy and bundle up in Masai blankets against the chill but crisp fresh air of the pre-dawn morning. I feel alive, peaceful and happy. I am so excited at the thought of what nature will give me today.
It is sunrise and I am inspired by the silhouettes of trees, mountains, zebra and gazelles, this is the spirit of Africa. Here I feel love, passion and beauty, my soul connects to the earth, sky and nature.
A desert date tree is silhouetted against the sunrise over the escarpment. I love the beauty of this environment, it is awe inspiring, romantic and life affirming. It is about going back to nature and connecting with the earth and sky.
As a single woman traveller it is empowering getting back to me. I am an adventurer and explorer, all you need here is a camera and a spirit of adventure.
Herds of Wildebeest are bathed in the red, orange and yellow light of the sunrise. Thompson gazelle are grazing, relaxed after a night watching for predators. We are driving over ravines and across the beautiful multi coloured grass plains. I never feel so alive, so inspired, so whole as I do here.
We hear the call of the hyena, one has clearly found a carcass and lets the rest of its pack know it is breakfast time. The lope around, laughing and excited about the kill. Overhead birds swooping and flocking, looking for their breakfast of insects and grubs.
We find more Hyena, laughing and walking the tracks we are driving on, their lopping gait and brittle haired backs lit by the sun. They are joining a clan of 32 spotted laughing hyena, they have made their own kill and the rest can smell blood from up to 8km away. Hyena are not just scavengers they are great hunters especially in their packs. They are bathed in gold and red sunlight, barking laughing and well fed. They are running with bones and squabbling over the remains of the kill. Jackel hover in the back ground stealing scraps and calling to their pack. They crunch the bones until nothing is left of Wildebeest. They have an important role in keeping the Mara clean.
We are blessed to find 13 of the Cheli pride of Lions, 7 of them are adolescent males (of which we think they come from the Marsh pride) around four years old as large as the females but with Mohican golden manes. Their adolescent manes are backlit in the gold of the sunlight, these males will leave the pride in a year and form a coalition, they will be chased out so they do not mate with mother or sisters. They are eating a Wildebeest kill, they are growling and snarling at each other bickering over the rights to eat first. Young males chase females away from the kill so they can dominate the feed. Hyena hover expectantly in the background, they are hopeful but have no chance. The males are tearing, ripping and gorging on the carcass with blood covered faces.
It is beautiful to see the affection and warmth with which lion greet each other, licking blood stained faces. They butt heads and rub heads under their chins like domestic cats. The Lions are camouflaged by the golden red and orange grass so when they lie down they cannot be seen. Nothing is left of the carcass except bones and a tail for the scavengers. The Lions have big full bellies and they heavily breathe whilst enjoying laying in the grass as the early morning sun warms their bodies. Other are sat up mouths open, panting from the excursion from chomping and gnawing bones and flesh. The Lionesses mainly make the kills but the males get to eat first.
In the background we can hear the sound of braying Wildebeest. A lone Lioness is chasing a warthog, it looks like for fun as the warthog is fast. Lions are yawning, wide mouth, teeth exposed with screwed up mussel. The Lions scent mark the ground around the kill to mark their territory. All cats large or small, wild or domestic use their scent glands in their mouth to smell the females, open mouthed mussels screwed up. Others are stretching in the perfect cat pose, flank forward bottom in the air. The Lions are completely sated from eating the kill.
Then one male Lion picks up the carcass and drags it away so the others follow and try and step on it to prevent him taking it, others then nuzzles him to ask for some. Tempers flare as they argue over the last scraps of flesh. After all the flesh is gone they paw and tear at the grass to cover the blood on the ground to disguise where the kill was so vultures cannot spot it from the air. They then walk over to a large patch of long grass, once they lay down they disappear camouflaged in the plains. The rest gnaw at the head of the Wildebeest, sharpening their teeth on the hard skull. Vultures now circle overhead and land on a nearby termite mound but a Lioness chases them off and relaxes on it herself, she exerts were dominance over them, it is most amusing to watch, she looks most pleased with herself. Another female joins her and they walk together within five feet of our vehicle looking up at me and gently growling, clearly showing me who the real queen is.
We breakfast under a tree and watch Zebra, Wildebeest, Topi and Elephant graze around us. We talk about our fabulous morning and share stories of our lives. Denis and Judy are such wonderful guides and now friends, they are not only very knowledgeable but fun to be with.
Vultures land nearby in a shepherd tree, these are amazing ugly/beautiful birds.
We drive through the largest herd of Wildebeest, Impala and Zebra I have very seen, it is breath taking. We are surrounded by a cacophony of braying, honking and naying.
The Cheli Lionesses are under a tree with a Wildebeest kill. There are three adolescents under a nearby tree one male 4, one female 4 and one female 2. A lone old male buffalo walks by but all the Lions have full bellies so just watch as he walks by, old, slow and clumsy. Lions and Buffalo are enemies due to the high number the Lions kill and as Buffalos are extremely short tempered and aggressive they will kill Lions especially cubs at any opportunity.
