The Masai Mara – Bateleur Camp at Kichwa Tembo

I am going to post a couple of blog posts on our experience last year about this time of year in the Masai Mara at the Bateleur Camp at Kichwa Tembo. The lodging and safari experience were exquisite. We used Paul Bruce-Brand at ITR Safaris, his email address is itrgolf@mweb.co.za. He did an absolutely awesome job for us in Kenya and his specialty is organizing safari/golf vacations in South Africa but Paul set us up with our trip to Uganda to see the gorillas, the Masai Mara, Ngorongoro Crater and Kruger and did an amazing  job.

Hamsters

I think anyone who has had a pet hamster has watched it run endlessly on its wheel, wondering how it can spend so much time doing the same thing, running and running with nowhere to go and no purpose. People are very much like hamsters, when we get in our box, doing the same thing every day because it is what they have always done, never questioning why, hating their situation but never taking action to change. I feel like a hamster. Doing the same thing over and over and feeling like I am going nowhere. Every once and a while I have to get off the wheel, and see the world, learn how others live, take time to smell the roses.

Our morning in Kagali started at 2am to make a 5am flight. After arriving in the international airport in Nairobi and transferring to the domestic airport we finally arrived on a small bush plane on a gravel landing strip in the Masai Mara (Masai after the indigenous tribe and Mara after the Mara River). We knew that this was going to be a special place when our plane came in and there were giraffes along the runway.

From the landing strip to the lodge we saw, elephants, giraffes, water buffalo, Thompson’s gazelles, topi, wart hogs, jackals, impala, waterbucks, baboons, eland and crested cranes.

You know you have hit a home run when you make your wife cry when she sees the room because it is so beautiful, and it’s a tent! OMG what attention to detail, the tent overlooks the most beautiful savannah of the Masai Mara. A porch with two large upholstered chairs, an absolutely gorgeous bathroom made of stone and hardwood floors. A couple minutes after we arrived they served watermelon slices with shots of gin to dip it in.

Lunch was served on a tiered platter, the top tier had cheese and crackers, the second tier had salad and the bottom tier had the main course, chicken and lamb curry. The Bateleur Camp lodge is incredibly decorated, with beautiful furniture, games laying around for you to engage in, people attending to your every wish.

On our first game drive we added ostrich, a cheetah eating a wart hog (amazing!), hyena, black rhino, hippos, an eagle, and more of everything we had seen before then you could count. The drive ended with Sophy (our guide) setting up a table on the savannah as the sun went down, with wine and beer, cookies, nuts, and other goodies.

Dinner was even more magnificent, a five course meal. The chef comes out to announce the meal at the beginning and at the end to see if everything was to your liking. When we got back to our tent, hot tea and Baileys were waiting for us and hot water bottles in our bed. OMG!

Out of Africa

I believe experiences are worth ten times the money spent on “things”. Things go away, are used up, break or are consumed, experiences stay with you forever, the smell and sounds of the Medina in Fez Morocco, the sight of watching the sun break through the morning clouds on Machu Picchu, the damp smell of the inside of a pyramid or watching the sunrise on the Masai Mara. Wow!

The camp is right where the movie Out of Africa was filmed. This morning we awoke to the most beautiful sunrise and chorus of hyenas calling and birds chirping, as the Priscilla, our personal waitress, brought coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice. Breakfast at the lodge came out on a big platter, yogurt, granola and honey, pineapple, mango, breads, cheeses. I think we might stay forever.

At 7:30am we headed out on safari again. One of the first things we saw was a leopard up in a tree, he was just chillin. In a tree about 100 feet away a half eaten impala was draped over a limb of another tree. The leopard had made its kill, eaten half of it and left it there for a snack later, then climbed another tree to rest.

We headed out driving across the African savannah, after a little while we came up on the Mara River and it was full of hippos, huge hippos, snorting and thrashing in the water. There were also a couple of crocks enjoying the water. A short drive later we came across one of the hippo’s buddies, this guy was not faring too well. A pride of lions had nailed this poor guy and by the time we came up on him he was half eaten with two male lions enjoying their meal.

Sophy said there was no way two loins could have killed this huge hippo and sure enough after a few minutes, here comes a lioness to join in the meal. Loins will kill an animal, eat their fill and then most of the pride will go off to rest while a couple of them keep guard on the food. The jackals and vultures were waiting around the hippos carcass until the lions had their fill. We found the rest of the pride a couple of hundred yards away sleeping off their dinner under a tree.

