Sunday, October 24, 2010

Back from the Mara

Habari gani? Hope you are all well. S and I have had one of the most amazing weeks in all our time in Kenya and have been very lucky to see many phenomenal things in nature and wildlife with our half term travels.
On Thursday prior to half term, both S and I took our classes to a sister school on the other side of Nairobi for a poetry workshop with international poet Valerie Bloom. She is originally from Jamaica and moved to Britain in 1979. She writes her poetry in a combination of English and Jamaican Patois Dialect, which I have recently been teaching to my Year 7 and 8 classes. The workshop was brilliant, really interactive and she recited many of her poems and was happy to talk to us afterwards. She was so engaging that I bought three of her books, which she signed. We are really lucky that she came to Kenya.
On Sunday, my friends M and E came to stay for a fortnight. On Monday, we had an early start as we booked a three day tour to the Maasai Mara, the four of us, plus two of our friends from school. As we were six, we were given a private vehicle and a driver/guide. It took around five hours to get to the Mara, ascending into the Great Rift Valley and driving past many ancient volcanoes and lots of farm land. We stayed at a tented camp which was a combination of permanent structures and green canvas- there was a roof above the tent itself and a proper tiled bathroom at the back with hot showers and a flush toilet. Over the three days, we went on an afternoon game drive, a whole day drive, and a morning one. We saw some incredible things, including five prides of lions each which were at least ten in number each time. We saw little cute baby cubs, sturdy lionesses and fully grown males lounging on rocks, under trees and in the grass. We were so close we could have put our hands out of the vehicle and stroked them. There was a great moment when a huge herd of buffalo came charging forward to frighten away the lions, who didn’t attack back as they were conserving their energy for the next hunt. We also were incredibly lucky to catch the final few days of the famous mass wildebeest migration. This is where two million wildebeest make the perilous journey across the crocodile infested Mara river to cross over to Tanzania. They enter the water in a single line and then dart through it as quickly as possible to scale a cliff edge of the other side to safety. We saw the final hundreds cross, but sadly a few didn’t make it and we watched as they drifted back down the river, whilst crocodiles swam around their corpses. The sound of the wildebeest crashing through the water is unforgettable and thrill of seeing those that survived is indescribable. I read somewhere that watching this happen is like witnessing a historical event in action and that is how it felt.
Apart from the lions, black backed jackals, zebras, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles and wildebeest, we also had many close encounters with large herds of elephants that strolled across the plains. We were even warning charged by a baby elephant that couldn’t have been even a year old as he walked straight up to the side of our van. Had I outstretched my arm I could have shook his trunk he was so close. The Mara is made up of rolling hills and flowery meadows and was very different from what we all expected and the weather was cool and refreshing as the rains are due to come soon. In many ways it reminded us of England, apart from the signs of lots of predators as every hour you would see at least one skull of a caught plains animal that had been devoured. One sighting that we had never seen before was a bat eared fox which is a very unusual creature that feasts upon ants and uses its enormous ears to hear where they are!
On our final day, we visited a traditional Maasai village and got to meet the villagers and even go into their homes. It was a striking sight to see the Maasai wearing their blankets in colours such a burnt orange, bright red and deep purple. The Maasai men had huge holes in their ear lobes that you could fit your wrist through! They explained their customs to us, for example, to get married you need to have ten cows. Their first wife is chosen for them by their father, but they can gain other wives if they have ten more cows to exchange, or as an alternative, instead of giving the cows, they can swap their sister for a wife! They explained their initiation into manhood and about how they have to kill an adult male lion. They then take the tooth and wear it around their necks. We went into one of their houses which they live in for nine years because after that the termites have wrecked them. The women build the houses and it takes two months to do so, it’s made out of wood and then is covered by cowpat. They have very small windows so that they are not bothered by mosquitos and the houses have a little burning fire inside so the first thing you smell is the smoke. There normally is a little room for sleeping in, but there are also rooms where baby goats, sheep and cows can live. The cow is very important in Maasai culture, and the more you have, the richer you are. The Maasai also drink the blood of the cow and they have a special way of extracting the blood without having to kill the animal. Attacks of the cattle are quite frequent, and only last week, they had a leopard come in the night to try and kill. The men did a traditional Maasai dance for us and they sang a deep guttural chorus together whilst they jumped up and down. They practice jumping because the man that can jump the highest in a competition doesn’t have to pay the ten cows for his wife! The funniest part of the visit was when S had a go at doing the jumping alongside the men- I have some very funny photos of that!
On Thursday, we decided to go to the freshwater Lake Naivasha and stay the night. We had a great time on a hippo boat tour of the lake. Two boatmen explained to us about the ecology of the plants and the fish, and how salmon and carp were introduced to the lake by American President Roosevelt after his visit there many years ago. They then got a Telahapia fish and threw it into the lake and three fish eagles came zooming down out of the sky to swiftly catch it. We saw over twenty pied kingfishers hiding in the reeds, and then we got up really close to over forty hippos. There was an amazing moment when a group of about twelve decided to jump up and rush out the water and the water was crashing about in front of us. It was incredible to be so close.
The next day, we awoke at 4.30am and drove two hours north to Lake Nakuru- the stunning soda lake with over two million pink flamingos. Here, we saw three spotted hyena returning from hunting during the night and we tracked them down towards their den. We also saw at least six rhino and many buffalo, baboons and vervet monkeys. We also got very close to a pride of nine lions with two adorable cubs. On our return to Nairobi, we stopped at Lake Elementitia, another enormous soda lake which is surrounded by the remains of extinct volcanoes.
On Saturday, we went to visit the Kitengela glass factory which has been influenced by the Spanish artist Gaudi. Everything is recycled and they make beautiful glass, every piece unique. We also visited Kazuri Beads where the staff is made up of over 300 single mothers who all get a decent wage and free healthcare for their families. We then went for the ultimate meat eating experience at Carnivore, where M experienced the delights of ostrich, crocodile and even ox balls!
Today, we will visit my friend A and take it easy as it is back to school for Sam and I tomorrow- only a short term now until the xmas hols. We are really looking forward to seeing my parents at Xmas in Mombasa for a fortnight, where we hope to spend lots of time snorkeling in the turquoise warm Indian Ocean! Mombasa apparently has a reef that rivals the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and we can’t wait to lounge on the white sands of Diani Beach. We are also really looking forward to R and S’s visit to Kenya in November, especially as we think they will be here for S’s 30th birthday.
That’s all from us for now, Kwaheri!

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