Hooded vultures are perching in a tree nearby, they feed on Lion excrement so you know if you see them Lions will be nearby. A mating pair of Lions are under a tree, Tall boy and a female, probably day two of five mating as they copulate every 5 minutes, it is fast aggressive with the male biting the females neck and growling, she growls and snarls then after it is over she rolls onto her back. He has been injured from a fight, he has a closed blooded eye and scars. A lone Giraffe walks by us and the Lions and just stops and stares at them and they stare back. It is quite safe they will not hunt it but the interaction is both intriguing and amusing.
We lunch in a clearing of trees by the Mara River it is just so relaxing. The river runs in front of us and we can see crocodiles basking on the bank, these cold blooded reptiles need the warmth of the sun. It never ceases to intrigue me the way they lay motionless like a fallen sun dried log.
We drive back to the mating Lions. They female very much takes the lead with the mating ritual, she decides when they will mate. She gets up and walks in front of the sleepy male so he can pick up her scent and smell she is ready. She walks in front of him and crouches down so he can mount her. He sleepily get up stretches, yawns and walks over to her. He mounts her, bites her neck and thrusts for around 20 seconds. It is quick, aggressive with a lot of snarling and growling. When he has finished she swipes at him reminding him who is in charge and rolls over onto her back. He walks a short distance away to rest until she requires him again. It is the most unromantic courtship but their focus is the strength of the pride and maintaining numbers. A large pride is a strong successful pride.
We find Amani the Cheetah and her cubs on top of grassy mound looking for prey, they cross a wide rocky plane so we cannot follow but watch at a distance. The cubs are keen to hunt with their mother but they are too keen and inexperienced. Cheetahs are the most successful hunters and very good mothers.
The sun is beginning to set but we hear on the radio a Leopard has been spotted so we drive like the wind. The Offbeat Leopard with an adolescent cub is walking through bush, these are magnificent, powerful, beautiful Leopards. The female Leopard then spots a Thompson gazelle and like a bullet shoots from the bush and its powerful jaws clamp on the gazelles neck suffocating it instantly. The Leopard does not hesitate once the gazelle stops struggling and drags it into the bush to its cub. The Leopard is an ambush hunter, its muscular powerful body built for strength not endurance. We can here it tearing at the flesh, they must eat quickly before other cats or scavengers smell the fresh blood and try and steal the kill. My heart is beating fast it was so exhilarating seeing the hunt and kill, it is so rare seeing a Leopard making a kill as they are so elusive and fast. I am overjoyed with emotion to have had such a privilege.
As we drive back to camp the sun sets red and gold over the Mara Plaines. Its light bathing everything in an ethereal glow. I am just so happy and feel so blessed, the day has been just so amazing. I hug Denis and Judy and thank them for such an amazing day and all the knowledge they have shared with me before I make my exciting journey over the bridge.
That evening after my bath listening to the hippos in the river below me I join the rest of the guests to share stories of our day. The meal as ever is delicious and I sleep peacefully to the sounds of the wild.
This is my Africa, my peace and joy.
Day 3 –
I wake to the sound of the river and the smell of freshly brewed Kenyan coffee. I take a moment to sit in bed and breathe in the scent of the coffee and relive the amazing events of yesterday afternoon. I smile at the memories and get up to start my new adventure today.
I join Denis and Judy in the vehicle and we drive out, the crisp morning air filling our lunges. I close my eyes and feel the gentle cool air on my face, it is blissful. The sun begins to rise over the hills setting the sky alight with its radiant beams of colour, red, orange, yellow and purple. Hot air balloons drift across the horizon silhouetted against the rising sun. Grazing wildebeest and scattered trees are also beautifully silhouetted against the stunning Monet backdrop. It is like observing a stunning painting take shape before your eyes, the artist brushing strokes across a canvass in wild abandonment adding more and more colours. This is nature at its most beautiful and colourful, inspiring, breath-taking and life affirming.
We find a male adolescent Lion dragging a Wildebeest carcass along the plains being chased by Hyena snapping at its feet trying to intimidate it into dropping its kill. He growls at them without dropping his prize. Three other adolescent Lions walks ahead of the marsh pride. The Lion manages to drag the carcass to a nearby bush to crunch on the bones. All the Lions have big full round bellies from eating the kill but this male is determined the Hyena will not have the remains of the head and ribs. He sits and crunches on the bones whilst the slavering Hyena laugh and grumble around the Lion, they try and steal some of the kill but the Lion growls and snarls at them. The Hyenas have dogged determination. The Lion gets tired of being harassed by the Hyenas so picks up the carcass and drags it away so he can follow the three other males who have walked on to look for shade. The Hyenas follow getting closer, then they manage to snatch the kill from the Lion, laughing and squabbling over their prize. The Lion is disgruntled even though he is very full so he joins the other males for shade and to sleep the day away.
We drive to where we left Bullet, this is the name I have given the Leopard we saw last night. We are extremely fortunate to find her lying in a bush we can hear her cub somewhere behind her crunching on the bones from last night’s Thompson gazelle kill. We watch her sitting up looking at us with her beautiful eyes, large and blue in her rosette spotted face. Leopards are arguably the most beautiful graceful big cat. She yawns stretches rolls over onto her back and then sleeps. Her cub then comes out and pounces on her to play. It is so beautiful watching them frolic. The cub then returns to the bush to continue crunching on bones. Bullet sits up and gives us a stunning view of her magnificent coat gleaming in the dappled morning sun. She really is a magnificent cat, elusive but worth the wait.
