Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hakunana Matata! The Africa Diaries- Part 7 (The last post!)

Hakuna Matat! The Africa Diaries-Part 6
Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diaries- Part 5
Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diaries- Part 4
Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diaries Part 3
Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diares Part 2
Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diaries Part 1

The Game, Masai Mara, Kenya.

And finally we talk about the animals, or the 'game' as it is called. You cannot visit the Mara and not think about how it is them who belong and you who is the outsider in this world.  It is a world in itself, a world that is so far away from the grey of London that you begin to wonder which one of them is the illusion.

Often, in the Mara, you will feel like someone who has no right to be there, like some who should just let this little world of the Mara be.

As I mentioned in the previous post, we went for a night safari. I was busy admiring the night sky when Ondari, our guide, turned off the ignition leaving the lights on.

'Look there' he said pointing. I strained my eyes and when I figured out what he was pointing at my blood almost froze.

For lazing but a few feet away from us, in the middle of tall grass, were 3-4 lions.

As the women in jeep began to hyperventilate, Ondari stifled a laugh.
'Now see this ' he said.

I realised that he was being sarcastic, because the next instant he had switched off the lights of the jeep plunging us all into deep darkness.

So there we were, in the middle of Kenya, surrounded by grass that was as tall as me and darkness that seemed impregnable, sitting absolutely still as lions yawned less than three feet away from us

There is something about being that close to the king of the jungle when you cannot even see what he is upto that freaks you out completely.

'Now, let me tell you a story' said Ondari placing his hands behind his head as if we were all little kids,  sitting on the floor in the veranda, around our favourite grand parent.

We groaned collectively and Ondari laughed.

Lets just say I will never forget the thrill and excitement of those few minutes.

Each day Ondari would take us for game drives, we would drive through the grass for miles and miles in search of game, stopping every now and then for pictures but never really getting out of the jeep for obvious reasons.

There were the big things we saw, the lions and the cheetah and the elephant and the zebra.
And there were the little things. The gorgeous Kingfisher buzzing like a helicopter, the fascinating red and white butterflies that danced in the grass, the birds that swooped in when you least expected them to...the list is endless.

There was so much that I found out about the animals:
  • The warthog (don't know what it is? google for Pumba and you will ;)  ) has a very short memory span. When being chased by lions/ tigers they do begin to run but soon forget that they have a lion at their heels and start to chew the grass. I found this absolutely hilarious!
  • Hyenas, not tigers or lions, have the strongest jaws which is everyone is scared of the hyenas
  • Elephants can eat up to 300kgs of grass in a day
  • Elephant poop is something you need to make sure that you do not step on. Apart from obvious reasons, elephants cannot digest all that they eat and often there will be a huge pointed log in it, undigested, waiting for you to step on it.
  • Rhinos have poor eye sight. They work on smells
  • Hippos spend a lot of time in water bodies submerged in the cold waters. (They do have such ugly skin :/) When we were in air, on the hot air balloon, the Captain showed us little brown paths that led from water bodies to the jungle. A male hippo and his family would all take the same path each time, every day.
  • Lions have super eyesight. This one day we were in our jeep about 10 feet from a lioness who seemed to be staring in the distance. Ondari took out his binoculars to see what had attracted her attention. Turned out to be some friends of ours who were out for an escorted walk!
  • Rhinos are difficult to spot. We saw one 3-4 times however, always scuttling along with her little baby.

It is a different world, a very very beautiful world. Here are some pictures

We spotted the cheetah as we made our way from the airport to the lodge. They seemed like twins to me. :)

A closer shot-

This is what I call a BIG yawn!

Giraffes are aplenty in the Mara and I absolutely fell in love with these gorgeous animals. As you will see, I loved clicking pictures of the giraffes. The one below is, even if I say so myself, a damn good shot ;)

A journey of girraffes 

This picture is another of my favourites.  There is a little story telling itself in this picture, the plains in the distance, the lone tree and a mother and child walking together into the horizon, certaily appeals to my aesthetics :) I took some 200 shots as the jeep sped past to get this one.

