The Safari Experience   !   Game Drives   !   Diary of A Five Week Visit


East Africa Trip Journal
June / July, 2000

by Joyce Carta

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Saturday, 17 June - On to Mombasa

The wake-up knock was promptly at 7:00 AM and we were up and ready.  P went off to arrange for the transfer in Mombasa and we met for breakfast and then checkout.  As usual, everyone we saw wished us a good and safe journey and wished for our return.  And there was Suriac with his letter all done and sealed and wrapped up in a thank you note with his best wishes for our safe journey.   One of the signs of a well run, accommodating hotel is the friendly attitude.  We never saw a face without a smile and a "Jambo" (hello).  

We were a bit sorry to leave but then Mombasa was waiting.  The taxi to the airport was a quick but very rough hour (we will NOT miss that road).  We'd been told the Zanzibar airport was a miserable dump, and frankly it's no Dar, but we'd both seen worse.  Check in, Immigration and Security were a breeze and we waited in the air conditioned "International Departures" Lounge (aren't they all international departures from here?) for Air Tanzania's 11:55 AM flight on  a Beech 99.  

We're half right, it is a Beech 99, but it's a DHL AIRPLANE – we're being shipped as packages to Mombasa!  Seriously, DHL does pick up some passenger slack to "remote" locales – and since all 6 passengers were there and the pilot was ready, gear stowed, we left, an amazing 1/2 hour early.  An African first!  Had a beautiful view of Zanzibar island which then disappeared behind clouds as we tackled our boxed lunches – boxed lunches no less!  

In a short hour we landed, P saw lots of houses with pools as we came in, reminded him of South Florida.  Moi Airport, named, of course, for the current president, was a surprise:  big, clean, much nicer than Nairobi's.  Again Customs and Immigration were a snap and we parked ourselves within the protected "Do Not Go Beyond This Point" yellow box, aimed at keeping arrivals safe from hassling taxis – we had, of course, a 1/2 hour to wait for the pick up.  Which was exactly punctual.  

The Royal Reserve car drove us through the tangle of airport shacks hawking everything from fruits to freezers, constructed from that ubiquitous corrugated tin and shack poles that define Third World native construction.  It's a 40 minute drive to Royal Reserve, we barely got a glimpse of the beach, but we couldn't miss the seedy night clubs and "Tembo Disco" (Beer Bash) houses along this main road north.  P joked with the driver asking him if this was the road to Mogadishu (Somalia) and the driver grinned and said, "Hakuna matata, I don't take you there."  Our destination was an exotic time share which we had swapped with a client in exchange for travel insurance and we hoped it would give us a good base camp to explore this area.  Fools that we were.

So, how does one describe the black pit of despair in first seeing the Royal Reserve Safari & Beach Club Time Share Condos?  Would it be fair to say that after only an hour the week we'll be here begins to stretch like an eternity?  Does it seem like it's time for my own private picture of Hell to undergo revision?  Can it be that there's a place on this coast worse even than the Bilious Beach Resort of Dar?  Yes, yes and, unfortunately, yes.  As we checked in, forked over some $80 for the taxi pick up and the week's utilities, got shown to our apartment, reviewed the inventory of the utensils with the maid (which no doubt will have a repeat performance just prior to check out...or maybe they'll use a metal detector on us?), we couldn't look each other in the eye.  

When it comes to adversity, we both turn cynical and boy was this place a fertile stomping ground for cynicism.  What can you possibly say about a place so clueless that they post complaint letters on the public board for all to read?  

The good news, well, that's brief, the TV works, the room is clean and the grocery is about 100 feet away.  All the rest, however, is not good.  Primarily awful is that we can't get an outside phone line for an Internet connection.  The power keeps winking out and their back up generator does not, shall we say, provide a seamless connection.  Plus, it's not safe to leave the compound, which means constant subjection to "Tattoos on Parade," i.e.. the other "guests."  RRSBC draws working class Brits and the "holiday camp" mood prevails.  Working class Brits with raucous children, a mad desire to get as much sun and splash time as possible, and a gaily manic "Let's All Have Fun NOW" demeanor (and our room is directly on the pool, a "choice" location).  