A short drive away we have a hat trick and we see a Cheetah with her cubs sat on a termite mound. The cubs are playing chase whilst she observes the territory looking for a potential kill. The cubs love practising their chasing and pouncing skills on each other, essential skills for adulthood when they will have to fend for herself. The cubs are six months old now enjoying the delights of being cubs but at 18 months to 2 years they will go their separate ways and hunt for themselves and find a mate to start breeding. The cubs love pouncing on their mother, she is a good mother. She spots a Thompson gazelle and starts to walk but we are in the flood plains so she has no cover so the Thompson Gazelle easily spots her and moves away. The Wildebeest also spot her and start making an alarm call. She and her cubs walk up a rocky outcrop and sit under a bush for some shade and to observe the game.
All this before breakfast!!!! We drive to a nearby tree for shade as it is 10am and the sun is now high in the sky. We sit and eat a delicious breakfast with the Wildebeest. At breakfast I tell Denis and Judy how much I love African singing and dancing so they kindly for fun do a little song and dance for me which was wonderful. I have always loved how natural and easy going it is here.
We drive to the beautiful offbeat area to look for the pride but they are sleeping in the thick bushes as the sun is strong today. This is a very green luscious area with ravines and dark green fig trees, it is a wonderful area to drive around. We see flat headed gamma lizard glistening green and blue sunbathing on a beautiful fallen branch silver grey from the sun. Giraffes, Elan, Impala and Warthogs graze on the grasses and shrubs.
We find again in the Narok area the mating Lions sleeping under a tree. The male is in a typical pose of laying on his back, legs spread wide and one foot resting on the tree. It is too hot for them to mate. They would have slowed down now as it is day three and their energy levels will be diminishing. They do not hunt or feed whilst mating as they conserve their energy. When they have finished after five days they are quite skinny.
We go to lunch late at 3pm under a beautiful Acacia tree and watch the Wildebeest walk by. We have had an exciting day with seeing Lions, Leopards and Cheetahs so we relax a while. I tell Denis and Judy the English expression hat trick and what it means. It is lovely to share expressions and they teach me more Swahili words, it is such a beautiful language and I am keen to become fluent.
Returning to the mating lions after an hour they have still have not moved but within 15 mins the female awakes and she encourages the male to wake up and mate which he does in the same short aggressive manner. They are both starting to look tired and reluctant especially the male, I do feel a little sorry for him but it is one of his main duties.
We drive to the Cheli pride and they are dispersed over the area. Adolescent males lay under a bush, they are posed in various amusing positions, some with their legs resting on trees, others on their backs legs spread wide with big full round bellies rising rapidly, whilst some simply spoon each other, paws resting on each other. It is beautiful and idyllic. There is an impressive 5 year old male Lion with a half grown pale gold mane with his sisters laying on a termite mound, this is a great vantage point. There is something really beautiful and peaceful about having a sundowner with Lions. I sip my G&T (Denis’ speciality, half gin half tonic – I nearly chocked! So funny!) drinking in the beauty of this magnificent regal cats before me. The setting sun lights up their golden manes with gold red and orange light. Their golden blonde fur ablaze in the light. This is my favourite time of day. It is a time to reflect on the wonder of the day, what nature has given me and how blessed I am to spend time in this beautiful place with these wonderful animals and my amazing friends.
As we drive back to camp we see the Lions waking up, stretching, yawning and preparing for their nocturnal activities. Prey graze and become more watchful, aware of the nightly threat.
Back at camp I hug my friends and wish them a restful evening, we have had such an amazing but exhausting 13 hours out on the plains. I take a glass of red wine and relax in the bath before dinner, I am tired but so happy.
Most guests only go out in the vehicle for morning and afternoon game drives when the cats are most active but for me I find I have had some of the best experiences when everyone has gone back to camp as the elusive cats such as the Servile cat and Leopard are more active. I listen to the other guests stories and share mine over a delicious dinner.
I climb tiredly to bed but just so happy. The river once again is my lullaby and I fall to sleep peacefully to recharge for my next adventure tomorrow.
This is my Africa, my peace, my home.
Day 4 –
It is a beautiful morning, it is pre-dawn and I feel so alive. We head out driving through the wide open plains. The sun is rising over the hills and I can see it will be a beautiful clear day. The beautiful of nature is so inspiring but there is a rawer side to. We come across a pack of Hyena eating alive a baby wildebeest, they have such blood lust they tear it apart wanting to devour its soft flesh. It is a heart breaking sight and I cannot watch for long. These encounters are brutal and savage but part of the life here.
We observe a Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl in a tree, its sharp cold eyes can pick out the smallest detail as it searches for small animals to catch and eat.
In the Offbeat area Verte monkeys are playing. I enjoy the social interaction of monkeys. How they play, squabble, forage and groom each other.
