Kenya 6/21/06 - Maasai Mara Game Drives, Siana Maasai Boarding School

We woke up at 5:00 am and had a very nice shower. Leaving the tent we headed down to the lobby building at 6:15 for our morning game drive. Bill, James, and Patrick were already there. Bill seemed to get up at around 3 every morning. Craig had a quick cup of coffee and we had some of the cookies that were laid out around the coffee and tea station. There were a few other people also gathering for their morning game drives. It was sort of amusing to see all the different people each with their own drivers all getting ready to drive off. At 6:30, before most of the others were ready, we headed out. We were excited wondering what might be in store for us today. With the sky still rather dark and the sun not yet striking the landscape, we saw many guinea fowl and their chicks in the road. We'd always feel bad but couldn't resist laughing at them. The chicks insisted on trying to outrun the vehicle. They would run and run and run and never make any progress. They'd finally jump off to the side and be free and safe. It was amazing to see the ones that would hold out for so long. In the distance we saw a desert date tree. This was a very classic looking African tree. It's funny how many things you store in your brain from television: impressions you have and expectations you have about a place even before you arrive to see it in person. The desert date tree didn't disappoint. It was exactly what we expected to see. James also pointed out the "sausage tree" to us. Its hanging fruits (which look exactly like hanging sausages) are used to make honey beer. This tree is significant to the Maasai people and we continued to notice them every place we went. Craig was clearly intrigued by the process of making the beer. He loves trying the local beer wherever he goes and I could tell he was hoping to try some of this local brew at some point on the trip.

Finally the sun was starting to make an appearance on the horizon. It was a very pretty and very fast sunrise! I took 5 photos within the same minute, and then it had completely risen. It all happened too quickly actually. Now that the sun was showing itself we noticed more and more vehicles appearing on the dirt roads. It was hardly crowded on the roads but the sad reality is that many people are following the same timelines and therefore seem to gather occasionally. We were glad that we were in a distinctive looking vehicle - our mustard yellow Land Cruiser. At least we looked a little different from all the other groups. Far too many tourists were driven around in identical white minivans. We weren't seeing too much this morning. This reality caused many of the vehicles to gather at more popular spots for this time of year, looking near various water holes and small streams. This meant that it was starting to feel a little congested in some of these areas. It seemed many peple were getting a bit impatient and were really stressing about what they saw, or didn't see, on safari. At one point, one such vehicle got stuck in a ditch heading up a small incline. They basically were not paying attention and managed to get themselves hung up on a rock. They bottomed out the vehicle by leaving the wheels in the deep ridges and high-centering the van. They kept insisting on trying to work their way upwards instead of rolling back down the incline and trying a better approach. Patrick and some other guides helped to rock it free and Patrick finally convinced them to roll back and try again. Once they managed to get themselves free and back on the path, we had lost some time and were in a somewhat crowded area with the backed up vehicles. As we continued up and down various pathways we saw a hartebeest, a male ostrich, gazelles, a wildebeest, and a marabou stork. We didn't really get a great view of any of them today. The grass was just too high and the game just didn't seem to be out this morning. We gave up at around 9 and decided to head back to the camp for breakfast. Patrick was apologetic, but we were amazed we had seen as much as we had last night. We had expected the game drives to be hit or miss and overall we had already seen so much. It was one of those days that made us glad we had chosen a trip with plenty of opportunities for sightings though. I'm sure people with less time might have been more disappointed than we could possibly muster. The fact was, for us anyway, anything we saw was just extra. This trip was already fantastic and clearly we wouldn't be disappointed when the trip was all done.

Back at the lodge we went straight over to the dining room to eat. It seemed we worked up even more of an appetite today. We ate breakfast with Bill: omelette, sausage, bacon, cinnamon bun, cereal, and a maize meal cake. We were supposed to meet at 2:30 to go to the Maasai school. But it was only 9:30 and we had no idea what to do until then. We were ready to go, and we weren't the type to lounge around the pool when there was so much wildlife and culture to soak up. We ran into Bill by the pool and he said he wasn't interested in going to the Maasai school. We contacted Patrick and asked if we could go now instead, which would then give us time to do an evening game drive as well. Patrick and James thought that was a great idea. We stopped at the tent to get our stuff, and ran into our resident dik-dik. He was just hanging out in the little bushes next to our tent.

