“Jambo! Jambo!” the lodge staff welcomed us as they handed us cool towels and a glass of fruit drink. We were beat after a seven hour drive from our last camp.
We left Lake Naivasho early this morning to come to our final Kenya destination, the Masai Mara, home to the famed Masai warriors and one the most popular parks in Kenya. Here we hoped to see parts of the annual great migration.
To get caught up, however, we left the Sweetwaters Serena camp in the Ol Pejeta conservatory on Thursday, August 9th for a relatively short ride (4 hours) to the Lake Naivasha Sopa Lodge on Lake Naivasha. After lunch we were taken on a short boat ride to see the many birds and hippos that inhabit this large lake. Afterwards, we were dropped off on shore for a short hike. Here we could walk among the many giraffes, gavelles, water bucks and other large game that graze on the hillside. Some of the animals, we were told, were brought here as part of the fiming for Out of Africa and have remained ever since.
Later we returned to the Sopa, which was, by far, the nicest we have stayed at so far. In contrast to the tent cabins we had been staying at, this was a full service, modern hotel, and we appreciated the change. Our room was spacious with carpeting, full bath with hot shower and even a TV (which we didn’t bother to turn on). Our balcony overlooked a tree-covered lawn which led to the lake. After dark or early in the morning, we were told we could not leave our room without an escort, the hippos were so plentiful here. After dinner we sat on our room balcony and watched a giraffe casually walk by our room, not twenty feet away, illuminated by motion sensor lights placed in the trees. Water bucks were resting a little further and we could make out several hippos coming ashore.
In the morning we were out by seven for the long, dusty and bumpy ride to the Masai Mara. Our lodge here was back to the familiar tent-style cabins. The camp backs up to the Mara river, famous for the wildebeest crossings during the great migration. Every year in July and August, millions of wildebeest make follow the rain north from Tanzania to the grasslands of the Mara.
The scenery is different here than other parts of Kenya we have visitied. Gentle rolling grasslands, dotted with lone Acacia trees, spread out in every direction to the horizon, more than 50 miles away. This is, in my mind’s eye at least, what you picture when you think of Africa. I just loved this area. As we drove for hours across the sweeping grasslands, I never tired of looking out over the whisky golden brown grasses gently swaying in the breeze with bright white clouds hovering in the brilliant blue sky above. Just stunning Africa landscape.
We followed the Mara river for some time, stopping to watch groups of hippos submerged and huddled together in the water, coming up for air every few minutes. Wildebeest carcasses were scattered on sandbars, victims of drowning or crocodiles. Swarms of vultures picked at their bones while dozens more perched in trees or circled overhead. We didn’t see an actual crossing during our stay, but we saw the vivid reminders of the hazardous journeys these animals make every year.
In our time here, we saw thousands of wildebeests crossing the grasslands in a single line for miles on their way north. We saw huge herds of zebras, large prides of lions, a family of Cheetahs, hyenas and gazelles but no leopards.
Throughout the game parks you here the term, “Big Five” which refers to the top five game animals once prized by hunters. This includes the lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, elephant and rhino, but now, fortunately, most are shot by tourists with cameras. Over the four reserves we had visited so far, we had seen all but the leopard so far.
On our way to the airstrip on our final morning Mwok took a slight detour to check out a large herd of wildebeests. As we approached them, we spotted something hanging from an Acacia tree. We slowly got closer we could see it was a large wildebeest hanging high above in the crotch of the limb. A fresh leopard kill! We couldn’t believe what we were looking at. A two to three hundred pound animal hoisted up in tree by a single leopard!
When we made a quick circle and headed back to the road, we finally saw the big cat walking through the grass: a huge leopard. Cameras clicked as he walked in front of our Rover. In our last remaining moments in Kenya, via an unplanned stop, we rounded out our Big Five.