We see an adolescent male Lion walking across the plain his mussel covered in blood from eating a kill, he grunts for the rest of the pride so he can join them. We see another adolescent male and they greet by play fighting. They are then joined by a third adolescent male. Close by a baby Jackel sits at the opening of its den watching the Lions walk past. The lions find water and stop to drink, crouching down head to head, there broad shoulders touching as they lap up the water. In the distance we see a large herd of Buffalo descending the hill to the water, they spot the Lions and angrily come towards them and the adolescent male Lions retreat as they are no match for a herd of Buffalo. The Buffalo come to drink, bending down as yellow bill oxpecker birds sit on their backs and head pecking at ticks and dead skin.
After the Buffalo leave the adolescent male Lions return, Maciko (Swahili for ear) who is 2 years has a chewed ear but is beautiful and brave comes back to drink. Another male seems to be intrigued by us or the vehicle and comes up close to observe us, it is thrilling to be within 6 feet of a male Lion with a keen interest, I have just the African breeze between us. We observe each other then he walks off as I am not his prey. A long Buffalo comes down the hill and one of the adolescent male Lions spots it and gets into a pounce position, obviously he cannot hunt the Buffalo as he is too young and not yet strong enough but it is good seeing him practice.
We find Amani the Cheetah with her cubs they are sitting in the shade washing each other which is so beautiful. She is a wonderful mother, so protective and affectionate. I sit and watch cats for hours, they have a beautiful serenity about them.
A Lilac breasted roller bird sits on a termite mound. I am not the greatest fan of birds but Africa really does have the most astonishing array of colourful, interesting birds. This particular bird with its iridescent rainbow feathers which shimmer in the light really catches my eye.
A lone hyena is walking through a group of Warthog, Wildebeest and Thompson gazelle, they all stop to look at it. It cannot hunt alone so poses no threat to them.
We have breakfast in a clearing, the scenery is beautiful, peaceful and relaxing. By the time we have breakfast every morning we have been out for at least three to four hours. I always have an adrenalin rush by the time we stop as nature really does just give and give here. No two days, or even moments are the same. When we stop I love chatting to Judy and Denis, they are just lovely friends they made my safari even more special.
We drive through the rather stunning leopard gorge somewhere I have driven through many times for the breath-taking rock formations and trees. You see cute funny and furry Rock Hyrax sitting in the rock faces scuttling around. I have never seen a leopard here in 12 years I have been coming until today. He is sitting as Leopards classically do draped across a large branch in a middle of a tree so well camouflaged. He is a beautiful strong large male. We stop underneath for a long time in awe of his magnificent presence. He stretches and yawns relaxed in the shade of the sausage trees canopy.
On our left in another tree on its overhanging branches sits a Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl holding a hedgehog in its talons. It looks so relaxed and serene but it just holds its prey until it is hungry. It is proud of its rare prize.
After 2 hours of observing the Leopard he hears a Rock Hyrax and gets up and turns round to look at it. I have a wonderful view of his back his fur really is magnificent, the rosettes as individual as the Leopard. He decides not to try and catch it so turns round and stretches and looks right at us. His beautiful face is beyond stunning his features refined, his muscular body honed to fight and run and eyes bright blue and alert. I take a photo that captures this moment of breath-taking privilege. It is worth the wait to look into the eyes of one of the most stunning cats on earth.
We are so mesmerised at finding such a magnificent male Leopard in such a stunning location by ourselves as all other tourists are back in their camps for lunch we have our lunch in the vehicle. Denis, Judy and I are happy to just sit and observe him. Safaris are more than just seeing the Big 5, it is about observing, understanding and appreciating these amazing animals and seeing how they live in their natural environment.
To our surprise he gets up and jumps down from the tree and starts walking across the plains in the early afternoon sun. We follow him at a respectful distance through the long gold red grasses his coat stunning in contrast. He stops by a large tree which it looks like he will climb but he just sharpens his claws on the bark ready for his possible hunt later. He carries on walking but we can no longer follow as the ground is stony so we loop around and wait. He comes out by a herd of Wildebeest, Grand gazelle and Zebra and crouches in the grass to hunt. We wait. A Grand gazelle grazes nearby but you can hear Hyena wailing in the background informing others of a potential kill. Topi and Wildebeest snort as they can see the Leopard. The Grand gazelle moves on so the Leopard sits up. We gaze with awe at his beauty, long grasses sway gently in the wild around him making the most stunning picture. The Leopard then moves through the grass watching the game, we follow him for over an hour observing his behaviour. It is hard to believe but we spend nearly six hours with this beautiful cat. It has been one of the most experiences I have ever had, I feel so privileged to have been able to spend so long with him with no-one else around. This has been a very special day and I also got to spend it with my beautiful friends.
We then go for a sun downer with the Lions, such a perfect end to a perfect day.
This is my Africa, One home, One heart.
Day 5 –
I cannot believe it is day 5, I have already had the most amazing safari. As I sit in bed drinking my coffee I reflect on the incredible experiences. I feel blessed to call this wonderful country my home. I am Nashipae White Masai at one with nature and this beautiful land.
It is another beautiful sunrise over the Mara North Conservancy. Twisted architectural trees are silhouetted against the gold red and orange rays of the magnificent rising sun. In the distance cute little beautiful Jackal chase white bobbed tail Thompson gazelle hoping for an easy breakfast but they are too fast for them. It is a daily ritual of predator and prey, a dance of life and survival, pitching speed against strength. I enjoy watching the interaction.
