It was 2:30 am in the morning and I had just woken up to a rather alarming sound. A deep mournful growl. Once. And then again. Having once heard this noise before in a city zoo – I knew what that growl meant.
Through the netted walls of my tent – I could see that the full moon night had bathed the jungle in a milky white hue. I knew that there was a fence around our camp – three lines of thin wiring. One wondered if it would stand against the lazy swipe of a lion’s front paw. I shrugged, pulled my blankets further up and slept on.
Welcome to the Jungle.
If you have an aversion to suspense, cannot watch scenes of extreme pain and suffering or lack an essential skill called patience – Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Park is at best avoidable. Because life in the jungle does not come with a parental advisory. In here it is the drama of the real kind. Gladiators have tried to fashion similar scenes in Rome, Shakespeare has tried to emboss it on pages – but nothing. Nothing comes close.
My day in the Mara started at the crack of dawn as we clambered into our truck “the-warthog” and rode in through the Sekenani gate. In an instant – the wild had engulfed us. Impalas, Zebras, wild buffaloes and warthogs peacefully grazed all around us, dotting the Savannah as far as the eye could see. The surest sign of being far away from human habitation, was reflected in the calm brought by the quiet breeze rustling through scores of dry acacias.
But the calm was short-lived. The bonhomie of the Impalas and the others had stopped. The very air seemed to have come to a stand-still. Jackson – the Maasai warrior, our guide and the one with the keenest set of eyes, had sighted two bulky shapes slowly making their way towards us. Royalty had arrived.
I watched with muted awe as two lionesses made their way towards us from the distance. Their walk was slow and deliberate – for they feared nothing and no-one. The other animals ran, jumped, galloped and did whatever they could do to be as far away from the two as they could. The cats however, strolled nonchalantly past them, passed right by our vehicle and then came to a pause. On the other side of the road, out of the bush emerged another full grown lioness. At her sight, the two bounced joyfully towards her and we realized that this was the occasion of a happy family reunion.
Our day long drive under the vast blue sky and through the dry yellow Savannah saw numerous interesting moments. Encounters with baby elephants happily playing around, a cheetah family resting under a bush and scores of seemingly innocent hippos lazing in the Mara River. But perhaps the most thrilling moment of all – came around mid-afternoon when we came across a trio of lions stalking a giraffe. The suspense was palpable and eerie. The lions moved closer one inch at a time – at an infinitely slow pace. The giraffe stood absolutely frozen to the ground, staring unmistakably back at the trio. A run into any random direction could be fatal for there could be more lions hidden in the bush. The giraffe could not, and would not move. A strategy was being carefully unfolded, lives were at stake – the hunt was on.
Minutes went by with seemingly no end to the drama unfolding in front of us and ultimately time – the ultimate bane among-st human inventions, forced us to move on. As we drove back towards “civilization”, I found myself staring at the quintessential portrait of a lone acacia silhouette in front of fiery red African sun set. I wondered if that giraffe would ever see the sun again.
I wondered what it meant to be alive to our fellow inhabitants. There is so much we can learn from the wild – the elegance and grace of elephants, the unconditional love of a mother for its cubs, the fierce territorial nature of hippos, the gay abandon with which lions walk in their kingdom. And of-course the “Hakuna matata” way of life of the wart-hogs. The poetic beauty of the simplicity of life in the wild was a reminder to me, of the one common thread linking all of us together. Our blue planet. And it struck me how our fellow-beings must think of us humans as tyrannical rulers, who have been depleting and leaving our planet far less resourceful and far less beautiful than it once was.
As we were about to drive out of the park, I sighted a just-born zebra foal. Its mother was nuzzling it lovingly as it staggered to its feet. As we passed by, her eyes seem to whisper a last, most desperate plea to us. A plea to stop destroying their home. Our home. Our only home.
Best Time to Visit – The Mara is beautiful year-round. July-November is however the considered high tourist season due to the great migration.
Getting There / Safari – If Sara Reeves is planning an expedition – there can be no one better to take you there. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay – The Mara Explorers Camp and Backpackers. A backpacker-friendly and extremely well maintained accommodation. Wonderful hosts and great vibe.