The sights and sounds of this land harkened me to the early age of mammals when man was but another animal competing on the food chain. As far as the eye can see are lush grasslands with Wildebeest and Zebra mingling, grazing, and herding together. In the distance, great lines of brown, dirt covered Elephants moving slowly, gracefully. They stop, graze, then the leader raises her trunk and trumpets a signal. The line reassembles and the procession continues. Here and there pairs of tall Giraffe. Lumbering Elephants and Hippos in swampy grass grazing and lounging. Fleet footed, beautiful, delicate Thomson and Grants Gazelle prance alongside and away from us as if to race the steel animal sharing their road. The ugly looking, ugly sounding Wildebeest dot most of the animal landscape. Here and there a mother Warthog and her piglets scamper across the savanna with tails raised high like antennas. Here and there beautifully colored birds. Herding with other herbivores and looking out of place are the huge, flightless Ostrich. Some dancing their mating ritual showing off plumes of soft black and beige feathers. And nothing made by man save for the roads. But shared with this land are the Maasai. With great herds of their precious cattle tended by the colorfully dressed boys and the goats tended by the girls. They graze their cattle on the open savannah within view of wild and dangerous game. They are armed only with a short saber and long spear. Their heads are shaved. They are adorned with large, colorful, beaded earrings in their cut and stretched, elongated ears. They wear colorful (mostly red but also purple and yellow) wraps and many beaded bracelets and necklaces even when tending cattle. Many have okra coloring on their face. All have brilliant white teeth they keep clean with twigs. This is a harsh, dry land and they get their water mostly by damming up small streams that run down Kilimanjaro. Maasai land is recognized by the government and is controlled by local village elders. For our lodge to exist on this land, arrangements have been agreed upon by the Maasai. The lodge gives the local villagers water.
Finally got the sleep I needed and woke up feeling better than I had in days. As I was getting into our Landcruiser my wife summoned me back to the lodge. She found a teenage girl passed out in the restroom. She was now laying on the lobby sofa. She had been very sick with both vomiting and diarrhea. There was an older lady with her but not her mother. Seems they are medical missionaries from Texas that had worked the slums in Nairobi. I gave them some treatment advice but the older lady said they were in good hands with their leader. However, the girl was not so certain and was pleading as they took her off to their awaiting vehicle.
We started our morning game drive about 10am. The day was partially cloudy but warm. We drove the dusty roads seeing much the same wildlife as yesterday. Lots of Elephant, Giraffe, Gazelle, Ostrich, Baboon, Cape Buffalo, Hippo, Oryx, Warthog, Wildebeest and Zebra. We also saw several Cheetah and Spotted Hyena. We observed two Lions feasting on a freshly killed Buffalo. Close by was a Hyena waiting to take the left over.
About 4pm we set out for one of our most interesting trips. After leaving the lodge grounds we turned down a very narrow, rocky trail and drove a few kilometers from the lodge to a Maasai village. This part of the park was in very stark contrast to the savanna and swamps. It was bone dry and strewn with dark, volcanic rocks. We had seen several villages from a distance but this was the first one we saw up close. The village was circular with its perimeter composed of cut Acacia tree branches (Thorn Tree). The thorns of this tree are about 5 inches long and extremely sharp. We were greeted by about fifty colorfully dressed Maasai. These are a very tall, lean, muscular people, with beautiful ebony skin and extremely handsome features. They greeted us with some dances including their famous jumping contest with some springing two feet in the air. The Maasai are considered a rich people because of the number of cattle they have. They believe that all cattle on earth belong to the Maasai. This apparently has gotten more than a few of them in trouble with the law when the distinction between God’s gift of cattle and cattle rustling became blurry. We were asked to kneel while the chief said a few words in his native language. We paid about $10/person in advance to enter the village. The money goes to the chief who, we are told, uses it for village expenses. The advantage of paying this money is the opportunity to not only take unlimited pictures of these incredibly picturesque people (right out of the pages of National Geographic), but the Chief actually ordered his people to comply with the picture taking. I took full advantage and must have shot at least 200 photos of the people. We were shown a demonstration of making fire using only the friction of rubbing a stick against wood. We were then invited into one of the huts. Women are charged with hut construction. The materials include Acacia wood frame and straw plus cattle dung for the siding and roof. For such tall people, then entrance is only about four feet tall. The height of the hut was perhaps six feet. The entry was a little convoluted with about four feet forward with a hairpin turn of about three feet and then another turn to enter the main room. The room was not particularly spacious and was rather dark with only a small amount of light coming from a tiny window. There was a large, cowhide bed for the father and a tiny anteroom for the wife and children (the Maasai can have more than one wife). There was little room for much else, yet the cooking was also done here. The dung gives the hut water repellence and surprisingly did not have a smell. We left the hut and headed behind the village where everyone had turned out with souvenirs to sell. These are very tough negotiators. While my wife shopped, I shot portrait after portrait of each of the villagers. I stood for a moment, looking over the vast, dusty, arid scene. Nothing modern. An ancient people living an ancient life. I have traveled farther in my life, but at that moment I have never felt so far from home. I have traveled back in time away from all I know, all that I have grown used to to make me comfortable and in control of my world. I am in a place where nature is in control and one adapts to the environment, not control it.
We departed the village and headed back to the savanna to spy more game. We saw many animals. Near sunset we stopped alongside other vehicles and watched a very large herd of Elephants running across the road. One seemed to be counted each that crossed, and occasionally trumpeting to the rest to hurry up. Breathtaking was the background of Killimanjaro with its snow capped peak coming out from under the clouds. What a picture with the Zebra and Elephants in the foreground! On the way back to the lodge we found a Spotted Hyena watching the passing vehicles.
During dinner, we noticed a commotion taking place near a window. Half the restaurant got up and walked through the sliding glass doors to see something. We followed and were treated to a herd of Elephants walking not more than fifty feet in front of the restaurant in single file illuminated by the lodge flood lights.