As a final hurrah on this month-long saga, I took full advantage of the opportunity to see African wildlife on a 4-day safari. Boy did we go out with a bang! On thursday we boarded the cozy and sweat-ridden matatu for Nairobi to be ready for the next morning's pickup. Our homestay was as overstuffed as the matatu, and the smell even trumped that of Kenyan sweat. The smell of the sleeping bag I slept in can be most accurately labeled "dirty goat smell". Yum-oh.
The following morning we were whisked away to the Great Rift Valley for some quick picks and a souvenir shopping spree. I caved and filled my bag, though had fun bargaining. From there we made way to Massai Mara, where we were welcomed into semi-permanent tents in a safari camp. I'm not sure what's so "semi" about tents with electricity and flooring. No complaints, though - they were excellent!
Soon after dropping our bags in our tents, we headed out for a 2.5-hour evening game drive. The animals welcomed us with open...um, legs. Weird. There were zebras, gazelles, impala, giraffes, and elephants. On our way out, we even spotted a solo lioness chillin' on a rock. The blurry photo I snapped of that would become laughable after much closer encounters with those royal cats.
Our evening game drive was topped with a tasty dinner at the campsite, dessert being a warm Guinness that tasted more like a secondhand cigar. And with electricity hours ending at 10pm, we all turned in early to prepare for the next day's all-day game drive.
Saturday brought us more gifts in the form of cheetahs, much closer elephants, and the wildebeest migration across a river. This was spectacular! To see hundreds of these animals stampeding across the water, dodging hippos and narrowly escaping a lurking croc was surreal! Our day close with hopes of a pride of lions hunting some wildebeest. We sat for about 45 minutes while the lions patiently but confidently advanced on their prey. Unfortunately, the park closed before we could witness the kill. But, we left sufficiently satisfied by the anticipation of such a primitive form of survival. Craving our own form of survival, we once again hit the campsite "dinning" hall for some grub. Guinness, no thanks.
We had to rise early the next morning for a sunrise game drive that turned out to be the best of all the game drives. After admiring the sunrise, we soon stumbled upon lion cubs that truly resembled a litter of kittens, except that their mother could devour a planet. We sat mesmerized while the mother watched over her cubs, and while the father sat at a respectful distance. To see the mother was quite a sight, but there is something about seeing the father walk, toting his dark mane that is truly stunning!
The next destination would be a Massai manyatta (village), where the locals gave us a peek at their way of life. Though the Massai typically fear cameras as thieves of the soul, they have grown accustomed to curious outsiders like myself and have allowed photos. Of course, a little money provides some extra motivation for tolerance. In the manyatta we were treated to traditional dances by both men and women. The men's dance included a jumping contest, whereby a man's importance is proportional to his vertical jump. Let's just say that I'm not very important.
We were then exposed to the Massai ritual of drawing cow's blood by bow and arrow, and immediately drinking it. Unsatisfied as a mere spectator, I jumped at the opportunity to partake. I was surprised at its lack of taste, but my blood-stained teeth gave me a somewhat savage look that is either badass or extremely disturbing.
Our time with the Massai concluded with a beadwork market where we could purchase the signature attire for these people - beaded everything, you name it. We then vanned-up for quite some time while we drove to Nakuru, stopping only for the occasional pit stop and an overheating van. Upon arrival, we had to high step it to the hotel restaurant so that we could watch the world cup final. Viva Espana!
The rest of the evening was such a blast - a bunch of us went clubbing - cheesy, Kenyan style. The Tusker beer flowed and the Kenyan people weren't shy about approaching us, and some armed with marriage proposals. It was enough entertainment to keep us out till 4am, which was long enough to afford us 2 hours of sleep before driving to Lake Nakuru.
At Lake Nakuru, the two main attractions were flamingos and rhinos, both of which were exquisite! The flamingos were so numerous that the lake appeared pink from afar. And the rhinos were so large and dinosaur-like that their power seemed to scream even in their idle state.
Upon reflecting on the weekend, I realized that I had been subconsciously educated that these animals exist only in zoos. To see them in their natural habitat is breathtaking in a way that can't be even partly conveyed in visiting animals behind caged enclosures. I can't help but laugh at the turned tables on a safari - we as humans cage ourselves in vans as we parade like a mobile zoo through the African savanna. Funny how that works.