In fairness there was a black American woman from Brooklyn doing some brutal bargaining with a bartender, but her excellent Swahili and accented English belied her nationality – and a very loud Yank at another bar pontificating on Kenya's problems.  These people don't need us to tell them.  So, we bought groceries to stock the fridge, $50 (mostly on wine and beer), killed time examining trinkets on display by Masai warrior types (as if Masai men would ever be caught dead selling trinkets) then finding the Beach Bar (where P almost had Rashid, one of the "Animation Team" which must mean "Activities Staff," believing that I wrote the U.S. Declaration of Independence as I worked on this diary....WHAT a kidder P is) and showed up for dinner at the restaurant.  Another filling but forgettable venture.  Spent our first evening here glued to the telly which offered a choice of the Euro 2000 Football match (Croatia v. Slovenia, we think) or the all-octopus-all-the-time nature programming channel.  Tough call.  Bed beckoned and we went.


Sunday, 18 June

No need for an early start so we rolled out at ten.  I "self-catered" our breakfast of tea and Pop Tarts (meager pickings at the Grocery) and wrote postcards while P worked on FAQ's for African Travel.  Intrepid P managed to wrangle today's Sunday Nairobi paper – and its contents kept first me and then P fascinated for hours.  There's so much discontent, dissatisfaction, out and out clashing plus economic misery plus the drought is causing power shortages countrywide.  Kenya seems tightly wound and barely able to keep the lid on.  

The situation doesn't appear to effect tourism, in the face of failing everything else the tourist dollars are vital, but the newspaper had pages of scathing editorial all scathingly directed at the government's highest levels.  This can't continue status quo much longer.  At any rate, I started inputting this journal which I finished by the evening, up to date, that is.  The rains came frequently and during a rain break I dashed to the grocery for more munchies and to see if there might be something I could add to tonight's "self-catered" pasta special I cooked up on the gas cooker, which had almost no propane left in the tank.  The wine we bought was 50/ bottle good, the next not so, a fitting tribute to travel adventures in general.  You never know what you're going to get.  So, catching up on business, etc. we wrapped up the day...looking forward to e-mail access and outside world contact tomorrow!


Monday, 19 June - Escape Plans

Another day dawns, we're still here.  But today we've evolved an escape plan.  P went off optimistically with computer and access phone number in hand in hopes of achieving the promised Internet phone hook-up.  I kept vigil.  Three minutes later he's back.  No luck.  Tried the access number and the connection wouldn't hold.  The promise of Internet access was what held us here this extra day.  

So, now we need to jump ship.  I've got e-mails piling up, having had all mine directed to my away address.  We need to get back in some regular touch with Annie – we need to touch the outside world and have it touch back.  So, P called Nick at Dallago Tours (our East Africa associates), got him to arrange for extra days in Nairobi and on safari; called Kenya Airways and advanced next Saturday's flight to Wednesday.  Tomorrow we'll do the full day Mombasa city tour and begin to surface from the sensory deprivation chamber that is the RRS&BC.  

Having accomplished that, we wandered to the Beach Bar, checked out low tide where you can see seaweed strewn bottom stretching 1/4 mile to the enormous breakers beyond the reef.  Enterprising hucksters ("Beach Boys") stroll the beach trying to tempt tourists to come down and view their wares...few takers on that score, I have to say.  Spent some time chatting with the security guard who kindly opened the bar for us, and we learned that for this two-acre resort property, they have 5 full-time guards during the day and 9 at night.  This is a jarring fact to learn.  Wandered back.  Tried to buy stamps again.  No luck there.  Ate samosas and a veggie burger for lunch to kill an hour.  

Nick's call caught up with us in the restaurant saying he'd arranged just about all details of our escape plan.  Great!  Although we'd met with some Brits at the Beach Bar who'd done 6 days on safari and were exhausted by the experience ("Yup, yawn, there's another zebra" was a direct quote).  At this point I can't conceive of being bored after 6 days.  We're going to go on the organized "Village Walk" leaving from Reception at 4:00, to be back in time for happy hour.  

