The Raw Power of Nature The Great Rift Valley

We drove some 9 hours across Kenya on our first day in Africa, which took us through some tall sky scrappers, slums, super ways, mountains laden with mists and tea plantations, mansions cordoned off by security cables and the vast Kenyan plains where zebras grazed about minding their own.

While on the road to Nakuru, we traveled on a stretch of road that was built by Italian POW in the 1940’s for the ruling British by cutting through the mountain with primary tools. A few kilometers down the winding roads there was a small stop for passing cars and a majestic view point. This was how we saw the first glimpse of the Great Rift Valley.

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The Rift Valley in Eastern Africa, cuts across some 96,000 Kms from Israel to Mozambique. Geologists believe that the rift valley is more of a complex system with the earths tectonic forces ripping the African continent into two parts and possibly forming a new plate eventually that will move North wards.

This was a majestic valley to the naked eye which clearly carves the land into two. The process started 1000 of years ago and will probably take another 1000 years. The Great Rift Valley which was a blurb from my geography text book  which I had all but forgotten(yeah! I was kinda of a nerd ;P) came alive quite unexpectedly while on the road in Kenya.

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We bought some souvenirs at the rest stop in exchange of using their rest rooms on that cold afternoon which was not the weather one imagines (read stereotypes) for an equatorial African country! Which goes to prove that traveling breaks stereotypes and a land and culture are much more that the one story that people try to compartmentalize it with.

The country of Kenya has many such interesting finds and wonders like the Rift Valley, Masai Mara and an array of wildlife that is hard to believe along with being a developing country taking strides. The sight of this natural wonder, The Great Rift Valley which is literally tearing a continent is a sight like no other!

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A Kenya Safari Fit For A Toddler

Planning to go on a Kenya safari with a toddler did make me question our sanity and whether it was the right choice for us. There were numerous questions that crossed my mind such as safety, illness that could come up during the trip, food that my little one could eat, costs involved and many such criteria.

Our planning for this trip to Kenya revolved more around these issues than anything to do with tickets, etc. We spoke to people we knew who had lived in Kenya with their kids, scored various reviews and received a good amount of advice. Finally we decided to go ahead and book our tickets for Kenya because after all, they have children in Kenya too.

The day before the trip my little one got a slight temperature but it quickly went away. Still, it managed to give us a scare at the airport in Kenya where they measure the temperature of alighting passengers through some high tech gadgets.

Finally we decided to go ahead and book our tickets for Kenya because after all, they have children in Kenya too.

Once we landed we boarded a safari jeep, which would be our home for the next three days as we explored in Kenya. We had chosen to hire an entire jeep as opposed to sharing it with other tourists in order to be in control of our time and decide when we went on a safari and when we rested.

Our first stop was Lake Naivasha, which was the most beautiful but eerie looking lake I have ever seen. While taking a boat ride around the lake, the whole expanse of it hit me. It was a bit chilly in the evenings and since I was traveling with a toddler I was prepared with enough clothes to last us for a few months.

Lake Naivasha had many hippos and that gave me a bit of a scare as hippos are known to be territorial and can easily attack if anyone crosses their territory. Hence, whenever the guide insisted that we take a closer look, I flatly refused and relied only on the ability of our zoom lens. The resulting pictures are a treasure–never before in my life had I seen so much wildlife out in the open, all seemingly without a care. By the end of the boat ride, my toddler had learnt how to grunt like a hippo with quite some flourish.

One trick the tour guide did was getting an eagle to swoop and take fish from his hand as he made a whistling sound.  He said it was safe, but the mama instincts in me did not want to experiment with this. Also, I firmly believe that wildlife should be respected and when people go on safaris, the rules that need to be followed are the ones that the animals make.

By evening on the first day, we reached our lodge at Lake Nakuru. My son refused to get into the comfortable room and bed, which was what we adults needed after a long and dusty day on the road. To him, the end of the day signaled that the day of fun in the safari jeep was over.

Kenya and India have a slight time difference but how do you explain this to a two-and-a-half year old who promptly got up at 3:30 am Kenya time and started bawling to go out? He was so loud that a Masai, who was keeping watch outside, came to our window to inquire if something had happened to the child. After a packet of biscuits and some of his favorite stories, we finally got him to go back to sleep.

When day broke, we pushed aside the curtains in the lodge to find the most spectacular view of the safari park dotted with herds of animals. Lake Nakuru is known to be a haven for flamingoes and that is just what we found on the safari drive we took after a lovely breakfast at the lodge. We learnt a lot on this safari, including that my child loves cornflakes and can never have enough of it.

The African grasslands is a great equalizer, and I felt like I was just another animal in this landscape as the animals allowed us to enter their part of the world.