The conservancy stretches out before us with the towering escarpment in the distance. It is breathtakingly beautiful, nature as its most stunning. In the dawning morn the greens, yellows and purples of the grasses are iridescent and the dew shine like diamonds individually placed on each blade of grass. My eyes take in the soul and life affirming scenery stretched before me. I feel peaceful, happy and connected. Life is so busy we lose ourselves, here we are able to find ourselves again, who we are and what makes us who we are. Here I feel the best version of myself.
Even without the incredible wildlife this really is heaven on earth, untouched by the rest of the world, this could be any time in history, it is so unchanged. Time stands still, here you can just “be”. Allow yourself to immerse in this glory of nature, the wide expanse of beauty and freedom. Here my imagination and thoughts are free and it truly is freedom.
We drive down to the Mara Reserve to start the second part of our safari. I take in the diversity of the landscape and the wildlife that makes it home here. After all these years I am still awe of this great beauty.
As we drive we find the Marsh pride females they are sat on a termite mound. Their golden blonde coats shine in the rising sun, they are resting after a night of hunting. They look contented with full bellies so I believe they must have been successful. A large herd of buffalo are nearby grazing, they appear to be ignoring the females as they are not presenting a threat but I know they will be keeping a watchful eye on them.
We stop for breakfast under a stunning Acacia tree, its wide thick branches and leaves providing us with perfect shade from the ever warming sun. As we sit and eat our lovely breakfast we chat about the history of the Mara, the tribes and how the Masai live alongside the wildlife. Zebra are grazing nearby, I love how they romantically putting their heads on each other’s backs. Of course this is so they can look both ways protecting each other from threats all around them, but for a romantic heart like mine it just looks so loving.
We find Malika the beautiful female Cheetah and her two two month old cubs with a kill under some bushes. We have to ask permission of the cheetah project and rangers to see them as the cubs are young and they do not want too many vehicle’s to disturbing them. I feel so privileged to be able to observe them together. Cats are such good mothers, fiercely protective and very loving. We stay just a few moments to take in this naturally affectionate sight and I wish for success for her raising them with so many threats around her. When I am back in a few months I will visit her again and see how she and the cubs are progressing. The Cheetah project undertake such amazing work monitoring these stunning cats.
We find the beautiful Cheetah Musiara (named after the Marsh area) nearby with her three one year old cubs sitting under a bush. It is two females and a male. They are very healthy and alert, I love the fluffy Mohican of hair they still have on their necks, they are already nearly adult size. They spot two Jackal and for fun they chase them around the plains but do not catch them. It is wonderful practice for them. They walk over to some other bushes to rest and take shade from the midday heat. Their lithe athletic bodies are designed for speed and endurance but they have to conserve energy for hunting. However they then spot a Reedbuck and they all take chase again, two of the young catch it in a ravine but they are too young and inexperienced to kill it so it gets away. It is wonderful watching the Cheetahs run at such speeds, their legs long and graceful as they sprint over the uneven ground, completely focused on their prey. They return to rest, they stretch out their lithe bodies in the sun, rolling over, yawing and baring their razor sharp teeth. They sit up and lick their paws so they can groom their perfect faces. Their distinctive markings captivating and beautiful, each Cheetah so unique and individual.
We lunch down by the Mara River. The sun shines on the water, it sparkles and glistens as I shield my eyes. A large group of hippo splash and dive under the water, cooling their bodies from the heat of the sun. Other bask on the dusty sand of the shore, their large pink bodies with grey mud being baked on by the heat. Further down river I can see a group of Masai boys sitting by the river, chatting and playing. It is wonderful to be in such a natural environment where there is so much peace and tranquillity. Lunch is as always delicious, we sit relax and chat, I just feel so happy.
After lunch we head to the Reikero area. We drive through large herds of wildebeest, buffalo, zebra and gazelles. It is quite awe inspiring being in the middle of such great herds, you can feel the energy of the group, draw in the scent and observe up close and personal their interactions. Here you are truly at one with nature
We find one of the male lions Lipstick sleeping under a bush, he is sound to sleep. He can rest easy as he is the top predator. I sit and observe him, his powerful body laying peacefully in the shade, he is muscular and powerful, built to fight, hunt and protect. He breathes rapidly as it is hot, flies buzz around him and his ears and tail flicks them away. Occasionally he will raise a mighty paw to brush his nose as they flies buzz at the moisture around his nostrils, he sneezes and carries on with his slumber. His impressive mane is golden and black, coarse to protect him against injury and striking to display his dominance and stature. I can sit and watch a sleeping male lion for hours, I love to take in every detail of this regale, magnificent cat, the king and ruler of this wonderful kingdom.
We drive back through the large herds then see a suspicious clearing by some bushes we find three Lionesses from the Reikero pride sleeping on the grass, nearby is a carcass of a Zebra. They are tired from the exertion of hunting and killing the Zebra. It has a tough hide so eating it would have also required considerable energy. They breathe heavily, they bellies full and round, completely sated. They are beautiful females, strong and powerful but also gentle and loving. They occasionally roll over and groom each other affectionately. They lay paws over each other in an affectionate embrace, they are strong as a pride and protect and care for each other.