So we gather for the "Village Walk" having first been cautioned to purchase candy for the children.  We set out along a path paralleling the beach as various fruit and nut trees are pointed out by our guide.  Walking through one man's front yard, we got a close view of a coastal village:  mud daubed with coral rock imbedded houses held together by stick frames, chickens and staked goats, and lots and lots of children.  Passing the medicine man's "cottage" there he sat, all of 100 years old we were told, scowling at us.  We could feel his resentment at our intrusion.  

The kids, on the other hand, knew what was coming.  Squealing in delight they stuck hand after hand out for the candies they knew we'd brought.  Our supply exhausted we took shelter from a short downpour, conveniently it turns out, under the thatched roof of the grocery hut.  We and all the kids whose hands continued to stretch appealingly.  One of our group, a soft touch British lady, ended up buying a large sack of "candies" – and suddenly it was Trafalgar Square and the pigeons were landing.  These kids inhaled 4 and 5 at once, and when I overheard that these were gum balls, my first thought was hopefully they've got a plant with Ipecac properties.  

No wonder the medicine man had no use for us.  We not only teach the perfected art of "Begging 101" but potentially make the lot of them sick, to boot.  We were shown the local Kingfisher Restaurant where we were politely pressured to come back and dine, then we finally headed back, with half of the village in tow.  We reflected that this was probably the caliber of most down-market African "Native Tours."  We'll be interested to contrast this with the Dallago-arranged experiences on safari.  Another "luscious" home cooked meal of pasta and sauce, watched the end of the EcoTour 2000 Competition on the Discovery Channel and called it a night.


Tuesday, 20 June - Mombasa

This has been the best day – and a very telling day RE Mombasa and its prospects for add-on sales.  We booked the full day Mombasa tour with the local tour company here at RRS&BC.  Picked up precisely at 8:30 by Gavin, our driver, we set off for the city, some 17 miles south.  First stop, Macombe Wood Carving Village, a co-op of independent craftsmen who sell through a centralized store.  Giant chunks of teak, mahogany and the very pricey ebony (which fascinatingly has a black inner core with light wood surrounding) are selected by the craftsmen and worked in their individual huts.  

We went from one hut to the next seeing every conceivable animal go from just a shape in the wood to rough cut to polished finish.  Intoxicating smell of worked wood was everywhere.  Then, on to the central shop where the proliferation of finished carvings filled 3 large rooms.  I'd been very taken with a particular elephant Mama and Baby as a Christmas gift but couldn't find anything comparable in the shop.  Gavin arranged to have me buy it directly from the artisan (highly illegal) at a considerably reduced price and he met us outside the workshop grounds where the transfer took place (like a drug deal) on the sly through the car window!  

I'm usually not someone who flouts rules and conventions when traveling but this was so matter-of-factly presented and accepted I have to believe it's more custom than not.  The rest of the tour took in the colorful Hindu Temple, twisty streets of Old Town, the old port (in continuous operation for the last 2,000 years) and Fort Jesus.  All of which you can find excellent guide book descriptions of, and all of which I recommend seeing while in Mombasa.  

Deciding to forego the tour's crocodile farm lunch stop (we've got critters aplenty at home and truly you see one croc or one know the rest) we detoured to Mombasa's famous world class fish restaurant "Tamarind."  Its prime location on the south bank overlooking Mombasa Island gives the dining terrace a spectacular skyline to enjoy as you unhurriedly savor probably the best food on the coast.  Vervet monkeys play in the courtyard's tamarind trees and we sipped "Crocodiles in the Sky," one of their fancy cocktails, some sort of wonderful passion fruit and vodka mix.  

P tried the seafood fettuccini but I really pigged out.  Ordered the 600 gram "Lobster a la Bebe Justin," baked in butter, cardamom, cloves, almonds and cream — all I can say is Baby Justin had an accomplished palette for his age.  Too full to move much, settled the $70 lunch bill (!!), met our driver and proceeded to the Bamburi Nature Park, recently renamed Haller Park after the giant Bamburi Cement Works founder.  

