Archive for September, 2021

East Africa, Part 5: Masai Mara.

Thursday, September 16th, 2021

After my awesome morning drive I went back to the lodge, ate some lunch, took a nap and got ready for my second game drive of the day. I noticed on the path there was some interesting poop. You should always be paying attention to the poop, it can tell you who passed by and when. I saw giraffe (hoofprint included for scale):

And some teeny-tiny pooplets from the dik-dik, the smallest of the African antelopes. We’ll see some later so prepare yourself for the smallness.

As The Moomins and I were walking to the vehicle we walked past reception and I saw something dart out of the corner of my eye. Turns out banded mongoose live under the floorboards and they come out and forage.

I noticed that the doors on our vehicle, you could open them from the inside but not from the outside. That’s the exact opposite of child locks. I couldn’t decide if that was prevent robberies or to keep baboons from getting in. Honestly I would be more afraid of the baboons.

As we were driving out we saw the local eland and her baby. She tends to hang out near the front of the lodge so she’s kind of their resident eland. It’s easy to know it’s her because her horns are misaligned.

We passed some Maasai with their herd of sheep and goats. It still astounds me that these people share the space with wild animals, and not regular wild animals. Advanced-level wild animals, if you will.

Saw some Thompson’s Gazelle and a Random Other Antelope, the one laying down. I’m going to guess it’s an impala.

Ever-present Topi.

Okay, grab a drink and get comfy ‘cuz here we go.

We saw two lionesses sleeping. They were so close to the vehicle, it was a great sighting.

Now remember, this is a conservancy which means the guide can drive anywhere they want. We didn’t have to remain on the roads.

While we were watching the lions take a snooze there was an ostrich who turned to look at me, was like “whatevs” and continued on his way.

There was a warthog. You don’t realize how oddly put-together they look until they turn sideways. Their proportions are all off.

Baboon.

The ever-present cast of characters.

The lionesses rolled over so our attention went back to them.

We were now able to see those pronounced nip-nops on that one lioness. *foreshadowing*

Jacob told us that females tend to stay together for their entire life, so chances are the big one with the teats is the mother and the other one is either her sister or her eldest daughter.

Look. Look at the proximity. Acknowledge it.

This shot is bangin’. The iPhone 12 Plus Max Pro Ultra was doing a damn fine job.

Sister woke up, took a couple big sniffs:

And then had a big yawn.

Which apparently was inadequate because it was followed by another equally big yawn.

Now it was time for drinkies so the two ladies headed off to the watering hole and we booked it in the car to get there before them and get a good viewing spot.

The two ladies sauntered up to a pre-existing lioness to say hello.

The pre-existing lioness said “No thank you.”

Then there was drinking.

Followed by some rolling.

The two original lionesses crossed in front of us making a “hrrhhgg” noise like they were calling for someone. *foreshadowing intensifies*

And out of the shrubbery tumbled a pile of lion cubs, squeaking and being absurdly cute. The cubs went over to the mother lioness, she resignedly laid down and the babies started nursing from her and/or walking all over her face with complete and total disregard for her comfort or personal space.

Are you seeing this???

Are

You

Seeing

This???

This is unheard of. I am surprised I didn’t bust a blood vessel in my eye, I did so much very quiet screaming.

My two favorite shots. I call them “Parenthood.”

Eventually the lion family until wandered off in search of food and I got one last shot as the sun was setting.

So good. Such a good day. I couldn’t wait to tell my new BFF, Gecko That Lives Behind The Mask.

 

East Africa, Part 4: Masai Mara.

Wednesday, September 8th, 2021

This was going to be Day 2 out of 3 in the Maasai Mara. I was blown away by the previous day, I didn’t feel like I needed to see anything spectacular so I went out there with no expectations which made what I saw even better.

I woke up at some unacceptable hour, like 4:30am, so I could go on a hot air balloon. I looooove hot air balloons. If you know me personally you might find that odd since I haaaaate flying. The major difference is there’s no vibration and no lurching in a balloon. You feel safe and secure. It’s peaceful from beginning to end. The only problem is if you want to watch the sunrise over that Masai Mara you gotta wake up before sunrise. That’s pretty much the only downside.

A van picked me up, swung by a few other lodges to collect other ballooners and I didn’t have to wait long to see a beastie friend. As we arrived at the gate there was a jackal resting.

One of the women in the car could not wrap her head around how small the full-grown jackal was. “It’s a baby, right?” she kept saying.