A short drive away we find the other dominant male lion Blackie sleeping in the long grass. He looks up at us, he is magnificent, his mane gold and black showing his maturity of 10 years as the mane gets darker and blacker as they get older. His nose is also mainly black with a small amount of pink indicating his maturity. These are two strong powerful dominant alpha males.
As the sun begins to set we have our sun downer with the Lions. I love how the golden light of the setting sun lights up the golden fur of the Lions. They begin to wake. They sit up, stretch and yawn, their powerful jaws open wide bearing their sharp teeth and raspy tongues. They start to groom themselves and each other ready for a night of hunting. I love watching the affection between the lions.
We reluctantly leave the Lions and drive back to camp in the setting sun. We are going to Alex Walkers River camp. I am greeted by my wonderful friends in camp, Moses, John and the rest of the amazing team who welcome me home. I really do feel at home as I chat to Moses by the river around the camp fire with a glass of red wine. The sun blazes it fiery red and golden beams over the hills and reflects its glorious technicolour over the river. The moon can be seen over head and stars commence their amazing light show. We talk of the amazing time I have already experienced and the sights that have been recently seen around camp. I am so happy to be back here, this camp really feels like home to me after so many years staying here.
I am shown to my beautiful tent right on the river by Moses, the stars are already being reflected on the water. The tents are so comfortable and homely, I take a much needed shower and head for dinner.
I sleep so peacefully next to the river, lulled to sleep by the sound of the lapping water.
This is my Africa, my heart is home.
Day 6 –
I wake after a wonderful night’s sleep. I can hear the river right outside my tent, it is so peaceful. I feel happy and rested as I drink my coffee. How often do we just sit and take time and just be still in the moment, appreciating life and the blessings we receive.
My lovely friend Moses bought me some Masai dresses and I am dressed in them with my Masai Jewellery. My transformation into Nashipae is complete, I am truly as my Masai name means, Happy One. We enjoy some time taking photos together in the sunrise. I am truly blessed to have such wonderful Masai friends, I appreciate and value their love and care they show me and I in return love them dearly.
We drive out into the sunrise, the air is cool and fresh and as I breathe it into my lunges I feel so alive and peaceful. The prey are grazing on the dewy grass, they are relaxed as the new day dawns bright and clear. The sun’s rays start warming the cool air and bring life to all its touches. The dawn light brings such positivity and hope of a new day. New life will be born and new plants will grow.
We find the Cheetah Musiara and her three one year old Cubs sitting in the grass, up close you can tell the Cubs from her as they still have the fluffy hair at the back of their necks but from a distance they are indistinguishable as they are as large as her. They start to hunt Thompson gazelle and we watch in awe at the skill of the cheetah to hunt its prey. Unfortunately the Cubs are too keen and they are spotted and the gazelle run off. We observe the cheetahs resting on a termites mound viewing the scenery looking for the next prey.
We spot part of the Ronkai pride sitting in some bushes. Three females, four six month cubs and the male about 8 years old. He is magnificent with his dark black and got mane, his face is beautiful and unusually unscarred. He is sat up watchful over his family. It is such a heart stopping scene of beautiful pride family life. They are such an interesting group to observe. The cubs are curious with their big eyes looking up at us. They have big paws and fluffy ears and are beyond cute.
Breakfast is under the shade of an Acacia tree in the middle of the Mara plains and take photos of us all relaxing in the sun watching zebra. It is wonderful just spending time together, talking about the experiences we have had. It has been such a wonderful safari.
We drive to the Lookout area and search for the Lookout pride but we come across two of the nomadic hippo specialist males lions (Notch’s sons, but he died recently of old age at 15 years) sitting under a bush. They are ten years old so their manes are so black, they are very powerful male lions. We sit within fifteen feet of them, it is the most heart stopping life affirming feeling being so close. These nomadic males do not have a pride, they move around the Mara mating with females from all the prides. They are called the hippo specialists as they are four large powerful alpha males so will at night when hippos come out of the water chase them until they are exhausted and the hippos collapse then tear it apart. We watch them yawn and stretch and relax in the sun.
It is sometimes just lovely driving around and seeing beautiful herds of giraffe and zebra grazing on the plains.
As we approach the hills of the lookup area we observe a Lioness from a distance coming out of the bushes to drink, she is part of the lookout pride. Then to our joy another two Lionesses come out followed by a cub of around 3 months old, they walk down to drink and the cub jumps on its mums back. Another female sits in the bushes. It is a peaceful beautiful scene. The females are so affectionate towards each other rubbing their faces in greetings and washing each other. The cub suckles from its mother and plays with the females.
A short distance away we see a southern ground hornbill, black feathers with a beautiful red face and bill. It walks proudly and gracefully through the grass. It pecks at dung looking for dung beetles to eat. It quite a stunning bird and you always see the male and female together often with an adolescent young.
Lunch is by the river such a beautiful setting until we observe a dead wildebeest in the water bloated from being part submerged. A young crocodile is eating the carcass from underneath the water, tearing off chunks and swallowing them whole. It is an interesting sight. The crocodile eating its lunch as we eat ours.