The Park was land recovered from mining, restored to an ecological balance and is now home to elands, oryx, lots of crocs, 3 hippos, land tortoises from Aldabra in Seychelles, birds and the obligatory Snake Museum, where I made friends with "Susannah," the 6 foot python, who was as happy to meet me as I was her and promptly fell asleep curled around my neck!  For 2 hours we toured, fascinated by the display and what a wonderful transformation they'd achieved.  

On our way back we stopped at the White Sands Resort, just to check it out.  It's big, beautifully done, with enormous central pool that twists and turns around the central courtyard.  The beach wasn't much and anyone seeking a beach holiday would probably be disappointed.  Back to the RRS&BC we reflected that there's not much more that a client could get in Mombasa that couldn't be had in Zanzibar, more exotic and cheaper as well.  Probably won't do Mombasa extensions unless specifically requested.  

Amazingly P was hungry for dinner so we joined the crowd at the restaurant and a "rousing" game of BINGO (yes, it can be rousing when your bingo caller had at least 6 languages at his disposal and used them all loudly).  And, of all things, P WON!!  Took an hour to get the numbers but his card was the winner and we're now carrying a bottle of "Cordon Blanc" as the prize.  Well, thus fortified in triumph we spent our last night at the RRS&BC.  YEA.


Wednesday, 21 June - Escape

True to what I expected, the housekeeper came to count the utensils before we left, P settled the bill (equivalent to the cost of our Tamarind lunch) and we departed.  The rains came down but nothing could dampen our spirits.  Nairobi here we come and the Intercontinental HAS to have direct dial hook-up for e-mail.  Kenya Air flight 607 leaves at 1 PM for the hour flight.  

At the airport security I felt my vest pocket and surprise, surprise, came up with the RRS&BC key.  They forgot to ask and me, in my departure elation, forgot to hand it over.  A security officer noticed my dilemma and said to P, "I'll take care of this."  Canny P, picking up on the ways of the proper method of transaction, slipped a bit of folding money on the sly with the key, and we have no doubt it will find its way home.  

Safari Manager David met us on arrival in Nairobi and took us to the Intercontinental.  This is leagues above the Hilton (which was very nice) in size, quality and quantity of services.  They put us on the "Ambassador's Club" 7th, top, floor, with a glorious view of the Conference Center Park and Nairobi's busy streets.  Wasted no time "setting up shop" – we got online, found no current e-mail crises, so we did some work in the room until it was time to "inspect" the bars before dinner.  

The Intercontinental has 2 very comfortable places to sit and relax, but as far as we were concerned, the star attraction was their new Indian restaurant "Bhandini" just opened that day.  We managed to grab the last unreserved table and enjoyed an expertly prepared Northern Indian meal.  P had succulent goat in sauce and spices and I opted for the cottage cheese koftas, with our favorite, Kashmiri naan.  We inspected the hotel's other dining rooms, a tiny gourmet alcove and the main facility which was putting on a massive seafood buffet.  Everything was perfectly presented and looked delectable, even to us, stuffed with Northern Indian delicacies.  Returning to the room we caught CNN and fell soundly asleep.


Thursday, 22 June

Breakfasted in the buffet room and later, on returning to the room, found my eyes had blown up like Japanese koi.  Must have been something I ate although I'd never had an allergic reaction before.  Oh well, sunglasses all day for me.  We met David who escorted us on 2 essential errands:  First, we needed to replace the camera.  P had made some calls and found one store who had one Sony Mavica in stock, which was literally grabbed out of the hands of another prospect as we were clearly "buyers."  

After some negotiation we settled on Ksh 68,500 (about $900) – we gulped, changed $ to Ksh and took it.  Probably the only digital camera of its kind south of Cairo but essential for the Safari Magic website.  On to Colpro, THE place for safari clothes, as P needed an "official" safari hat.  Ended up with his hat, one for David as well (who really looked very much more at home in the colonial pith helmet type – in fact, he looked like he needed to be saluted), a safari shirt for P and jackets for the 2 of us.  It's pretty darn chilly here in Equatorial Africa!  After all, south of the Equator, seasons are reversed and, yes, as an interesting aside, the water in the toilet bowl DOES swirl down in the opposite direction.   