In the background was a hyena loping around doing its best impression of a cryptid. This is how local myths get started. I mean, look at that thing. It could be a chupacabra, it could be jackelope with Marfan syndrome, you don’t know.

When we got to the balloon site they were already blowing it up. According to the balloon pilot this is the biggest size balloon in the world.

I don’t think he was lying. The basket seats 16 – 20 people. In order to get in I had to climb into that top layer of the basket. This guy is demonstrating.

I lightened it so you can see what he’s doing.

We climbed in, lay on our backs and assumed the sitting position on a bench in there so when the balloon was full and they tipped up forward we were already seated. Clever.

Then there were hot flamey-flamies and we were off.

One of the things I love about ballooning is if you’re 20 feet in the air or 200 feet in the air, it feels the same to you. So sometimes we drifted over the ground and sometimes we went way up to see all the way to the horizon. And if you’re not paying attention you’re pleasantly surprised. “Oh, we’ve gone high now.” We started here (where I saw another secretary bird!):

Then we were here:

And then we were here:

It all felt the same (which is lovely and peaceful).

We didn’t see very many animals but I was really there to experience the balloon ride so I wasn’t bothered by that. There was the aforementioned secretary bird and decent-sized herd of gnu. One gnu was feeling the need to run around and kick his legs for reasons only known to him.

I learned a lot about gnu on this trip. Our guide Jacob had strong feelings about the gnu, specifically that they were the stupidest animals known to man. After this trip I am inclined to agree. They predominantly roam around, panic and then cause stampedes for no reason whatsoever. I have a story later in the trip that will solidify their stupidity for you, we’ll get there. In the meantime, take my word for it.

In addition to sharing one brain cell amongst 100,000 they also make a noise I can only describe as a sad, slightly out-of-tune cello. Thousands of wonky violas expressing their monotone emotions. I found a decent example on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nwBvgi3MA8

Jacob said you will almost never find elephants near gnu because elephants cannot stand listening to the moaning. It probably doesn’t help that elephants are so intelligent and gnu are very much not. I could see an elephant saying “I’m going to need these sentient corn cobs to shut all the way up” and walking off in frustration.

We came across two mating lions taking a breather! And the male lion was blonde! That was cool sighting. Lions mate nonstop for two days to make sure it sticks and they take breaks in between because of course they do.

The balloon ride only lasts about an hour at most (sadness). When we landed our van driver asked us if we wanted to see stuff or go straight back to our lodges. Luckily, everyone in the van wanted to see stuff so we went on an impromptu game drive. I thoroughly embarrassed myself in front of these strangers. Look, you like what you like and you can’t control what you like. And I like marabou storks, also known as undertaker birds. They are kinda gross-looking but for some reason I find them charming, with their naked heads and their pretty feathers and their feces-covered legs (they poop on their legs to keep themselves cool, don’t judge.) We saw some and I got excited and weirded out the others.

We found some zebra. I love how their tails look braided.

There were a mommy eland with her young calf. In South Africa I’ve seen elands and they are huge. They are the largest of the antelopes and the bulls can weigh 2,000 lb. These elands were prettier and smaller and a bit more orange.

“I’m going to spin my head all the way around like that chick in The Exorcist instead of turning around to face you.”

There was a topi. They are extremely common but I always liked seeing them.

Saw some rocks in a dry river bed. Thought they looked cool. Took pictures of them.

Green mamba! It’s a really scary snake because it moves so fast your eye can’t follow it and it makes you feel unsafe. These are the only pictures I could take of it before it disappeared into the grass.

The driver parked in front of a tree. I could not see anything special about this tree so I didn’t know why we had stopped. The driver told us to get out and look at the tree which is usually a big no-no but if a guide tells you it’s okay you can do it. But you should NEVER get out of the vehicle without their permission.

Once I got underneath I saw why we were there. A leopard had pulled an impala over one of the branches and it was still there, decomposing. Shocker: I was delighted.

Have you ever seen an ostrich chilling and doing nothing and then decide to freak out and flounce away? I caught a pic of the beginning of the hysterical flounce.

Another secretary bird! I saw them five separate times on this trip and I’m going to mention all five so get used to it. I think I’ve done three so far. Two more to go.

We saw some hartebeest. They’re very pretty, long-faced antelope with teeny horns perched on the top of their heads. Their proportions are weird but I love them anyway. Don’t listen to the haters, hartebeest.