We drive back to the hippo specialist Lions. The one that was sleeping in the bush is now out in the open and sat up cleaning his impressive large powerful paws. Such a wonderful sight watching him gently grooming. He looks so gentle but he is a big powerful male. He is Supuu (beautiful).
We find two of the Ronki Lionesses sat up in the grass but within a short while they stand up and start calling the cubs. One by one the females and cubs ranging from 2 months to 1 year come out of the bushes and start walking across the plains. There are eleven Lions, 2 two month cubs, 4 females, 5 young cubs. The male is still asleep somewhere in the bushes. They come to a small canyon and they all start walking down the steep banks. There is a watering hole in the canyon so as they walk down you can see their reflections in the water. It is a breath-taking sight. As they reach the bottom they stop and bend down to lap up the water even the small cubs. The cubs then proceed to play, chasing, jumping on each other, biting tails and chasing birds. The small cubs suckle and enjoy a wash from their mums, it is so touching. It is a magnificent scene of pride life. The sun starts to set and the sun lights up their fur golden. As we are about to leave the male comes out of the bushes and sits on a large mound, his red gold and black mane lit up ablaze in the sunset. He is so majestic magnificent powerful and protective of his pride.
I sit on the roof of our land cruiser and sip my sun downer as I observe the pride. I am enthralled by the interactions between the Lions as the affectionately greet each other and frolic and chase each other around. I feel at one with them and nature and feel to privileged to spend time with these wonderful cats. The golden blaze of the setting sun lights up their golden fur and really highlights their true majesty and magnificence.
We drive back to camp as the sun is setting behind us. We stop to photograph the stunning sun setting over the Mara plains, it is breath taking. The sunset for me represents the perfect finish of a glorious day, I like to sit peacefully and give my thanks for the day, for what nature has brought us and the joy in every moment. I feel so blessed.
Dinner is outside under the stars in camp, the full moon lighting up the sky reflecting on the river as we have drinks around the fire. It could not be more of a beautiful perfect evening. The air is still warm and it is scented with croton bushes. As I look up into the midnight blue black sky dotted with a million stars I thank my blessings and the blessing that is Africa.
I sleep peacefully.
This is my Africa, my peace my joy.
Day 7 –
The dawn breaks bright and clears outside of my tent. I watch the sunrise over the hills and the light glistening on the water, it sparkles like diamonds and I can see insects buzzing over the top of the water their delicate wings being backlit by the golden glow of the sunrise. Hippos are returning to the water after their nightly graze on the plains, they meander slowly and cumbersome. Their large pink and grey bodies submerge into the water for a day of wallowing, the cool waters protecting them from the strong sun’s rays. They are a vocal group and constantly communicate with each other with the honks and grunts.
As we drive out in the breaking dawn my eyes drink in the beautiful of this wonderful land, taking in all the beautiful colours, shapes, sights and scents. I fill my lunges with the intoxicating scents of the trees and plants, I feel so alive and happy. The sunrise energises me and I feel excited at what nature will give me today.
We come upon a male Lion around 12-15 years old with a full black mane; he is very large and majestic. He is sitting alone in the long grass eating a baby Thompson gazelle, his large jaws and sharp teeth are making easy work of crunching the soft bones of the baby. It is likely he found it lying in the grass shortly after it was born, a very easy kill for him. Of course male Lions are great hunters but with their large manes and powerful physique they are not as successful as the Lionesses. They are opportunists as they are built for power rather than speed. I have observed on many occasions a male Lion take a kill from a Cheetah as his sheer size is threatening and intimating for the smaller cats.
Not too far away we find a lone cheetah lying in the grass watching the herds. Her beautiful fur camouflaged by the multi coloured grasses. She is lithe and slender, her sinewy body ready to run at speed with such grace and powerful. She will spend hours observing and following slowly the herd as she will assess her best opportunity to make a kill. It is important she conserves her energy.
We breakfast down by the river, drinking in the peace and serenity of our surroundings. The river is very low as there has been very little rain, grey rocks rise out of the water, shimmering in the sun, they would usually be under the water level. The sun is now higher in the sky and we feel the warmth on our bodies as we sip our delicious coffee. It is such a beautiful time of day, all is still and calm. Breakfast is as always delicious.
We drive up and through ravines watching Wildebeest and Zebra crossing the river and stopping to drink. The scenery is just so stunning in this part of the Mara. I love the undulation of the ground, the way long grass sways in the breeze and sharp grey rocks jut up through the ground. All around we see groups of crotons bushes, elephant pepper and whistling Acacia, each plant has a use and a purpose. Large termite mounds rise in varying heights, mini cities carefully constructed by such small insects. Trees tower over head, architectural Acacia, Sheppard, Sausage and Baobab trees provide interesting structure to the vista.
We watch a herd of elephant grazing and walking through the plains with two small calves. It is interesting watching their slow and purposeful march as they use their large feet to kick up small scrubs and pull them up with their trunks. They masticate slowly, chewing over and over. The calves are kept protected between the adults as they walk; they are very endearing as they copy the actions of the adults.
There are still several large herds of Wildebeest that have not crossed over into Tanzania yet, it is amusing hearing them honking and grunting. It is very much safety in numbers for the Wildebeest they have plentiful threats.
