Into the Muddy Mara
Hard rains pounded the Maasai Mara National Reserve, swelling the languid Mara and Talek rivers and turning them into white water rapids. Flooding wiped away several tented camps, blocked the river crossings, and in general created a big, muddy mess.
The aggressive tire treads on the safari vehicles churned up the red dirt on the Mara “roads” and splashed through the puddles, creating quagmires. Deep ruts formed and when the sun came out, they dried into monstrous speed bumps. Add more rain, and the process began all over again.
The frogs were delighted and set up a high-decibel chorus of singing, except when the hamerkop and storks were hunting them in the puddles.
The dry grasses of the savanna took a big gulp of water and sprouted upwards and upwards, high enough to secret the slinking serval as it hunts....
High enough to obscure the sight of a new-born Cape buffalo calf....
And high enough, even, to hide the sleeping lions.
When the grass reached its maximum height, seed stalks appeared and created a layer of tan above the green grass.
But those rains were in November, the wrong time, the guides say, for such torrents of water.
“Climate change,” they said.
This is mid-February, the usual time for Kenya’s skies to open and drench the land.
We were lucky. It hadn’t rained hard for a day or two and the river crossings were fordable. The guides from Entim camp met us at the gravel airstrip, loaded our baggage into the Land Rovers, and we set out for a half-hour drive to our tented camp.
|Animal droppings at the bottom of the steps.|
Had the river crossings been flooded, we would have been in for a long, long drive.
|Crossing a river. The vehicles are equipped with air intake snorkels.|
This drive itself is an adventure on the muddy, bumpy Mara roads. The word “roads” bestows more status than they deserve. They are more akin to Jeep trails. At least we are spared the dust.
We arrive at camp and have a glass of juice while we await our tent assignments. Then, off to our tents to get situated before lunch. I luck out. There’s an extra tent and David assigns it to me. This will cost me an extra $800, a charge called a single supplement as most lodgings base their price per person on double occupancy.
Before we set out on our afternoon safari at 4 o’clock, we assemble for orientation.
|The lounge, or common area.|
David runs his safaris differently than any I’ve encountered before.
Because there are nine of us, he assigns two groups of three and two groups of two to a vehicle, and those three will rotate seats every day, front moving to back, back moving to middle, middle moving to front. That is how we usually do it.
What’s different, though, is that each three-person group will move to a different vehicle every day. That enables all of us to go out with all four driver/guides a couple times during our session. That sounds good. It also means that each guide has the same opportunity for tips as the other three.
|My tent, number five.|
Now here’s the catch: each three-person group remains together. No rotating with any of the others in different groups. Marg, Laura, and Sherry are in one group. Mary, a friend from Boston, and I are in a different group with a third woman
, so I will not be able to spend time shooting with Marg (my mentor) or Laura or Sherry, or any of the other folks on this trip.
David and his assistant Delores will take turns riding with all of the groups.
Further, David says we will always shoot from the left side of the vehicle. Most of the time, that makes sense. It’s easier that way and the driver then knows how to position the vehicle. As it turned out, I missed two good shots because the immediate action was on the right side and by the time the driver turned around, the moment was gone.
Finally, we are ready to head out.
|If spinning the tires as fast as they will go doesn't get you unstuck, you summon another vehicle for a push.|