A few hours after leaving (at 4:30am, I cannot emphasize that enough) I got dropped off back at my lodge and got to take a nap before lunch and an afternoon game drive. That’s coming up next.

East Africa, Part 3: Masai Mara.

Thursday, September 2nd, 2021

I learned what “Mara” means. It means “spots,” referring the sporadic bushes that speckle the area. Other fun facts I acquired:

  • The animals migrate to Kenya in a specific order. The zebra come first because they eat the top of the grass. Next, the wildebeest who eat the main part, then the impalas because they eat the bottom part.
  • Crocodiles swallow stones to control their buoyancy, and
  • Giraffes have healing saliva because of all the wounds they get for nibbling the delicious leaves on the thorn acacia. I saw some different breeds of thorn acacia along the trip, it is not a tree to be messed with. I walked head-first into one and was immediately awash with regret. You really gotta like those leaves to wrestle with those thorns.

The guide Jacob asked us what we were hoping to see. I imagine most people say “Lions, elephants, etc.” I was like “You know what? I’d like to see a dung beetle pushing a ball of dung. I always enjoy that. Or a secretary bird, those are the most dinosaur-y of the birds.” Jacob was like “Alright, unusual, but we’ll see what happens.:

After we left the camp we headed off into the Mara. Normally you don’t see game for a while. Remember, we’re in the middle of nowhere and only by the will of the animals do we encounter them doing their thing. So it was nice to be greeted by zebra.

And a topi and a warthog.

The topi suddenly remembered he left the oven on.

Two male impalas posing near a tree because fashion.

A hole where an animal with large claws, most like a lion, dug to try and extricate a meal.

Basic, easygoing, welcome-to-a-game-reserve-type stuff. And then we saw the two other vehicles parked near each other which usually means there’s something worth seeing over there.

It was a cheetah! A cheetah chillin’ out next to a tree! Because this was a different type of park called a Conservancy your guide doesn’t have to stay on the road. They can drive right up to whatever is happening. The downside is only five vehicles are allowed at a viewing at any time so if you show up late you have to wait for someone to drive away before you can see better. But we were one of the first five so we could get right up close to the cheetah.

Now, while the cheetah is wondering off, guess who shows up? A secretary bird, sauntering past us being all weird with the eyelashes and the fancy.

It even turned its head, like “You asked for me?”

As the secretary bird headed off to do secretary bird things the cheetah caught up with his brother (Jacob told us that bachelor brothers tend to pal around with each other). So now there are two cheetahs.

They’re hanging out in the grass relaxing so we turned and there were two jackals running down the road.

Apparently while we were looking at the jackals the cheetahs killed a baby topi! We didn’t see the kill but we did see the cheetahs afterwards. They didn’t have their meal and they were forlornly cleaning the blood off themselves. You can see it on that one cheetah’s chest.

Where’d the kill go? That nervous hyena over there might have something to do with it.

Near that hyena was another hyena and he was gnawing on something.

Holy crap, a dismembered topi head in its mouth!

This is Jacob. You can see how close we are to the hyena through his window.

You need to understand, you don’t ever see this kind of awesomeness on safari. You have one, two great experiences on your whole trip and that’s it. We’d already banged out an absurd level of sightings and we’d been driving around for three hours. What’s truly amazing was the whole rest of the trip was this level. We saw jaw-dropping things every single day. It was outrageous. I described it as “Nature knew it was The Moomins’ last trip to Africa so she brought out everybody. Nature said, ‘Sure, you want herbivores, you got ’em. Carnivores, no problem. You want me to resurrect a dinosaur? I could whip up a Heterodontosaurus if you just gimme a sec.'”

After this we saw a storm was coming as the sun was setting so we headed back to camp but I as we drove I saw a herd of buffalo and the sunset combined with the storm clouds made for some beautiful photographs.

And as the sun started to dip below the horizon an ostrich walked by. “This sunset pic is nice, but you know what would improve it? Me. Let me saunter on through, there you go.”

When we got to the lodge there was a poster of all the local wild animals on the wall. I’m not one of those people who checks off every animal they see and if they don’t “collect them all” they get angry, but I was shocked when I realized the I had seen 15 out of the 20. I was staring so hard at the poster I almost my new best friend hiding behind the mask to the left.

I stood there and watched him eat some bugs and went to bed to recover from my first day. Little did I know what was in store for me on Day 2.