Down in the river Hippo wallow in the shallow waters as there have not be any rains whilst other sunbathe on the banks. It is the hottest part of the day and they are quite lethargic.
We too are feeling drained by the heat so we lunch by the river. We enjoy our delicious lunch whilst we talk about the animals and how the Mara changes with the seasons and how lovely it is seeing it all. That is why I come back different times of the year each season brings with it such wonders and beauty.
After lunch we find the Ronkai male Lion laying in the grass, it is still early in the day for him so he is fast asleep. His large belly rises heavily as he is still full from the early morning kill. He sighs in his sleep, such a deep sound. Nearby three females and a cub are lying in the bushes they too are sleeping in the heat of the day. I love how their limbs are entangled together.
We drive to the rest of the Reikero pride at sunset, we find three females and with two cubs suckling. It is so endearing hearing the cute contented sounds of the cubs as they feed.
The sun sets on this wonderful scene, I sit and watch them feeling at peace and happy.
As we drive back to camp with the glorious radiant sunset flashing red orange, yellow and purple light across the sky I reflect on all the joyous moments from the last week.
I sleep peaceful and happy.
This is my Africa, my peace and rest.
Day 8 –
This is my last day on safari and in Kenya and I feel a mixture of happy, contented and connected and sad because I will once again have to leave my home. As I sit in bed listening to the sound of the water and the Hippos grunting I reflect on the peace, happiness and incredible experiences I have had.
As we drive out at sunrise I take in the final time the magnificence of nature’s light show. The way the light touches each tree, mountain, animal and bird, illuminating them in an ethereal glow of red, yellow, orange and gold. The rising fireball erupts over the hills its rays striking and radiant. I can feel the heat of my face in contrast to the cool air of the morning, it is so beautiful.
We find the regal male Lions Blackie and Lipstick from the Reikero pride lying in the grass. Their manes golden in the sunrise. The sun’s rays pick up the red, golds and blondes in their dark manes they truly are magnificent cats. They are sleepy after a night of hunting so they sleep peacefully and contentedly.
Not far away we find a Zebra kill half eaten by the Ronkai pride but now being eaten by Hyena. The Hyena squabble and laugh over the carcass, their sharp teeth tear at the flesh, whilst others tug at the bones and run away with them so they ca sit and pick at the flesh and chew he marrow from the bones. The rest of the Ronkai pride are sleeping in the bushes also tired from their nights hunt.
We drive to the main river crossing area for the migration and see dozens of vehicles waiting for Wildebeest and Zebras to cross the river. There are many drowned Wildebeest in the river being eaten by Vultures. It is not an enjoyable sight so we drive to an ambient clearing in the paradise plain surrounded by beautiful trees full of Ruppells long tail starling with their stunning midnight blue feathers singing. We have a relaxing peaceful breakfast.
We drive further into paradise area and see two Lionesses and an adolescent male and female lying in the grass then we drive to the Kaburu crossing nearby. There are more females laying in the bushes as this is one of the crossing areas for the migration. We park by the river watching the Crocodile and Hippo bathing in the shallows. We wait for a while to see if any Zebra or Wildebeest will cross. After an hour we hear a large herd of Wildebeest coming, snorting and so do the Lions in the bushes. Before they can reach the river the Lions charge and the Wildebeest panic and stampede into the bushes where Lions charge them grabbing one by its throat suffocating it and bringing it down. The rest of the Wildebeest escape in a cloud of dust, panic and fear. The Lioness sits by her kill satisfied with her success. Only minutes later a smaller group of Wildebeest follow suit and the Lions are in pursuit again but the Wildebeest get away. The Lioness is unsuccessful this time and returns to her kill to start eating it, licking and tearing at the flesh of its rump where it is most tender and accessible. The sound of her gnashing tearful and biting is very primal.
We drive a short distance away, the vehicle brushing against the wild mint which fragrances the air. A dozen nervous Wildebeest which were hiding still in the bushes come out not realising there are Lionesses nearby. They stand in the clearing confused and nervous but the Lions are asleep after their previous exertions. A couple of hours pass, we have decided to wait it out and have a late lunch in the vehicle. Late afternoon a Lion wakes up and starts to chase the startled Wildebeest but they manage to run into the bush in a cloud of dust then out again into the plains. This time they were lucky.
It is time to leave my spiritual home. My friends drive me to the air strip where I say my tearful goodbyes; it is so hard to leave my friends and this wonderful country. As the plane takes off I gaze in awe at the wide open planes of the Masai Mara teaming with herds of Elephant, Wildebeest, Gazelles and Zebra. My eyes follow the river as it snakes its way through the dry land and study the familiar tracks we have driven on to view these amazing animals. I wave a final goodbye to my friends from the air, tears streaming down my cheeks, how do you say goodbye to your home. I lift my spirits by planning my next trip back and thinking about how the prides would have developed, the cubs grown and the dynamics changed in just a few short months.
A safari is not a holiday it is a life changing experience. If you are open to adventure and have the patience to observe and wait you will be rewarded with the most amazing experiences. It is more than just seeing animals in their natural environment, experiencing new cultures and seeing the most breath taking scenery. It is about opening yourself to the sights, sounds and scents of the wild, becoming one with it.
This is my Africa, my heart, my passion, my soul. Soon my home.