We met Patrick and James in the lobby and departed for the school. Almost as soon as we left the hotel grounds, we saw a family of elephants, zebras, and a male impala and its harem. There was a snake which we believe was an African rock python crossing the road. A bachelor eagle (the eagle with the smallest tail) was soaring in the sky overhead. We also saw a family of baboons cutting across the bumpy dirt road cutting across the hills. It was ironic that the game all came out after the traditional game drive time had ended. We joked as if it were a joke from the comic strip "Far Side". As soon as all the tourists go for breakfast, all the animals come out in droves to do their thing. As we neared our destination, we passed a very busy Maasai market. Maasai on foot were arriving from every direction. Some even tried to hitch a ride with us. Unfortunately Patrick couldn't pick them up because of insurance liability. It was a sad irony is that we couldn't even help the people by offering them a ride to their destination because of the harsh realities of insurance and liability. As we drove we did get much enjoyment waving at the young children walking down the paths. Even when they were a long distance away, the young children seemed to love that we waved and said hello as we drove past. It was a lot of fun seeing so many people heading toward the village for the market.

At 11:50, we finally arrived at the Siana Boarding Primary School in Narok. Its charter (painted on the exterior wall) declared "To prepare and equip the youth to be happy and useful citizens." We pulled up at the gate and James talked to the guards. We were allowed in and immediately met one of the teachers that James knew. The school was a compound of buildings, and there were lots of children in school uniforms milling about. We were brought into an office where children's school projects were displayed, including a labeled elephant skull (huge!) and soil samples. We were introduced to Mr. Orina Jeff, the deputy head teacher. Like all Maasai we had met, he was very softspoken but was very welcoming. Craig, James, and I sat in his office. He said that the school had been founded in 1979. They seem to be approaching their capacity of about 900 students. Most of the students are 12-14 years of age, but some are older because they weren't allowed to start school until later. The school staff goes to Maasai villages and finds eligible kids, whom they take back with them to school. Sometimes the parents don't want them to go to school (boys are valuable as herders and girls are valuable as brides), but at the threat of government intervention they concede. Female Maasai babies are betrothed at birth (or even in utero) and can be taken as brides as early as age 11. The school wants to preserve cultural traditions while at the same time valuing education and ending ways that could be considered abusive. It is a fine line they are walking.

Jeff apologized because the kids were taking their monthly exams and couldn't perform for us. We said that we understood. While talking to him the door to his office slammed shut from the wind. The office got very warm and I started not to feel well. Craig said after the fact that I looked as white as a sheet and that he thought I was about to pass out. I asked about a bathroom, and one of the teachers led me out. As soon as I exited Jeff's office I was sick on the front step. I had an audience of a young boy and a couple of adults. I was so embarrassed! "I'm so honored to be a guest at your school....bleccch." They led me to the bathroom where I was sick three more times. I cleaned up and returned to Jeff's office, all apologies. He was very kind and acted as if it hppens all the time.

Starting to feel a bit better, I told Jeff that I was trained as a teacher, and we talked about education for a little while. Each of their 22 teachers teach all subjects. The students learn English and Swahili to supplement their native Maa tongue. The students are great at music and have won provincial championships. They also win academic awards. He brought up the opportunity to sponsor a child's education and asked if we would like to meet the kids, which of course we did. He took us to a 5th grade class. As we entered, all the students stood up in a show of respect. The head teacher addressed them and they responded in unison. He asked what they would like to say to welcome us and they all recited something in English. He told them a bit about us (including that I was a teacher) and then asked them if they had any questions they would like to ask us. One student asked what our names were. We told them and they repeated after us. Another child asked what we had learned about Kenya in the U.S. A third asked if we had children. They were so sweet. Any time we would say something nice about them, the school, or Kenya in general they would respond with "thank you!" in unison. They were adorable. Some looked young but there were definitely some older larger ones in the back of the room. They asked what I taught. I told them I now work with computers and Jeff told them maybe they could ask for a computer and laughed. When we were through, they clapped and said goodbye.

Jeff asked if we'd like to see another class, so he brought us into a 4th grade where the students were studying for exams. They were just as polite as the 5th graders, and they were crammed in, some sitting on one another's laps. We said a quick hello and then left them to their studies. We went back into Jeff's office for a farewell. We gave him some pencils, which he said would be a great treat for those who did well on their exams. We asked if he knew what a frisbee was. He didn't. We pulled one out of our bag and explained that it was an outdoor toy. We demonstrated how to grip it. Jeff tried but held it upside-down. James asked how many people could play and we said any number. They were grateful and said the children would like it. We said our goodbyes and Jeff asked if we could return tomorrow to see the children perform. James told them that our schedule wouldn't permit it, so Jeff told us to visit again the next time we are in Kenya. He gave us their address and we were told to send anything we could through MERC. We drove back to the camp very happily. I was relieved to see my sick feeling had passed as driving over the bumpy road could have been monotonous.

