As of this morning, we’d seen four of the Big Five: cape buffalo, elephant, leopard, and rhino. But we hadn’t seen any lions.
That changed as we left Nakuru this morning. Our guide had seen a male lion the previous evening while we were getting ready for dinner, and we returned to the area to see if it was still around. At first, we thought the lion must have moved on, because all we found were dozen of baboons going about their normal business with seemingly few cares. Surely, if there was a lion around, the baboons would show some signs of distress. (Even though lions don’t commonly eat baboons, they’ve been known to on rare occasions, and so the two species aren’t exactly close friends.)
We were wrong. Upon closer inspection, we finally eyed the lion about six feet up from the ground, napping on a tree branch.
Unlike most lions, who spend their entire lives on the ground, the lions of Nakuru have adapted to climb trees. We were glad to have the opportunity to see an example of this in the wild.
We took the road south through Narok to Masai Mara, the area of the country that has been home to the pastoral Masai tribe for many generations. (The spelling “Masai” is more common in Kenya, while “Maasai” is more common in Tanzania.) We enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the Great Rift Valley and acacia-filled plains along the way, and also stopped along the road to buy crafts made by local artists, talk with them and enjoy Bitter Lemon, a Sprite-like soda that is slightly less sweet and has a hint of bitterness from quinine (the same plant ingredient used in tonic water and early medicines for malaria).
After checking in at Sarova Mara Camp, we went for an afternoon game drive in Masai Mara National Reserve. Highlights of the drive included hippos and Masai giraffes. Kenya has three types of giraffes: reticulated, Rothschild, and Masai. Reticulated are easy to distinguish from the others because they have a spot pattern that looks like a light brown net has been cast over their otherwise rust-colored bodies. Rothschild giraffes develop dark centers in each spot as they grow older and have no markings below their knees, so that they look like they’re wearing white knee socks. Masai giraffes are distinguished by jagged spots that look something like blobs of brown fingerpaint.
We then visited Mara Simba Lodge situated on a bank of Talek River, a tributary to the Mara River. The 84 guest rooms, arranged in clusters of 6 within a natural wood and stone Banda (4 rooms on the ground floor, 2 interconnecting rooms on the second floor) comprise 60 twin rooms, 12 double, 4 double+single and 8 triple rooms. All have en suite showers and tiled bathrooms with natural granite. Each spacious room, which can easily accommodate an extra bed, opens onto its own private veranda with uninterrupted views across the river. For those looking for a permanent tent experience, 17 are also available at Mara Simba Lodge. Seven of 14 tents have views of the river and all of the 84 banda rooms sit on the river bank.
We returned to Sarova Mara where before dinner, a group of Masai warriors (young men in their teens and twenties) treated us to a traditional dance.