Though it was the third full day of our trip, and we had been so lucky thus far, the other group members and I were particularly excited: we would finally be heading to the Masai Mara for our first official day of safari. The road there was long and very bumpy. I was sitting in the back of the van, so I felt every bone- and teeth-jarring jostle. After what seemed like forever, we arrived at our lodging. On the way to my room, I heard another safari-goer from a different group talking about “numb bum”. I smiled; apparently, the new “condition” that I acquired on the Mara road had a name.
Our first stop after lunch was a Masai village. We were treated to traditional songs and dance by the Masai men. One adorable little Masai boy decided that he was old enough to join in the fun, so he did, alternately grabbing a walking stick from one of the men to participate in the dance and blowing into a huge horn (derived from some animal whose name escapes me now). He even took his place in the jumping competition, where the man who leaps the highest can ensure his choice of wife and/or earn the right to pay a smaller dowry.
After this, the Masai women had their turn, singing traditional songs. One woman had to leave the performance early because her son, bound to her back by a large, colorful piece of tied cloth, began to cry. Our tour guide informed us that the baby was crying because he was afraid of white skin. Poor baby. At least I know that I wasn’t contributing to his fear and discomfort.
Up next was a tour of a traditional Masai mud hut. Termites gradually destroy all of the huts in the settlement, so the village has to move roughly every nine years and rebuild. After learning more about the Masai way of life and passing through stalls selling various trinkets, we made our way to a nearby school. As we sat in a classroom where a teacher was grading papers, the principal told us about both the accomplishments and challenges of the school in making sure that all of the local children were properly educated. After having our questions answered, donating some supplies, and hearing a song from the schoolchildren, we said our goodbyes and headed out for our first game drive in the Mara.
We saw many of the same animals that we had seen earlier in the trip, but we were keeping our eyes peeled for certain, more exciting photo ops. The Mara certainly delivered. First, we saw lions, which set us happily snapping away. Later, we got a front row seat to some serious bird-fight action: a lilac-breasted roller had scored itself some dinner, but it was now surrounded by a bunch of angry superb starlings who were trying to bully it out of its rightful meal. Fortunately, the slightly larger roller was having none of it. As we drove away, the lilac-breasted roller was still holding its ground. I can only hope and assume that it was eventually victorious.
Finally, the sun was setting, and it was time to head back to the lodge for dinner. Suddenly, the waning rays cast light on some large, dark shapes in the distance. We had a hunch as to what we were seeing, but we held our breaths until we could get close enough for confirmation. Sure enough, we had reason for joy: plodding along in front of us was a small family of elephants. As of only our third full day, we had officially seen all of the members of the Big Five. We stayed to take pictures as long as we could before the park closed before triumphantly returning to the lodge for the evening.