My fascination with the bottom of animals continues!

This is how close we usually were to the game:

There were jeeps lining the road and she walked strutted as if the world belonged to her. Slowly but surely, with grace and fearsome indifference to the gaping humans that surrounded her, she walked in utter beauty!

I love the simplicity of the this picture

A couple of lions being chased by the hyenas. Yes, you heard it right. The whole action scene unfurled in front our was one of the most fascinating few minutes in the Mara.

You can see the jeep and the lions- this gives you an idea of how close we were...

The mighty elephants! Bottoms of three elephants and three trees!

The Mara, parting words ;)

If you have not travelled to Africa, I will now tell you that you should. I breathed easier and lighter there. I was happy and relaxed there ( I am not relaxed on holidays) because even though i did not belong i completely belonged. I felt alive and awake, breathing in everything that nature presented to me.

I was speaking to the Aussie pilot of the hot air balloon as we bobbed up and down the sky.
'And so that was the first time I came to the Mara' he said concluding a story he was telling me.

'And' I asked.

'I never left'

'How many years ago did you...' I began my next question.

'15' he said quietly.

I knew exactly what he meant. The place can be extremely and powerfully magnetic for some people and I realised with a start, belong to that category.

As I squinted my eyes in the Sun and held on to my hat lest the wind blew it away, and took in my first sight of the Mara, I knew that this place will change me.

Did it?

Yes, some part of me, as I said to someone a day before I left, has changed forever. Because I now know of a place where i can be so much at peace. It is far away from where I live but it exists. Knowing that is enough.

I hope with all my heart that I get to go back. As you can probably make out, I left a little bit of myself there :)


Friday, July 12, 2013

Hakuna Matat! The Africa Diaries- Part 6

While I am rarely short of words (close friends often, politely, tell me to shut up so that they can atleast get a word in), I am struggling at the moment.

The task at hand is to describe the beauty of The Mara. I have toyed with the idea of making this just a picture post and rejected it.

So, these posts are going to be very heavy with pictures, because really I have nothing more to say apart from ' gosh, it was so beautiful'

Imagine wild, open spaces.
Your eyes can see for miles and miles.
Trees dot the landscape.
Grass is almost your height and sashays like a beautiful woman who knows how gorgeous she is
The grass glitters as if it were made of gold when the rays of the Sun fall on it
You simply stare and stare and stare....and then stare some more.

The picture below is of me, taking in the first sights of the Mara. I had just gotten off a 12 seater private plane that had phadphado-ed so much up in the air that I was ready to lecture the pilot and to tell him off. Once my feet were firmly on the  ground,  I had walked away from the crowd to spend some time alone with nature...just soaking it at its best.

Lost in my own world.
At peace.

I remember this moment very well...the gorgeous beauty had already swept me off my feet and I had not been in the Mara for 5 minutes

I am not really the romantic sorts, but this is when I finally understood what people meant when they spoke of love at first sight.

Masai men and women in the picture below:

The trees are unique and add a lot of character to the landscape. As our open jeep rattled on for hours and hours each day in search of the plentiful game, a lone tree would attract my attention and I would stare at it without blinking for many seconds.

The soft hues of the low lying mountains in a distance provided an excellent backdrop. I would lunge out and rustle my hands in the grass. Ondari, our guide, told me that snakes lurched in the grass and I pulled out my hand immediately.

Ondari laughed for about ten hours after that. :/

The picture below is one of my favourite from the Mara. The bright blue of the sky, the dull blue of the mountains, the golden of the grass, the green of the bushes and the brown of the mud.

And the lobe topi taking it all in, much like me.

The air in the Mara was so fresh that I found myself breathing in many times in a day, my lungs hungrily taking in the pollution free air.
 Another tree that caught my attention ( there are about a million such pics in my album!)