One of the lions was feeling a little amorous and decided he liked one of the girls, anytime she tried to get up and join the rest of the group he got really upset and let her know she was his, anytime he tried to make his move she let him know that she had a headache. We stayed for a while but it seemed like a stalemate.

The day finished with a massage, another incredible meal, a glass of Baileys, and hot water bottles in the bed. I think I could live here, I no longer feel like a hamster.

Masai

Yesterday we decided to start the morning with a walking safari, so we set out with a guide, an armed guard, and a Masai tribesman. It was good to get some exercise and we learned about animal tracks and dung. Not too exciting but interesting and we saw some huge hippos.

Later in the afternoon we went to a Masai village. The chief showed us around and explained some about their customs and culture. A Masai village is surrounded by a bush fence. Inside the fence is where the homes are, one for each wife and kids. In the center is another bush fence to keep the cows from danger at night.

A Masai boy goes through three periods, childhood, warriorhood, and adulthood. When he is 18 he is allowed to drink alcohol, but only if he shows his father an act of respect first by giving him a cow. Women are never allowed to drink alcohol.

The Masai men engage in a dance that includes jumping in unison as high as they can jump. Young ladies are attracted to the men that can jump the highest. I would be out of luck since “white man can’t jump”. Later in the afternoon we had a Masai with us on our safari so I challenged him to a jumping contest. Lou said I did alright, she was being nice.

The Masai are polygamists, and believe that a man can and should have more than one wife. The first wife is usually chosen by the man’s parents in an arranged marriage. The dowry is negotiated between the two families and usually costs the man between 15 to 20 cows. He must have a house built and ready for his new family before each new bride he takes on. Each wife lives in a separate house with her children and the husband makes his rounds moving from house to house.

Houses are made from cow dung, straw and mud. The house consists of three rooms, one master bedroom/kitchen combo for the husband and wife, one bedroom for the kids and the last one for the goats and sheep. Yep the goats and sheep come in every night to sleep with the family to protect them from lions or other predators.

When it’s time for the marriage the woman gets dressed up in a fully beaded outfit with a goat skin that is dyed different colors. Masai clothing is very colorful with a lot of red, because red is the color of blood and blood plays a big part in their rituals and ceremonies, cow’s blood that is. They drink it, either plain or mixed with milk, ummm.

Instead of rings the couple exchanges necklaces, the man gets a couple of long strands of beads and the woman wears a beaded colorful collar type necklace. The bride carries two large delicate gourds full of fresh milk during the wedding ceremony.

After the ceremony they walk to the newly wed couple’s new home, being careful not to break the gourds full of milk. Once at the new abode the bride shares her milk with all the children, crosses the threshold and must lie down in her new bed, where the wedding party puts a baby next to her.

She must stay with the baby for a period of about 30 minutes. I guess they want to start practicing some form of birth control early, nothing like having to stay with a screaming baby for 30 minutes during your wedding day.

When the man wants to take on another wife, again he must cough up some more cows but his first wife gets to choose any new wife from that point on. I wonder what kind of wife Lou would choose for me; I bet she would be really hot.

The Masai have practiced male and female circumcision for generations, but the introduction of mandatory education for children and help from missionaries has started a shift to stop female circumcision.

Sophy, our guide and a Masai woman, said educated children are moving away from arranged marriages and polygamy. Sophy has been great; she is 22, and so mature and knowledgeable for her age. She gave Lou and I Masai names yesterday, her Masai name is Nasurian (which means “peace”), Lou’s new name is Nashipai (which means “happy”), my new name is Saruni (which means “the person people come to when they need help”). I think we will officially change our names to Saruni and Nashipai Green when we get back. Maybe not…

After visiting the Masai village we did a night drive. We drove around for a while with a spot light looking for animals, primarily a leopard. Leopards are hard to find and the one we had seen earlier was almost totally hidden in the tree. It looked like we were not going to have any luck when we came upon a bunch of hyenas ripping a Thomson’s gazelle apart.

Sophy told us that something else had killed the gazelle and the hyenas had taken over the kill, because hyenas are basically scavengers and would not be fast enough to catch a gazelle. The high pitched screams the hyenas made as the fought over the meat and crunched on bones was amazing.

