Where We Be
There's nothing quite like that first day on safari when you see your first
giraffe, your first zebra, your first impala -- your first everything!
It felt weird to be standing on the Masai Mara outside our vehicle…but also exciting. We kept looking
over our shoulders just to make sure there wasn't some wild animal back there ready to pounce on us!
Masai Mara -- Day 1
Local Masai provided the entertainment that evening. Afterwards we retired to our tent. We had planned to get up near midnight to celebrate, but instead we
lay in bed and listened as the other guests counted down the last ten seconds to midnight. We smiled to hear their distant cheers as we drifted off to sleep.
This was the trip of a lifetime for us, something
we've dreamed about for many years, and it
fully met our high expectations. Fourteen days
is a long time to be on safari, but we loved
every minute of it. Our first time in Africa was an
immersion into another reality and culture we'll
never forget.

It usually takes five or six hours to get from
Nairobi to the Masai Mara, but our guide, Steve,
got us there in four, driving with great gusto
over what started as pristine paved roads but
soon deteriorated into dirt, ruts, and bumps.
“You’ll get used to it,” he assured us. He told
us the road was first built by Italian POWs in
World War II. Years later, the Italians returned
and, as a gesture of good will, paved the first
stretch of road for free. We heartily wished they
had continued all the way to the Masai Mara.

Just a few miles beyond Nairobi’s tall buildings
we began to see Masai men in their distinctive
red robes herding cattle and goats to pasture.
The herds stay tightly packed, knowing they’re
safe from predators if they remain close to their
Masai guardians. It's said the Masai believe all
cattle belong to them, even though some may
have temporarily gotten “lost” and found
themselves in the possession of others.

That afternoon we went on our first game drive,
and what a treat it was.  Even before reaching
the park we saw animals galore -- giraffe, zebra,
impala. No predators yet but we hardly cared --
we were excited by everything we saw. There's
nothing quite like that first day or two on safari
when everything is new and especially thrilling.
You spy the tall, unbelievable shape of a giraffe walking with its strange gait
across the fenceless savannah and you think, Wow, now I know I'm in Africa!
These zebra were feeding just feet from the road, so close we could HEAR them grazing
By 4 pm storm clouds were gathering. Just as Steve spotted our first elephants (!) near a stretch of river, the rains struck. Suddenly Steve was gunning
the engine, making a mad dash back the way we had come. At first I thought he was over-reacting, but he explained that most of the tracks that criss-
cross the savannah can turn to muck in a matter of minutes. Only a few main gravel tracks are maintained and remain drivable even in wet weather.
We arrived in Kenya on New Year's Eve and celebrated
both lunch and dinner outdoors in comfortable weather
We learned the truth of this a half-hour later when we came across a safari vehicle mired in the mud. Several vehicles stopped to
help, ours included, but not even ten willing hands were enough to push it out -- it took a heavy-duty chain to winch it out of the mud.
Our guide, Steve, was incredibly knowledgeable and went out of his way to make our experience special.
Even though we had paid for a group tour, we lucked out and were the only two passengers.
The large canvas tents were comfy inside and lit by romantic lanterns. We loved the close-to-nature feeling of
sleeping in a luxury tent with the sounds of nature all around. This resident bushbuck often rested in the tent's shade.
Siana Springs safari camp was our home away from home in Kenya --
a beautiful oasis with manicured green lawns and towering trees
Eland, the largest of all antelope, have a distinctive dewlap hanging down
from their neck. They can leap up to eight feet from a standing start! I couldn't
help thinking of all the crosswords I've done that have had “eland” as an answer.
Impala are a common sight both in Kenya and Tanzania.
These graceful, reddish-brown antelope are speedy as
all get-out. The male has impressive lyre-shaped horns.
We saw our first waterbuck -- with calf no less. These elk-like antelope have pleasantly shaggy coats (as adults, that is).
They get their name because they're great swimmers and often escape into water when hunted by lions or leopards.
As we pulled into our lodge, we saw our first olive baboons scampering across the road. The lodge's electrified fence does nothing to keep
the baboons or vervet monkeys out. They can leap from the trees right into camp and seem determined to get into whatever trouble they can.
Our first night in Africa...
Late that night we heard baboons barking, which sounded a
bit like dogs barking. Far worse were the tree hyrax, who
emitted loud screams from close range starting around 3 am.
This is how the mammologist Richard Estes describes it: “The
call starts with a series of spaced cracking sounds, likened
to the rusted hinge of a huge gate slowly opening, followed
by a series of expiring screams suggesting a soul in
torment.” The territorial males have favorite calling perches
(right above our tent apparently) and may call for up to an
hour before falling silent. Such was the case during our first
night in Africa. It turned out to be the only night we heard
them, but what a way to welcome in the new year. Given their
small rabbit-like appearance, it seems impossible they could
make so much noise, but they do. Remarkably, they're most
closely related to the elephant. Shown at left is a rock hyrax,
a close cousin of the tree hyrax.

Towards morning Robin was moaning in her sleep, obviously
having a bad dream. I reached over to comfort her and she
let out a bloody scream of her own! Apparently she thought I
was a baboon. (Not for the first time, she's quick to add.)
Earlier that day, the desk clerk had warned us to tie our tent
flaps closed because the monkeys and baboons have
learned how to unzip tent flies. It seems this was still on her
mind as she went to sleep. Needless to say, this wasn’t our
most restful night in Africa but it was our most memorable.