The Masai Mara means ' The Dotted Land'. If you were to look at this land from the skies, the scattered trees make the land look spotted. And hence the name:) Charming, is not it?

A shot from the gate to the Mara. Another of my favourites (Someone take me back please :)  ):

The lone, dried up tree- very poetic, very melancholy, very striking.

The only tree I could see for miles and miles.

Having breakfast under the trees and in the open...

In talking about the landscape, I want to talk about two more things we did.

The first is the night safari. Accompanied by Ondari who drove the jeep, another man who carried this huge lantern sort lamp and another man who sat silently with a huge gun, we set off after dinner.
This is not about the landscape because there was no light apart from the headlights of our jeep. For miles and miles, darkness engulfed us like a blanket.

And so I looked up at the sky and for the first time in my life wished i had a better camera. I use a point and shoot and am generally happy with it because I really believe a good picture is more about the eye of the photographer than the quality of the camera.

Suffice to say, that once I had seen the sky, I refused to look around me, transfixed by the gorgeous beauty of the sky on such a clear night. I ofcourse took pictures but they have all come out black and not been able to even remotely capture the gorgeous beauty. I still recall the wonder with which I looked at the night sky. It was gorgeous.

The other experience I wish to document here is the hot air balloon ride. I will just let the pictures do the talking here.

 We are now very close to the end of this series. The penultimate post is going to be about the animals and the last one about the people and general conclusion.

As I write these the memories of the Mara come back to me and I feel an incredible urge to pack my bags and go back.

Such is the magic of Africa.

Hakuna Matata!



Friday, July 05, 2013

Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diaries- Part 5

Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diaries- Part 4
Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diaries Part 3
Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diares Part 2
Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diaries Part 1

Back in Nairobi, I kissed Eddie.

I would not have done this on my own ever (ever, ever!!) but my husband of three years insisted that I do.

Wait, it gets worse.

 Eddie is a giraffe.

A gorgeous doe eyed giraffe.
With  a ten foot long, twenty foot wide purple tongue.

Here is a picture. And I will speak no more about it.
I still cringe when I look at it.

The second part of the packed day was spent in the Masai Market. The market stocks Masai arts and craft and is  a magnet for the tourists. It was in the by lanes of this dark, dingy yet gloriously colourful market that someone called out to me. Sid was further ahead haggling with a vendor and I was just walking around taking in the sights.

'Why aren't you in school' shouted a man at me.

Oh well.

'Sorry?' I said though of course I was beyond pleased.

' you should be in school at this hour' the man said again.

'I left school 13 years back' I said trying hard to keep the smugness out of my face.

'Really' said the man settling his wares. He was possibly in his late twenties.

' Where are you from' he asked studying me closely.

' Where do you think I am from?' I retorted.

' khem cho? ' he said grinning from ear to ear.

' no, not khem cho', I said curtly. I have never even visited Gujarat.

The man took a while but we soon zeroed in on London.

'Princess Diana' he said knowingly. I mentally LOL-ed.

I nodded my head. Yes, princess Diana

He man paused and then said
'Are your shoes good?'

I looked down at my sketchers.


'Did you buy them in London?' he asked again.

'Yes' I said wondering where this was going.

'How much ' he asked.

'How much for what?' I asked perplexed.

'For the shoes' he said shrugging his shoulders.

To say the least, I was taken aback.

'No I don't want to sell them'

'Take this' he fiddled around in his shop and then pulled put a mask 'and give me your shoes'

' no' I said.

'Okay' he said patiently 'No problem I give you money'




'Lots of dollars'

'N...err how many'

The man thought for a second

'Five',  he said.

And with that ended our short, quick stay in Nairobi. I could hardly wait for the next day because then I would head out for Masai Mara or 'The Mara'.

I am going to divide the last three posts of this series into write ups about three aspects of the Mara. The land, the animals and the people. The three posts will sum up the most beautiful place I have ever been to...
Hakuna Matata!

PS:  The posts have been delayed because...err...I am travelling again. Bear with me, please :)