Amboseli National Park Stories and Tips

Meeting the Masai Mara

The Masai Mara Photo, Amboseli National Park, Kenya

After a decent lunch and a "full analysis of the morning’s safari" we set off on our final Safari at Amboseli. In contrast to earlier the zebra and gazelle are out in force, although it still remains a mystery as to where they were hiding on our earlier Safari.

For the first section of this trip we’re going to visit a local Masai Mara village and we’ll have to pay a "gratuity" to the headman to be allowed in. We know that what we’re going to see will be a little contrived but at least we’ll see the local tribesmen up close and be able to take photographs of them all. Our guide assures us that the clothes that they are wearing are their normal day to day wear and tells us that they will put on a traditional welcoming dance for our benefit.

I reckon they heard our vehicle arriving because there was a group of them waiting for as the mud fronted entrance to their village and within seconds of the van stopping more of the villagers arrived. There was a colourful array assembling in front of us and soon we were handing over cash to the "main man" and then all of them stretched out into a long line for the formal welcome.

Men and women formed the line and soon they burst in to song. Now it wasn’t a song that I could recognise and if I was to be entirely disrespectful I’d suggest that it was more like wailing rather than close harmony. But as it progressed l became more accepting of the discord and enjoyed it for what it was. Suddenly the men started to jump high in the air, each taking it in turns to show that they could jump higher than their predecessor. It was a dance that I was familiar with as most documentaries on the Masai Mara will show the "jumping dance" or "Adumu" in the native tongue. It’s a dance that is performed by the men of the village who jump as high as they can to show their strength and stamina as tribal warriors. It’s not just for fun, but also for asserting your position in the tribe and of course the higher you jump the better you’re viewed. So for young suitors it’s a away to impress the single girls! We were then encouraged to have a go, but I’m not sure that we impressed anyone!

Just as our wives thought they’d got away with it the singing started up again and the females started to jump in the air. Not as competitively as the men and much more delicate in approach. Even so our wives were invited to try and with some reluctance they participated.

Having passed this initiation test we were allowed in to the village and shown in to a "typical" mud-hut. I’m not convinced that this was occupied but I guess it gave us a flavour about how things were for the Masai Mara. Inside it took us some time to adapt to the low light and when we did it was extremely Spartan with animal hides strewn across the floor in the sleeping area, minimal cooking items and signs that the construction was purely of twigs, mud and animal hides. No natural light and certainly no obvious signs of comfort. But that’s from the perspective of a Westerner!

Once we’d checked out the village and taken a few photographs we were led out to the market area which consisted of two rows of traders displaying their handicrafts made specifically for the tourists. Nowadays I often take a local mask back as a souvenir, but I felt their prices were extremely expensive and they were not prepared to negotiate very much. They tried the hard sell but the ruthless streak in me said that I wasn’t playing ball. We left with no souvenir and a muttering Masai Mara!

Overall I was fascinated by their traditional garb, the women’s costume jewellery, the "giant ear lobes" and the village smells. I was pleased that we’d made the effort to visit a local village, but can’t pretend that it’s the most stunning cultural visit that I ever made.

Back in the van we headed off back to the plains passing newborn wildebeest tottering around their mother’s knees, herds of zebra and were once again fascinated by the elephants. We were heading towards Noomtio a hill that was formed during the Pleistocene Period through the volcanic action of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was a bit of a haul to the top and in the distance we saw a Hippo grazing the grounds near to the river. Disappointingly it was a fair way off so we didn’t get the best of views but this was my first proper sighting of a Hippo.

However, one chap had decided to "go it alone" & he'd set off to get a closer look at the lone hippo. We saw him strolling out along the plain with his camera in hand ignoring the shouts of the park wardens. We guessed he hadn't heard the stories about how angry a hippo can get if you cross its path. Thankfully he had a reasonable telephoto lens so he captured the photo and made it back to the transport. I didn't hear what our guide said to him but the body language said it all and he was very quiet for the rest of our trip!

This was to be our second walk away from the Safari Truck and once back in the jeep we passed Ostriches, more Elephants and then in the middle distance a Giraffe. What excitement and it was to get better as we drove cautiously towards them. In all honesty they didn’t seem in the least bit concerned about us and we were able to get real close and appreciate the gracefulness of this clumsy looking animal.

As we headed back to the Lodge after our busy afternoon our guide suddenly stopped the vehicle and pointed to the undergrowth. What? I could see nothing to begin with and then spotted a pair of huge eyes staring out at us. "It’s a Dik-Dik" whispered our guide "they’re very shy and we’re lucky to get so close to one". We edged a little closer and then the small creature looked straight at us before scampering off in to the undergrowth.

Nightfall was now not far off and a herd of wildebeest looked stunningly in the yellow hue of the setting sun. Just as we were admiring them our guide swung off the road and indicated that we could get out and walk in this area. We were in the middle of wildebeest and zebra and what with the combination of dust from the dry ground and the setting sun this was clearly an opportunity for some "Kodak moments". For 15 minutes or so we walked the plains just enjoying the beautiful sunset, the closeness of the animals and the pounding of their feet as they scampered away from us. Not quite a stampede but the dust against the yellow hue created what can only be described as a classic African feel.

We’d had a great day and some perfect sightings on our two days in Amboseli. Would Governor’s Camp compete? We would soon find out....

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