We were given a list of the animals we might see in the Masai Mara. The animal life here is so varied we just might hit everyone on the list. Thus far: onyx, zebra, Cape Buffalo, cheetah, wildebeest, dik dik, eland, elephant, giraffe, jackal, gazelle, hippopotamus, impala, leopard, lion, mongoose, baboon, ostrich, hyena, steenbok, topi, rhino and warthog. And then there are all those birds.
On our morning drive we were following a magnificent male lion, striding along like he owns the place, which I guess he does. It was the first time we have seen a male doing more than reclining in the shade under a bush. Following at a reticent distance was a female. He crossed a stream and when she followed, she leaped a mile high into the air as the hippos who were lying submerged in the water reared up and gave us all a scare. As we drive our guide gives us interesting animal facts. The dik dik, the smallest antelope, mates for life and when one dies, the other stops eating and dies, too. Female zebra put their suitors through a horrible test, kicking them as they try to mount. The winner is the male without a broken jaw at the end. The Secretary Bird got its name from the way it kills its prey. It stomps the capture vigorously until dead with its feet, just like a typist vigorously hitting the keys. The feathers on the back of its head resemble pencils tucked behind a secretary's ear. Zebras like to stand side by side, nose to rear end. Having heads facing two directions help them watch for lions everywhere. I've got your back.
Our vehicles are well suited for the daily journey. There is comfortable seating for six and we all have a window. The roof of the van pops up, shielding us from the sun or occasional shower. The fresh air comes in from the top, so the dust from the road doesn't bother us. If we stand we can stick our heads up for a 360º view. The drivers do this every day and know how to pull into a perfect position so that we all have a great view moving with the light over our shoulders, optimal for photography. We see photography crews here with equipment that costs as much as a car. We have no idea how they navigate the unmarked dirt roads, but we always end up back at the lodge at the end of the drive.
In the afternoon our Masai guide David gave us a lecture about his culture. The Masai believe that cows were put on earth for them. As nomadic people they move their herds from green grass to new green grass. There were some spots where they might linger for a while and it was the woman's job to build the hut out of dung, twigs and earth when they settled down for a while. The huts might last up to five years, but they were never there that long. Herding animals was of utmost importance. The small boys would learn with goats. At the age of six they pull go through a circumcision ceremony and become warriors, ready to herd cattle. They would receive their first cow and a spear at the circumcision ceremony. They would carry clubs, machetes and spears to ward off the marauding lions. You couldn't marry until you had killed a lion. After the age of seven, everyone has blood for breakfast every day. A small incision is made in the jugular vein of the cow - average serving size two cups. Malaria has been a huge problem, so everyone has their center bottom two teeth removed. That way if they faint from the malaria, milk can be poured into their mouths to revive them. Men can marry as many women as they wish, but every woman can live in her own mud hut. The chiefhood used to be inherited but these days it's education that counts. When David's father who is a chief dies, David will be the next one rather than his eldest brother, because he has attended university.
Then David took us to a group of Masai ladies who gave us a beading lesson. They took the beads that we had strung on wire and turned them into twisted bracelets. Of course, after the lesson they tried to sell us more of their beaded handicrafts. No one left empty handed.
Because we have seen so many animals already, the afternoon drive was spent looking for the elusive rhino. We drove and drove and drove, pausing every so often to take a few photos of creatures we had already seen. It was almost dark, when our driver took off like a bat out of hell, yelling excitedly into his radio. Half a mile away stood a rhino, waiting to be photographed. Ten van full of paparazzi joyfully snapped away. We couldn't imagine how our driver had seen that gray blob at dusk so far away, but we were so glad that he did.