KENYA - Part 4

By muriel bartol

continued from Part 3

The Mara Triangle!

 Masai Mara Triangle expanse

The Mara Triangle is the North-Western part of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, and is managed by the not-for-profit organization The Mara Conservancy on behalf of Trans-Mara County Council.

Divided from the rest of the Maasai Mara National Reserve by the Mara River, the 510 square km Mara Triangle is less visited and less crowded, often with many more game animals grazing on the plains and between the volcanic hills that distinguish this corner of the Mara.

The plan was to head north across the Triangle and exit at the Oloololo Gate, then cross the National Reserve in the north and head ESE across the Olorukoyi Plain back to our lodgings at Kimana Mara Tented Camp. It wasn't terribly far, about 25 miles north, then about 35 miles back to camp, and we had about 7 hours for the trip. Calculate about a third of that time for parking and admiring the animals, and that left us with 4-1/2 hours for 60 miles, which we knew, considering the state of the road (even in The Beast)  at a little over 13 miles an hour (about the same speed matt rides his bike) would still be pushing it to get out of the park by closing time at 5pm. We paid our park fees and headed into the Triangle.

If we thought the SE portion of the park was lonely, the Mara Triangle was positively desolate but, we soon witnessed, brimming with wildlife. Once we crossed the Mara River, we didn’t see another vehicle for hours but we started seeing concentration of animals unlike in other parts of the park. First we saw a herd of hundreds of wildebeest placidly grazing to our right as we started heading north.

They seemed curious about us, but totally unperturbed by our presence.

Notice the topi standing on a large rock in the top right. Just doing his thing.

We spotted herds of elephants in the bushes, including this giant male:

5-legged elephant

We noticed something moving in the tall grass and saw a lioness hunting some unsuspecting ungulates upwind from her. 

We kept driving north passing the Serena Airstrip where most guests of the Triangle arrived and departed, and drove up to the top of the hill where the Mara Serena lodge was located, and back down into the Olpunyaia Swamp area.

We spotted zebra and wildebeest including this trio of cranky old men keeping cool in the mud

All of the giraffes we had seen so far were Rothchild's Giraffes, but then we spotted a Masai Giraffe! Notice the darker color and the jagged spots on its body.

There was a large group of Thomson's gazelles, notice the topi (a different one!) in the background at left on top of a rock

we drove a little further, and then, we turned a corner and came upon the most memorable 15 minutes of our trip.

a lioness in hunt mode. we slammed our breaks, pulled over, and popped up and out the sun roof to observe from the roof of The Beas.

this was one tough lady, her every muscle defined, and she was pointedly focused on her kill; a small group of gazelles in the near distance. 

a pair of grey crowned cranes noticed the cat, took off, and started making a racket. they boldly flew right at her, and circled her squawking, obviously alerting everyone to her presence

wait for it...or just skip to 0:47

oh, and hello! see her sister to the left? (yeah, we're projecting here)

visibly annoyed at being outed

the sisters give up the hunt

and amble towards us

closer

and closer

but still ignoring us completely. suddenly The Beast did not seem such a fortress after all. their sinewy muscles rippling with every movement. as they approached, we could see how thin they are, and all the old scars across their faces and bodies.

 

off to the left with the lionesses gone, the cranes are now seemingly engaged in a mating dance, or maybe a victory dance?

the lion pair coming closer

and closer still

now maybe 20 feet away, nearing the road

and crossing it maybe 10 feet from where we stood

we held our breath in awe. definitely thinking how easily they could hop onto the bonnet of The Beast, and paw us with their knife-sharp claws. we let out our fear and excitement out in nervous deep breaths.

but the ladies continued with their day, disappearing into the tall grass and on to the river

we looked at each other in wonder, in awe, incredulous of what we had just witnessed. relief in our chests, but wonder and excitement staying with us, we continued with our journey.

and then we turned our attention to the car that had pulled up alongside us, a wacky 6-wheeled open-top safari vehicle.

a Pinzgauer with a friendly driver asking if we'd seen any other good animals.

 and onwards!

two topi hiding in a bush, a goose (?) in front a baboon barely visible in the back

a baby elephant with mom

two other grey crowned cranes close enough to take some close-ups. their coloring incredibly beautiful. their liquid blue eyes, the contrasting colors and textures of their feathers just astonishingly perfect.

a hippo frolicking in a wooded area with a bird on its back

a giant group of about 50 giraffe. in this picture we counted 17, how many do you see?

and a curious goofy loner standing a bit off from the group

 and then, two elephants engaged in some heavy flirtation

and then suddenly, we were at the Oloololo gate where we saw this bird of prey

here we exited the park

and drove a few miles outside the park so we could enter again and grab the road that transverses it.

a very rough few miles. as we exited the park we started on a steep climb with giant ruts and rocks making us wonder if the road was actually abandoned. when we saw a motorcycle bouncing down, we asked if we were on the right road and they assured us we should keep going. we still didn't have the brakes fixed, if we had to go downhill on such a road on jerry-rigged brake lines, the transmission would take quite a beating. we were apprehensive, but what could we do? we kept climbing, and slowly the quality of the road improved, and it leveled out.

we passed a few villages in the familiar circular layout surrounded by thicket fencing we had come to recognize as Masai. 

and after asking for directions a few more times, we made it to the entrance of the park

this entrance seemed like it did not see much traffic. we stopped to ask for directions and made a quick pit stop. 

for some reason at almost every gate, in particular the more remote ones, there was always a collection of decaying skulls and bones.

this northern stretch of the park is a wide open plain, without too many animals to be seen.

we were able to make up some time crossing this area, though we did get lost a few times unsure which tracks to follow with our GPS not being terribly helpful.

we had a few water crossings here. some were easier than others.

and others, in this deserted stretch of the park, were rivers of unknown depth that were infinitely more foreboding. seeing on the map there was no other way to cross, we gathered our courage, turned the hub locks on the wheels for 4-wheeled drive, and plunged ahead.

with water above the running boards, and our hearts practically leaping out of our bodies, we made it safely across, thanks to matt's steely nerves.

getting across we realized we were tired. it was getting late. we had been out for many hours already in the hot sun. we were anxious to make it out of the park before the gates closed. we had only traveled about half the distance we needed to cover since deciding to go into the Triangle, and the road kept splitting and leading us astray. it seemed we were driving in circles, trying to get around rivers, or an airfield, with roads disappearing and reappearing with no real rhyme or reason.

on a small hill, under a squat tree, we spotted two juvenile male lions and their sister resting in the golden rays of the late afternoon.

we admired them briefly and but felt compelled to keep going.

soon after, we began seeing signs for Fig Tree Camp, and we knew we were headed in the right direction. We reached Talek Gate, and knew from there it was only about 20 minutes to Sekenani Gate, our destination, but with few minutes to spare.

In the very last stretch, with the sun starting to quickly descend toward the horizon, we spotted a hyena right on the road

with just a few minutes, we ran into town, grabbed a beer, and made it back through the gate into camp at closing time.

we made it!

an exhausting but exhilarating day. as soon as we got to camp, we made a quick dinner (tuna, parsley, and carrots. yum!) tried to shower in the fancy tent bathroom but found only a freezing trickle seeping from the showerhead and hit the hay.

Continue to Part 5