Monday, 2 November 2009

Masai mara

The Masai Mara is part national park, park home to the Masai tribespeople who are characterized by their stretched earlobes, blood red shawls, elegant beaded jewellery and traditional weaponry of poison arrows and hyena clubbing stick. As we hobbled over the potholed, dusty road to the gates of the Masai Mara national park gates, we passed traditional masai villages consisting of clusters of circular mud huts with pointed, foliage-covered roofs. Every now and again across the shrubbed plain you’d catch a glimpse of red as a masai tribesman herds his skeletal cattle in search of water and any grass or leaves they could eat. The rains here are nearly a month late and it’s taken its toll – cattle carcusses are strewn everywhere, the rotting stench of putrid flesh greeting our nostrils as we pass by.

At the gates we are all but hijacked by over zealous Masai women desperately trying to sell us jewellery or wooden clubs. Leave a wrist on show and they pin a bracelet to it and demand money; try and give it back and they won’t take it. The only way to escape is to throw said bracelet on the floor and make a run for it. It’s a sad sight to see these warrior tribespeople who have survived successfully in the harshest of terrain for thousands of years lowering themselves to the level of tacky souvenir sellers. Unfortunately, it’s a sight that’s all too common to see with indigenous peoples around the world and is the bitter aftertaste of modern tourism.

We had both an evening and a morning game drive in the Masai Mara national park…and what great game drives they were! Some of highlights we saw were a pride of lions lying bloated and dozy after feasting on a kill (a lion can eat 35kg of meat in a single sitting!), two antelopes battling it out, a dorky looking giraffe, its legs splayed as it drank, wilderbeast fresh from their migration from the Serengeti forming a long black line across the horizon and the rarest and most beautiful sight of all – a leaopard walking in front of the truck and climbing a tree right next to it, barely 5m from us.

Unfortunately, the damage done to the countryside is all too evident as track marksw criss cross the off the official tracks. Guides want their passengers to get the best view and best photos possible which means flounting the rules. Most of them, including Henry, go offroad to get up close to animals. This means that when an animal of interest is seen, it is suddenly hounded by four or five 4x4 trucks competing with each other to get as close as possible.

Henry, along with five other drivers, got fined for going off road to get close to the leopard. The standard fine for going off road is a substantial $1000 which comes straight out of the guide’s pocket. However, this is Africa; a cheeky smile, a quick chat and an offer of a few drinks at the end of the day and Henry got away with a $300 fine which went straight into the rangers’ back pockets. Not a cent of the fine went towards the upkeep and restoration of the national park. With five drivers stopped after one incident, each fined a similar amount, it’s little wonder the rangers looked so happy with themselves!

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