Undeterred and assuming that a leopard had probably killed the gazelle, Sophy searched on. We were about to give up when the spotlight landed on an animal about 100 yards away, it was our leopard. Quietly she maneuvered the Land Cruiser over to where the leopard was and we searched the woods until we found it. Leopards are beautiful cats and are particularly skittish, this one was no exception. I didn’t get a real good picture but observing the leopard was quite a treat.

When we got back to the lodge we were planning on just sitting down in the dining area for dinner. Priscilla suggested we drop out things in our tent, so we headed that way. When we got to the tent we realized the staff had set up a table on our deck, complete with linen table cloth and napkins, wine chilling in a ice bucket, and kerosene lanterns all over creating an ambiance that was incredible. This five course meal was served on the deck of our tent, what a surprise!

This morning we headed out again, this time with a British couple, Andy and Mo. Again the morning seemed a little slow, so we headed towards the dead hippo we had found two days before. The lions were still there, fat and happy, five male lions sleeping off two days of gorging themselves. The female lions were nowhere to be found, probably off shopping.

They had all given up their kill to the scavengers, hyenas, jackals and buzzards. What had started as two tons of hippo was now nothing but a rib cage and a foot. The hyenas had dragged off a big piece for their breakfast; the jackals were fending off hundreds of vultures, everybody vying for their “piece of the pie”.

Eventually the buzzards overpowered three or four jackals by sheer numbers. When we left there were so many buzzards on the carcass you couldn’t see anything of the hippo but vultures fighting each other to get their meal. Africa is truly a place for the survival of the fittest, just like the big greedy American corporations, kill or be killed. Two tons of hippo gone in three days, the life blood of hundreds of animals, lions, jackals, hyenas and vultures.

Later we came across a family of elephants coming down to the Mara River. As they crossed the babies played in the water, rolling together, at times all you could see of them were feet and trunks. Mama watched on, eating her grass.

As we watched the fun could see 7 different types of animals all living in harmony, elephants playing in the water, hippos and crocodiles beside them, giraffe on the other side of river, and three types of birds around the little zoo by the river. Wow!

Andy, our new British friend was telling us that when he went to the other camp last night to use the internet, he was with a Masai guide (you always walk with an armed guide at night in Africa, because you are food to many of the animals). As he was walking across the lawn of the camp the guide told him to stop, as the Masai took out his peace stick; a stick about 1 ½ feet long, with a ball on one end and a beautiful beaded handle. All Masai carry a peace stick to be used in village meetings; no one is allowed to talk in a meeting unless they hold the peace stick, what a novel idea. This Masai guide had another use for his peace stick as he threw it across the lawn and hit a cobra right in the head and killed it.

Later in the afternoon we headed out again. This time we came across an elephant that had gotten into a fight with another elephant and gored in the side by the combatant’s tusks. The tusk had pierced his heart and he was dead, another example of the weak or unlucky ending up as food for the scavengers. The vultures wasted no time in making three ton elephant their next meal. Hundreds of vultures were all over the corpse.

Each evening as the sun goes down Sophy stops the Land Cruiser, pulls out a table, table cloth, snacks and wine as we watch the sunset. We continued on with a night drive, not much out this night but after about an hour of searching we drove through some bushes and we came into a clearing where the staff had setup an African bush barbeque, bush bar and bonfire for the whole camp complete with Masai dancers doing their ceremonial jumping. What a way to end another great night in the Masai Mara.

mggreen

3 Comments

  1. What a great description of Bateleur Camp, Martin, since this is where I first met you and Lou. Reading your words took me right back there. I loved Bateleur Camp! I have stayed at many beautiful camps in the Mara but this has to be one of my favorites. What I enjoyed the most was the location of the tents. Sitting on my verandah in an overstuffed chair with a cold chardonnay in one hand and my camera in the other was incredible! The views from Bateleur Camp were the best I have seen in the Mara. I could see for miles and miles until the acacia trees were little dots in the horizon. The food was wholesome and not too heavy, the service was impeccable, and I loved walking to Kichwa Tembo (right next to Bateleur Camp) to watch the resident warthogs. The highlight for me was the bush dinner. What a fantastic way to end the day of some of the most fantastic game viewing ever.

  2. I love the picture of you jumping against a Masai! It actually looks like your jumping higher than him in the pic – that’s your evidence!

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