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The “Spotted” Plains
of the Masai Mara

by Rebecca Rochat

After arriving the previous morning, my safari buddies and I left Nairobi, Kenya with our guide Kamel, on our way to Masai Mara, the first stop on a 10 day safari. About 10 miles from Nairobi, we quickly descended into the Rift Valley which is at its deepest north of Nairobi. The valley has held secrets of our human evolution for millions of years and only up until the last century has gradually surrendered clues to our common human ancestry.  The three lane paved road out of Nairobi funneled us onto a two lane road littered with potholes which eventually gave way to a rocky, but packed dirt road before shuttling us onto a dusty, flat dirt road taking us miles and miles over the rain starved plains, the ever distant horizon stretching unbroken around us. 

Closer to Masai Mara we pass many Masai villages built concentrically around a center kraal where livestock are kept at night away from predators. Kamel tells us the Masai women are the ones who build the small two room houses, out of cow dung. We saw Masai men in their colorful wraps herding cattle and sheep, and women laden with firewood on their backs or with jugs on their head walking miles to search for precious water. The Masai named this land Mara which means “spotted” like the acacia trees that dot the plains.  

Thousands of zebra, gazelle, impala, and wildebeest come into view, streaming from the hills running and jumping in front of us on their migration from the Serengeti to Masai Mara. Further on, we come upon a large male lion resting in the bush guarding his recent wildebeest kill. Suddenly, he gets up and begins to tear into the beast. We can hear flesh tearing and bones snapping. After being awed by the beauty and sheer number of animals, it is a gruesome reminder of the ever present danger that awaits them on their migration to their food source in the tall grasses of the Masai Mara. 

For some animals, death comes not at the claws and teeth of a predator, but from the toll of traversing hundreds of miles. Some are not strong enough to survive the trek across the Serengeti to Masai Mara and the crossing of the Mara River such as the young wildebeest we see laying beside the road who had become separated from the herd. He is alone, breathing heavily. No other wildebeest in sight. Our guide Kamel said he was very weak and wouldn’t last much longer and when we pass by again in the late afternoon on our way to our lodge for the night, the wildebeest lay dead beside the road. We would soon come to learn Kamel knows the patterns and behavior of the animals and is a wealth of information about them. 

We cross the Mara River on the way to our camp where we will be for the next three days on safari. The sun is setting over the plains and the heat of the day cools as our vehicle snakes its way up to our lodge high on a hill. At the end of the day, we fall asleep to the sounds of roaring lions as they begin their nighttime hunt.

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