Jet-lag vanquished, on the third day we traveled to the regional Wilson airport to board a small plane for a one-hour flight to the Maasai Mara. This drive had me peeking into my bag of terror, as there was no rhyme or reason to the chaos of the Nairobi road we were on. Granted, it was a back road, so that we could avoid the commuter traffic, but it was a rutted dirt road that had patches of asphalt that only served to launch us into the air. We were careening along, inches away from semis, buses, autos and cycles, all jockeying for the lead position – even if it meant passing on both sides, three abreast, into oncoming traffic. I decided to engage my seat-mate in a discussion about her career, and simply remember DIA. We didn’t see a single accident.
Upon landing in the Bush, we were greeted by two men draped in red blankets and beaded chains, their feet strapped into rubber sandals. Literally – rubber sandals – they were cut from old tires. Next to the warriors stood Eddie, our lead guide, who drove from Nairobi to help his grandfather-in-law, Christopher with this particular tour. The blanket-draped Maasai warriors grabbed our suitcases and stuffed them into the Land Cruisers, gesturing for us to follow.
As we bounced along the rutted and potholed dirt trails, our driver, Dominic, kept turning over his shoulder to grin at us as he explained in lilting English, that the thousands of Thomson’s gazelles grazing on both sides of the car were sensing no danger from a larger predator, so were happy to let us wander in their midst.
The scenery changed from gazelles to herds of topi, antelope, impala – all of them appearing to be neighborly and calm, munching the abundant grasses from recent rains. As we neared camp (though at the time we had no idea we were near camp, as it is so completely hidden by lush greenery) there were three giraffe bodies and necks standing by some trees, their heads completely camouflaged by the branches they were dining on. Leisurely strolling past them was a parade of 15 or so elephants, casually pulling giant clumps of grass with their trunks and gracefully placing said clumps in their mouths.
I was amazed to see all of these WILD beasts getting along so beautifully, co-existing in such paradise. I started humming “It’s A Small World,” as it seemed that every curve in the road revealed another species of wildlife.
Soon after the elephants, was a troop of baboons – so far the most curious about our arrival. They gathered together, and appeared to be discussing the merits of staying put versus scrambling to the highest branches. Some screeched at us – some bounced the branches of trees to make sure we saw them – and soon they all resumed their grooming and playing, once it became clear we would remain in the cars.
As we rumbled around the next turn, Dominic said, ever so casually, “Oh, look. Dere rhinoceros,” and directly next to the path stood a black rhinoceros who was content to let us snap multiple photos as he stared at us. Just a few feet away! This was only the second time during the trip that I reflected on my initial fears – ”HEY! This 3,000 pound dude, with a deadly spear on his nose, is less than 15 feet away from me and in prime position to charge.” Yet the thought just flitted through my consciousness, as I was so awestruck by his indifference, his size, his little eyes, and, quite frankly, how dirty he was. Even as Dominic explained that a rhino could easily outrun, AND SPEAR a human, I settled into my seat and clicked away.