Back to Dallago for another highly successful meeting and they returned us to the Intercontinental where I "iced" both eyes for 3 hours, as they still looked awful and the swelling was getting in the way of vision.  P dashed off for a hotel tour and some male bonding with Charles, the Intercontinental sales manager and Dallago David, returning just in time to collect me for our 8 PM reservation back at Bhandini.  Yes, we loved it so much we wanted to do it again.  

Our choices this time were not quite as successful – P had a chicken Masala and I had my favorite Lamb Vindaloo – and both of us got scorched with searing spice heat.  Wonderful flavors but painful to eat.  We must remember these Indian chefs' idea of "medium" is NOT an American's idea.  Taking 2 slices of cucumber from the relish tray for more eye treatments we retired early.  Tomorrow — SAFARI BEGINS.


Friday, 23 June - On Safari . . . Finally!

My eyes are no better so I tried a Dimetapp – which in some hours, did the trick.  We met David, Martin, who kindly came to see us off and Driver David (I'm sure Dallago's best driver) for our 8:30 AM pre-safari briefing.  On being told NOT to leave the vehicle in the parks and to let DD help us in bargaining if we wanted to buy anything we quickly reviewed the schedule again.  18 Glorious days of it.  

After dropping Marketing David (who does all the client briefing) back at the office, we set off west on Nairobi's A1, heading for Masai Mara.  Nairobi fell behind quickly, replaced by tiny villages, ever-present Masai and their herds.  We made a "rest" stop at a local shop (hole in the ground facilities which favor men, I have to say), and examined their wares.  David took us around back to see a "whistling acacia."  A plant that protects with its sweet fruit pod from foraging antelope – the fruits draws ants and any slight pressure to a leaf or branch sends out armies of them.  

We drove on to our fist view of the Rift Valley, that great divide which  millions of  years ago separated East from West Africa.  Its magnificence was only slightly marred by the overcast sky.  Driving through the sizable city of Narok we arrived at the beginnings of the great savannah plains and by 1:30 had arrived at Siana Springs Tented Camp which is about half an hour outside the park's gates.  What a place – winding our way through a vine tunnel we checked in, were escorted to our "tent" where we were advised to keep the flaps tied shut to keep out the monkeys!  

After a very satisfying buffet lunch we met David for the evening game drive through the Masai Mara Reserve, first resolutely refusing to buy trinkets from the throngs of Masai women at the Park's gate.  

Once inside, it was magical.  The savannah rolls on seemingly infinitely and the animals have little fear of the vans or the people poking heads and cameras out their tops.  The Masai Mara  is combed with tracks for game viewing and its paths are secrets known only to drivers.  The gentle rises and slopes offer views of all the herd beasts, whose assortment is too great to list, giant eagles and bustards soar overhead, the reserve is vast but teeming.  We were entranced, so much so that when the rain started we didn't want to close the van's top.  

Gentle rain turned fierce and we decided to head back.  Intrepid David, tried hard to surmount an enormous quagmire of mud that probably formed in minutes.  He tried to nurse us through but no luck whatsoever.  We were stuck.  David radioed for help, tried fruitlessly and gingerly (constantly on the watch for the odd patrolling lion) in the pouring rain with the tire iron to give us some traction – but nothing. After about an hour 4X4 help arrived and towed us out.  A satisfactory conclusion to this little unscheduled "adventure" however, our isolation and the potential for surrounding danger truly brought home the fact that we are in a wild, primitive area.  (We would have had great photos of being stuck in the mud but with lions around we were certainly not going to get out of the van!)

The rain died off and we turned to head back but suddenly Phil spotted something on a hillside.  David immediately was clued in and veering off he drove us straight to a lion and 2 lionesses "on a honeymoon," said David.  Well we shot diskette after diskette, after all, this was our first encounter with a "Big 5" animal.  (Safari note:  you hear lots of references to the "Big 5," which include lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo.  Actually all the animals are worth seeing, BUT, if you haven't seen the "Big 5" you haven't really "safari-ed.")  We decided to honor the male lion by featuring him at the top of the Safari Magic pages.