When we arrived back at camp, we went to lunch and Bill was already there. With my delicate stomach I only ate two rolls. Craig had baigan masala and aloo jeera and said it was very good but it was clearly too spicy for me today! We came back to the room and my stomach was still bothering me so I took an Immodium and a motion sickness pill and we just relaxed around the tent and beautiful surroundings. At 4:00 we met for our game drive. My stomach still wasn't feeling 100% but I had a gut feeling that if I stayed behind, they would see lions (so far elusive to us) for sure. The game drive was a bit slow at first. We seemed to be having the same problems we did this morning. We saw a beautiful bird, the lilac breasted roller, as soon as we left the camp. Later we saw a dead impala which a lion had dragged up a tree and left suspended from the branches. This ensured that noone could scavenge it. We also saw a female whitehead vulture, yellow weaver birds, and two buffaloes and three ostrich in the distance. The sun was strong and when we weren't moving the car got very hot. All of a sudden it hit me and I got sick out the window. Everyone was very nice offering to go back to the camp, but I wanted to proceed. I just had a feeling that something big was coming. I sat with my eyes closed, relaxing, perking up whenever Patrick stopped the vehicle and looking around.

Patrick told us an unconfirmed rumor he had heard that Saddam Hussain had died today in a car crash. It turned out not to be true but we thought it would be very strange if it was. Just hearing something like that in a place like this was almost too surreal to be true. Then we saw a ton of safari vehicles in one place. There must have been about 20 of them. Something was clearly happening over there. We stopped and found out that there were two male and two female lions. I knew it! There were so many vehicles that we couldn't get close enough and decided to move on to another area, and come back later. We then saw a female lion lounging near the road. There was a male lion far away. Pretty much every safari company except for Nature Expeditions broke the national park rules and drove off-road to get a closer view. They get fined for doing so if they are caught by rangers, but often clients say they will pay the fines and reward the guides for bad behavior with large tips. Patrick knew of someone who had killed a baby cheetah accidentally by driving over it off-road. We were happy with Patrick's integrity. We would much rather follow the rules and get not such a good a view than to break the rules to get up close, and we told Patrick this. We were rewarded for our patience by coming across a lioness with three cubs, in the grass right near the road. The light was a little dodgy, so the pictures aren't great, but we were able to see them just fine with our naked eyes and binoculars. The cubs were so cute, and Patrick estimated that they were only 2 months old. They were sitting on their mother's back, tousling with one another. They kept falling off, and the proud mother seemed very amused by their antics. We revisited the other roadside lions after some of the other vehicles moved on and had now arrived at the cubs. We got a few decent pictures in the late afternoon light. It was amazing to see them at this close range. Their paws were absolutely huge.A couple of females were awake and sitting up, and we saw a male who was sound asleep.

On the way back to the camp we saw a hyena, a natura stramonia plant (which drives animals mad if they eat it), and two giraffes. We were running a bit late and we got back to the camp at around 7:15. We said our goodbyes and thank yous to Patrick and James, and then ate dinner with Bill. Trying deperately to stabilize my insides I only had two rolls and a water. Craig on the other hand was feeling fine and he had a Pilsner Ice, darne of king fish, rosemary potatoes, chicken, beef, avacado and mango salad, and small slices of chocolate cake, mango cake, and apple pie. Maasai entertainment came through the dining room at one point, stopping at each table to chant, whoop, and dance. It was all rather exciting just reflecting on another great day in Africa. At around 9:45 we headed back to the room to get ready for bed. I journaled for a little while but we were both very tired and we were in bed by 10:30. It will be an early morning tomorrow for the balloon ride! Patrick and James wouldn't be awake by the time we would have to leave, and they would be gone from Maasai Mara by the time we returned. They needed to drive the Land Cruiser all the way back to Nairobi. We would fly there the next morning and meet them at the airport. We were sad that we wouldn't be spending the next day with them, but at least our time with them wasn't over.
Maasai Mara at dawn

Sunrise over Maasai Mara

Maasai Mara at dawn

Male impala with harem

5th Grade students, Siana Maasai borading school

5th Grade students, Siana Maasai borading school

5th Grade students, Siana Maasai borading school

Mr. Orina Jeff, Deputy Head Teacher, Siana Maasai Boarding School

Lioness, Maasai Mara

Lioness with cubs, Maasai Mara

Lioness, Maasai Mara

The (male) lion sleeps tonight, Maasai Mara

Dinner with Bill at Mara Sarova Camp

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