From the hostel in Nairobi I booked a safari for bare-bones $125-per-day three day safari to Masai Mara National Park, on the Kenyan side of Tanzania's Serengetti. The African wild is expansive and amazing, and also unexpectedly expensive.
But this safari was worth every penny. Of the "Big Five," buffaloes, lions, leopards, rhinos, and elephants, we saw everything but rhinos. We spotted a tail wagging in the bush as we meandered through the park and when we investigated we came upon a big pride of lions, who seem completely dissinterested in us, if not slightly annoyed.
Looking across the vast savannah is a humbling experience. If this is where it all began, it doesn't appear to have changed much since the beginning of time. While we have sped up to the jet-set age, this part of Africa remains timeless, with the same animals and landscapes having roamed here for millions of years. Even the locals here, the Masai, retain their cattle herding and warrior traditions, although the world is creeping in as they are being exposed to tourism, commerce, and now the forces of conservation as their normal rite of passage into manhood, killing lions, are being re-examined. (The other rite of passage is getting circumcised at age 13, during which it is forbidden to cry or you will be ostracized for life.)
As our guide roamed through the park we spotted a leopard who had recently killed a gazelle and dragged it into a tree. The leopard was draped across the branches, panting heavily. The blood from the gazelle dripped from the tree.
Stampeding wildebeest, a leopard with her cubs lazing under a tree (also dissinterested), tons of zebras, gazelles darting all around us, giraffes curiously looking, hippos bathing, baboons strolling around, and one distant resting cheetah, it was like living a National Geographic special. And no matter how many TV specials you have seen, when you see a giraffe in person, it really strikes you that it is one bizarre looking animal.
Not much longer in Africa. I have decided to monitor the results of the Sudan referrendum from abroad, with the option of returning to Africa if the opportunity arises in a month or so. I would love to stay, but to really enjoy the wild spectacle of Africa you need to be shelling out at least a hundred bucks a day, which I just afford. One must also need to enjoy long matutu (mini-bus taxi) rides crammed in with 20 Kenyans in sweltering heat on hideous roads for hours on ends. This is where I have maybe softened as a traveler; long arduous bus rides just don't have that adventurous appeal they used to.
In the meantime I will take my chances with the traffic of Nairobi, along with a couple more Kenyan adventures.