The most magical location of my wildlife safari was the Maasai Mara National Reserve, a savanna wilderness in southwest Kenya that borders on the Serengeti in Tanzania.
The site in the Great Rift Valley features grassy plains and rolling hills crossed by the Mara and Talek Rivers. The famous migration of wildebeests from the Serengeti Plains to the southern part of Masaai Mara and back again happens twice a year, but wildlife abounds throughout the year.
From Nairobi, it’s a 45 minute flight to an unpaved airstrip. From time to time, the plane aborts its landing to avoid wildlife, but we landed without incident to be greeted by Masai warriors. The greeting included a jumping competition between young men. I was told this is often part of a courting ritual to impress young women.
The second day began with a pre-dawn jeep drive to the base camp for a one hour balloon safari. We were airborne just as the sun came up, floating above the Mara River when we weren’t at treetop level, a great place for viewing elephants, hippos, crocodiles, and lions. When our time was up, we put down on the road with scarcely a bump, and enjoyed a champagne breakfast.
The Maasai Mara is a magical place with both expected and unexpected delights. Though I had no reason to think ostriches wouldn’t be on the plain, I was surprised to see them.
Fun Fact: Did you know they can reach speeds of over 30 miles-per-hour?
The Mara is filled with birds, all of them striking, even though I don’t know many of their names.
Impalas are a common sight. One of the guides called them “cheetah snacks.” Other grazing and browsing animals include zebras [each with a different pattern], elephants, and hyraxes. The hyrax and the elephant are distant cousins, sharing DNA with the afrotherian clade of mammals.
The large cats draw the most attention. The cheetah is particularly illusive. Cheetahs prey on antelopes and other grazing animals. The individually distinctive spotted cats can run 40 miles an hour and accelerate up to 70 miles per hour, making them the fastest land animal.
Lions were plentiful. We saw them sunning themselves on warm rocks, relaxing after a kill, and even napping in a tree. The two young females in the tree even changed positions with the one in the upper branches climbing down and over her sister.
The hyena is a successful, if not popular, animal that both hunts and scavenges. We saw one waiting at a safe distance while a lion consumed his kill, and another one trotting by with the head of a young hippo. Hyenas have strong forequarters in comparison to their hindquarters, and large jaw muscles, giving them an ungainly appearance.
The Maasai Mara is a place of beauty and wonder. A chance to separate from the modern world.
Travel arrangements by Abercrombie & Kent
Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.