We just had a fabulous trip to the Masai Mara. I’m ashamed to say that even though it’s on our doorstep we have only been there once before and that was in 2005. Now I’m resolved to go every year. However, even though we drove ourselves there, it was expensive, so we’ll see what happens. We went with friends but I think they’ll agree with me that what made the trip for all of us was William, our masai guide. Our friends already knew him well having been to the same lodge five times.
I think that my husband secretly wishes that in another life, he was a masai. They got on famously in the front of the car, morning and evening on game drives that stretched to many hours. As William’s eyes scanned the horizon in search of game, my husband quizzed him on all things masai. He even tried learning some masai phrases, noting them down studiously on a piece of paper. My favourite one was,
‘Where are you going?’ I guess that the nomadic masai use this line a lot!
We learned that William has been working as a guide for the lodge for 12 years but he gets paid cash in hand so can’t strictly be described as an employee. He said that when he arrived there he only spoke Maa but since then entering the tourist trade, he’s himself English and Swahili on the job.
William had a great sense of humour and made all of us laugh but I soon discovered that he was a typical masai, ie a man’s man. We had some of the best game drives ever and spotted lion with cubs, cheetah with cubs, even a leopard – my first sighting in the wild! When my husband drove uncomfortably close to an old, black maned lion, William laughed at me for being scared, sheepishly winding the window up. When I expressed concern at descending into a particularly steep and rocky riverbed he said,
‘Hah, you are scared of so many things! First the lion and now this!’
When my husband suggested I take a photograph of a migration sized herd of wildebeest and I lazily handed him the camera instead, William said,
‘In my culture, it’s the women who do all the work.’
My husband asked what masai spearheads were made of before metal was introduced. Olivewood apparently, which is strong, hard and can be carved very sharp. William said his father made his spear and so far it has killed 3 lion. We decided it was polite not to ask who killed them. Masai are not allowed to kill lion these days. We talked about his rungu too, the small stick with a round top and he and my husband laughed when he said he uses it to hit wacora, naughty people on the head. William said you can only buy good spears and rungus in Tanzania these days. The Kenya made ones are liable to break.
William then asked my husband earnestly,
‘Do you have a spear?’
Quick as a flash I said from the back, ‘Er no, but he has a gun....’ then regretted it instantly as images of Zulu Dawn flooded into my head. Fortunately everyone was laughing. When we asked William his real name, it was so long that it was impossible to repeat. ‘Your name is as mrefu (tall) as you are!’ I said, attempting desperately to get into his good books.
When we wanted to stop for a picnic or sundowners, William was always very particular about us finding a spot on high ground, with a panoramic view, under a lone tree, which was always worth it when we got there.
The children thought he was great. When my friend’s daughter said, ‘what have you done to your ears?’ Quick as a flash he said, ‘would you like me to do this to yours?’
He tried to teach the kids how to spin stones. William had a very skilful technique of flicking them off his fingers, causing them to twang impressively as they travelled through the air. When we tried to do the same we were utterly hopeless. William did say he’s been practising since he was a boy. When viewing another sleeping lion my friend asked him,
‘Won’t you just flick his bum with a stone William, wake him up? You are so good at it!’
The good news is that it has been a great season in the Mara for tourists, in spite of the global economic downturn, last year’s drought etc. William and my husband put it down to the fact that a peaceful voting in of a new constitution had inspired confidence in Kenya internationally. It’s no secret that the Masai Mara plays host to one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth, the migration; though when we visited many of the herds had already headed back into the Serengeti and we weren't lucky enough to see any river crossings. However, if visiting from overseas what you are are absolutely guaranteed of is a warm and friendly welcome from camp staff wherever you stay. I guess that’s why people keep on coming back.
p.s. My husband asked, 'was that a samburu?' William was asking if a fellow 'traditionally dressed' game guide in a passing car had seen anything of interest.
William said, 'yes, you can tell because the samburu wear beads on their heads, not just around their neck and across their chest.'
My husband says cheekily. 'You mean like Masai women do? So the Samburu are a bunch of girls?'
William laughed heartily!
To read more about this Mara trip with safari tips and tricks thrown in, click here: http://home.co.ke/index.php/african-expat/116-columns/650-maasai-mara-ahoy