Thursday, September 21
We were driven to the “airport,” which I now realized was a strip of flat land, that had once been paved. Some of the asphalt still remained, but there was a lot of grass growing in between. It was a pleasant morning, so many of us just stood around waiting for the planes, while others stood under the grass-roofed shelter. Our road to the park area passed directly by this point each day on our way to our game drives, and it was within easy sight of the camp.
When the first plane landed, we were assigned which plane we were to ride in. To my surprise, the native pilot boarded all the men first and had them sitting in the window seats; then the women on the inside seats. I’m sure it had something to do with distributing the weight for balance, but I had never seen it done before. Our flight was without incident, thankfully.
Nairobi was a bustling city this Thursday morning, and our leaders kept us all together. Eventually the other planes arrived, as did our buses. It was some distance to the Safari Park Hotel where we had day rooms reserved.
The Safari Park Hotel was a beautiful place, and much larger at 64 acres, than I had realized. We had been strongly warned never to leave the grounds, nor was there any reason to. Nairobi is no place for an American or any other person to wander around alone.
We had a luxurious lunch, and a free afternoon to rest, shop, admire the beautiful grounds, or whatever we wanted. I looked around the small shops, got lost a few times, and went back to my room to stuff my small purchases into my 1 bag, and 1 carry-on, which had thankfully been delivered to our hotel.
A truly elegant dinner was served, and entertainment was provided by some of the skilled native people. Their acrobatics were amazing. The dessert buffet was amazing too, and I regretted being unable to finish it all. I was among the early departing group for the international flights home. It was time for good-byes to people to whom I had just said hello, and with whom I had shared the experience of a lifetime.
Jeff Foote, our leader who was also taking the early flight, expertly navigated the complex Nairobi airport, and guided us to our proper departure gate for Royal Dutch Airlines. It was already nighttime.
We departed fairly close to on time for our longest flight of the trip, 4134 miles to Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Friday, September 22
The trans-Atlantic flight was uneventful; the best kind. I think I slept quite a bit.
In Newark was another layover of a couple hours. I found my way to the gate and just sat and waited.
The Continental flight to Cleveland also was prompt, so I was fortunate with my flight schedules. My daughter, Roseann, met me with her son, Kevin, who fortunately helped me with my one bag and one carry-on. I was very, very tired; but glad to be home. My car was still safely parked at their house so I drove home.
It is 8187 air miles from Cleveland to Nairobi, plus 178 miles from Nairobi to the Maasai Mara camp plus about 30 miles from my home to Cleveland Hopkins Airport for a total of about 8400 miles each way. That is a lot of traveling! It was also very worthwhile, and I am grateful for the opportunity.
As I write this story almost half a year after my return, it seems almost as if it were yesterday that I lived these experiences. In many cases, I found myself writing in the present tense, and had to go back and correct myself. I was totally unprepared for this reaction – I expected to go on the trip and photograph animals, and come home. I have been to many zoos, and love to photograph their animals, and expected this to be much the same, only bigger. It was not. Africa is something unto itself, a feeling, an attitude. Once you go, you will never fully leave – and it’s not malaria that you take home with you.
To those of you reading this, I say “Go to Africa now, or as soon as you possibly can. Africa is changing. The press of increasing population cannot be resisted forever, corrupt politicians cannot be restrained without great power; and the animals cannot continue to roam free and practice their natural behaviors for much longer without outside help. Documentaries are wonderful, books are great, but nothing can substitute for being in the midst of it all, and experiencing it just for yourself. Once you have gone, you will never forget it, nor regret it. It truly is the trip of a lifetime."
Background of Kenya
Kenya’s Great Rift Valley and Central Tanzania are about the size of France.
The Maasai number about 350,000 people. Men rule absolutely, and women are completely subservient. In the old days, it was taboo to kill another Maasai, but to kill a non-Maasai was not even murder.