Thoroughly satisfied with our first game drive we arrived back at Siana Springs for a very nice buffet dinner, followed by "Adventures in Sleeping" in the tented bungalow.  We have good shots so I won't go into much detail BUT this is considered a Luxury Camp and we found it completely enjoyable.  Hot water bottles warmed the bed and sleep came instantly. 


Saturday, 24 June - Lil Joyce Enters the World

After another good buffet breakfast – except we made mental notes NOT to drink 2 cups of coffee or tea when a game drive is following – P had the hotel tour.  Very nice facilities, the only drawback is it's far from the Reserve's entrance.  I wrote in the lounge and arranged a "photo op" with bartender Charles, Dalton the reception manager and P.  It being 8:30 AM, Charles made fake martinis (the drink du jour) and P and Dalton struck a pose. 

So intrigued were they with the instantaneous "developing" of the digital photo that P had to download the pix onto the office computer where it was transformed into "wallpaper" for their in-house system!  

Meeting David, we loaded up for another Masai Mara (Mara means "spotted," like the spots on a giraffe...bushes "spotting" the vast plains describes the Masai Mara very well) game drive – and this one was for the record books.  We saw our first giraffe and elephant but the giraffe were too far to shoot (photograph-wise, that is).  Traveling a little further we came across a giraffe grouping who, it turned out, were guarding a female who was just beginning to calve.  

This was something few (besides National Geographic crews) ever get to see, David had never seen and we were entranced.  Mama was about 40 feet away from us with baby's 2 front legs protruding.  Two elands grazed nearby as did a herd of zebra.  Mama struggled, hunkering down and getting up as the contractions seized her.  We kept anxious watch for about an hour and finally baby's head appeared.  Mama seemed so tired but not at all disconcerted by our presence.  

Finally she strode purposefully just behind our van to a clump of bushes.  We followed carefully.  We all thought the labor (at 1-1/2 hours so far) was hard – David thought it might be her first.  And she still had to pass the enormous shoulders.  Suddenly, with a heave and a few running bucks the baby flew out – landing not 30 feet from where we stopped.  The afterbirth gushed out of her as she ran to join the rest of the herd and we carefully moved in, fearful the baby was dead.  

But no, lying in its broken sack it moved and breathed.  

We left quickly, not wanted to keep the mother from her baby and wondering if what we'd just witnessed was a normal giraffe birth.  Maybe we'll find out.  Leaving the area we continued the drive, enjoying the wild things and their indescribably beautiful home.  The sky was clear blue and the day was warm.  Vultures nested in euphorbia trees and we passed elephant families with closely guarded babies.  

And then, of course, we had to return to make sure baby giraffe was up and OK ("sowa" in Swahili).  We returned to where the birth took place and were rewarded with a close-up look at the little guy, struggling to walk as Mom (a Masai giraffe) and Dad (a Southern giraffe) stood protectively by.  I don't believe I will see anything to equal this – nor feel the elation of knowing a new life began in this wonderful, magical place.  P insisted on naming this baby "Lil Joyce" (although I was pretty sure this was a little boy baby) AND we filled diskette after diskette with stills and a movie...which is HERE.  The quality isn't too good, these digital cameras really take "snapshot" quality BUT this was a spectacular thing to see and we are very proud of it.

These fancy new Sony Digital cameras allow 15 seconds of video.  Phil took a couple of these "movies" of Lil Joyce and, although he's not at all with the overall quality, just having them is a thrill.   Click here to view them.

Driving back to Mara Sopa we were quiet – the mood was too special to talk.  Mara Sopa Lodge is enormous, comfortable, definitely 4 star quality and we'll look forward to 3 nights of being in the same place ( LAUNDRY!).  

After downloading the day's filming into the computer we met David for a drink.  He marveled at the pictures, movies and technology it all took, saying wistfully he hoped his son could learn this.  It was a chance to know him better and everything we learn increases our liking and respect for him.  