In the past, the mere sight of Maasai warriors brought fear into visitors to the high plains of East Africa. They were the scourge of other tribes and pastoralists; laying waste to villages; always seeking to increase the size of their territory and herds. The Maasai considered that their god had bequeathed all cattle to them alone; therefore stealing was only reclaiming what was rightfully theirs.
Today there is little left to fight over. Cattle raiding is one of the most serious offenses in Kenya. Until recently, stealing a cow could mean death by hanging. There are only ritual fights with club and shield to sharpen fight skills and test courage. The biggest battle now is with change.
The Maasai seem to have migrated from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in the 15th century. At the end of the 19th century, a long drought weakened their livestock which fell to pluropneumonia; then a few years later were hit by the scourge of rinderpest. By 1892 the Maasai had lost 95% of their herds. Drought and famine followed them, then a smallpox epidemic.
In the colonial era, the Maasai were confined within boundries and restricted by treaties, lost half of their land and much of their power. They valued cattle more than land. The land provided grass and water but could change quickly. Most attempts at new ranching methods and upgrading livestock failed and modern medical and veterinary practices were slow to take hold. The problem became how to improve the quality of their lives without sacrificing their cultural identity.
The Maasai moved often from one area to another and therefore did not overgraze or deplete the soil nutrients. They rarely killed wild animals for food. Male lions were killed only for the privilege of wearing its mane.
The money generated by tourism is not as much as could be made by growing crops. Therefore more land is sold and fenced off, leaving less space for the wild animals to roam.
The migration of the wildebeests and zebras is the largest land migration on earth. On the American prairie 35 million bison used to roam, but they vanished within only 100 years, and now may be seen only in protected parks.
The Nile floods confused the Egyptians and Greeks because they came in summer when there was little rain. They did not know that the rains were heavy in Ethiopia at that time.
The Sahara is the largest desert in the world at 3.44 million square miles.
There are 400,000 wildebeest calves born each year between January and March. A baby can stand within 5 minutes of birth and can run with its mother. It cannot outrun an attacker, so its chances of survival increase with a herd, because a predator cannot attack all the calves. Wildebeests are the primary prey of most large predators including spotted hyenas and lions.
There are more than 2000 hippos in the Mara River, usually in groups of 10 to 20 females and 1 male with exclusive breeding rights. Hippos emerge from the water at night to graze.
There are approximately 40,000 vultures in the Maasai Mara Reserve.
Lions live in a permanent territory where there is a year-round supply of meat: wart hogs, buffalos, topi, and zebras. It is the resident species, not the migratory wildebeests, July through October, which control the number of lions which can survive. The Maasai Mara has one of the highest densities of lions in Africa. Lions roar to announce their presence, letting other lions know where they are, and who is with them. Most roaring is at night when it is cool.
Cheetahs are masters of short sprints at speeds up to 63 miles per hour. Thomson’s gazelles form 91% of their diet. The cheetah cannot maintain this speed for long, however, and seldom runs more than 1320 feet. The cheetah uses cover to hide and creep close enough to its prey to bring it down in a short sprint. It kills the victim by strangulation. Cheetahs are usually solitary hunters.
Giraffes can run as fast as 35 miles/hour. They are the tallest living terrestrial animal.
Leopards kill from ambush, pouncing on their prey from as close as 16 feet.
Zebras can run at a top speed of 45 miles/hour. They have never been domesticated. Their teeth keep growing throughout their lives, and are worn down by grinding and chewing. The stripes are different on each individual zebra.
Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania, Field Guide Edition, Dale Zimmerman, Donald Turner and David Pearson, Princeton University Press, 1999
Eye to Eye Frans Lanting. Taschen, 2003
Mara-Serengeti: A Photographer’s Paradise, Jonathon Scott (Photographer), Angela Scott (Photographer), Caroline Taggert (Editor), Fountain Press, 2001
National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife, Peter Alden, Richard Estes, Knopf, 1995.
National Geographic Magazine, February 2006 “Heartbreak On The Serengeti” pp 2-31, National Geographic Society, 1245 17th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036-4688