We ate in the main restaurant, served admirably by George who saw we lacked for nothing.  Dinner was quite good.  This is a big Lodge and caters to a lot of large groups but we found the individual attention very warming.  After dinner we assembled below the pool for "The Nightly Feeding of the Animals."  This I didn't like.  A huge pile of meat scraps were put out and a dozen spotted hyenas came out of the darkness to snatch and run.  It's a dangerous practice to feed wild animals and it upsets the natural balance.  Retiring, we were glad the bed was comfortable as mornings come fast.


Sunday, 25 June - Mara Game Drives

After a good breakfast (with not too much to drink) David got us at 7:30 for our full day game drive.  Back down to the main Reserve area we saw ostrich and hoped to see a courtship dance – "she" was willing but "he" clearly had his mind on other things.  

David scouted a cheetah family for us:  Mom and 3 sons, lazing in the shade after a meal.  Mom with a tremendously gorged belly.  It's such a beautiful animal but it has to fight hard for its food.  Cheetahs will only eat what they've killed.  Driving on we passed huge nests of both vultures and secretary birds, trailed a sizable herd of buffalo (another of the "Big 5"), stopped by an elephant carcass picked clean – just the skin, ribs and spinal cord were left.  David told us elephants are prone to heart attacks and this one didn't make it to the secret graveyard...that's no myth...there are secret elephant graveyards!  

Massive herds of zebra and gnu (wildebeest) roamed – we later read the gnu count this year is estimated at 800,000.  Stopping at a Kenya/Tanzania border stone we took pictures.  Spent probably an hour trying for a better view of a leopard P spotted first in hopes of a photo but no luck.  David jockeyed us from one side of a ravine to another but no luck.  However, that's another Big 5 we've seen.  

The only one left is rhino – but we have to have something to see tomorrow!  A long drive south brought us to the hippo pools in the junction of the Mara River.  Amazing:  grunts, water spouts, thrashings and eyes are sometimes all you see and hear but the river is alive with hippo.  Different family groups stake out river locales and fights can break out if territories are violated, which is highly entertaining as all you see are brown lumps wrestling, groans and water spouts gushing.  

David handed us over to Garrison, a Kenya army soldier, one of several camped on the banks with the express purpose of making a few shillings guiding tourists.  Garrison did a fine job, taking us to different river views and offering Swahili names for things which (being middle aged folks) we promptly forgot.  P shot movies which turned out wonderfully – and we headed for a distant shade tree to enjoy our packed picnic lunch. Honestly, the Mara Sopa must think we're gargantuan eaters:  half a roast chicken, cheese sandwich, 5 fruits, cake, cookies, chips and nuts.  Good Lord.  

But the spot David picked gave us an incredible view of the wildebeest migration as they slowly traveled north from Tanzania to Kenya.  Having seen the grasslands both pre and post gnu (Swahili for wildebeest), we know these thousands are well fed.  In fact we didn't see a single under-nourished animal.  Tearing ourselves away we started back.  Again, David suddenly turned into the grasslands and drove us straight to 2 lazing lionesses (how does he know these things?).  And then we witnessed an amazing game of pre-hunt.  

A lone gnu stood in the distance.  One by one the lionesses slowly but steadily walked forward (using the main road in part – ! – being at a level lower than the grass it helped conceal them).  Alerted to some danger the gnu froze as they closed closer.  After taking lazy positions on either flank the gnu, finally sensing danger, trotted away.  Driving ahead a ways we spotted 3 cubs just off the road, obviously left in cover by their hunting mothers.  However, children don't always do as they're told and these 3 began to make their way down the road to meet up with the lionesses.  The gnu continued his escape trot and we left as well.  Show was over.  

Returning back to Mara Sopa we passed a baboon troupe and then David stopped to rescue a dung beetle who surely would have been road kill as she rolled the perfectly spherical elephant poop.  He placed it safely in the grass and explained that's where she would lay her eggs.  Good deed accomplished, we got back to Mara Sopa, got tomorrow balloon ride plans firmed up (4:30 AM wake up...ugh), sampled our Bingo prize "Cordon Blanc" and finding it as drinkable as the Royal Reserve had been enjoyable we dumped it down the drain —  then really did enjoy the Mara Sopa's African barbeque dinner with the obligatory Masai dancing entertainment and hit the sack.




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