Words cannot describe the experience of the safari, the open top jeep and the bliss we experienced while seeing this piece of paradise tucked away in this corner of the world. In all of the safaris we have embarked on before, the animals looked at us through thick forests and shrubs. But, the African grasslands is a great equalizer, and I felt like I was just another animal in this landscape as the animals allowed us to enter their part of the world.

Wherever we went with our kid we received warmth, compassion and friendliness which put aside many of the fears we had when we embarked on this trip. This is not to say that we did not have bumps on the road, as well.

Published first on Pink Pangea

The Grasslands of Masai Mara and the Great Migration

I cannot stop writing about the Masai Mara in Kenya as it has been one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. The charm of the Masai Mara happens to be its vast grasslands and the animals indigenous to Africa. As if this wasn’t enough the Mara is also the stage for the annual event called the Great Migration, where thousands of Wildebeast and Zebras cross from the Serengiti in Tanzania to Kenya on a yearly trek.

The magic of Masai Mara are its animals and thousands of tourists flock to the Mara to experience the Mara through a game drive. These are some of the images we took during our 3 day game drive safari in Kenya, most of these images were taken without zooming and they haven’t been edited either but they look mesmerizing nevertheless. Wish a certain dentist from the US had shot using a camera instead of a gun.

Giraffes playing Peekaboo
Giraffes playing Peekaboo
A Gazelle being alert
A Gazelle being alert
A herd of elephants always on the move
A herd of elephants always on the move
A Hyena, the most scary looking animal I have seen
A Hyena, the most scary looking animal I have seen
A Secretary bird
A Secretary bird
A Wildebeast the main star of the Great Migration
A Wildebeast the main star of the Great Migration
The remind my husband of the Beatles and their iconic image
They remind my husband of the Beatles and their iconic image
The lion enjoying his King size breakfast ( a wildebeast)
The lion enjoying his King size breakfast ( a wildebeast)
A family of Hippos, a very territorial animal in the Mara
A family of Hippos, a very territorial animal in the Mara
An Ostrich following a herd of elephants
An Ostrich following a herd of elephants
Zebras the other half of the Great Migration
Zebras the other half of the Great Migration
White Rhinos a rare sighting for us
White Rhinos a rare sighting for us

Pics credited to RazorRasu

A Meeting With A Masai Warrior

The wind blows across the vast rolling plains of the Masai Mara, it is occasionally broken by a lone acacia tree. The grasslands have been a sanctuary for a wide variety of animals that call the Mara home. The Mara can be a very hostile region for humans with water being scarce and the constant threat from hippos (hippos cause more harm to humans than other animals as they are territorial), elephants, lions and leopards.

Masai Men
Masai Men

The only tribe that have beautifully coexisted with the wild in the Mara are the people from the Masai tribe. The image of a Masai walking across the grasslands with a red blanket or shukha with miles misleading nothingness around is quite haunting and powerful. On our trip to Kenya we made sure that we could visit a Masai village.

A Masai warrior
A Masai warrior

We reached the Mara later in afternoon after an eventful and bumpy ride down a dusty kaccha road. We had packed boxes of lunch which we could not finish and our driver recommended that we save the food for the kids in the village whom we planned to visit that day. We passed a couple of villages in the Mara and finally stopped outside a cluster of mud huts that had been built around a circle. The children filed out of the village and a few men and women came forward.

A Masai matriarch
A Masai matriarch

One of the men who was the chieftains son spoke English and said that the men were out for the day but we are welcome to visit. The Masai villages that are open to tourists charge a small fee upfront for the visit which we were more than happy to pay. It also makes sense as tourism is a main revenue source in the Masai Mara and also why would you open up your homes and way of life to strangers every now and then besides the Masai have very little to go by. The chieftains son introduced himself as John and his friend Moses and said we are welcome to his village.

Wearing a simba hat
Wearing a simba hat

The women gathered around and sang a traditional welcome song which was quite sweet as the kids distributed and wolfed down the food that we had brought. John then proceeded to show us how to light a fire using his sword as base and wood but the wind kept interfering with his plan. He then invited us into one of the huts which was pitch dark inside save for a fire which was being used to keep warm and for cooking though there wasn’t much cooking that day.

The village
The village and the men attempting to create fire

There was a raised platform inside the hut on both sides which was covered with a straw mat and used as a bed. Since it was dark inside John used the flashlight on his mobile to illuminate inside the hut which came as a surprise but then again why not. We also found out during our safari that Airtel had excellent range in most parts of the wild Masai Mara but just not enough in my living room.

Livestock
A calf suckling
The livestock of the village
The livestock of the village

John told us that the village was made of two families and that a Masai man typically marries after he reaches the age of 30 and they are polygamous. Women generally marry as young as 15, he then asked us our age and pointed to another lady with a young one tied to her back who he said was my age. We then went out side to look at the cattle which the Masai pride themselves with. As many as 40 cows and sheep were grazing away on the grassland. John looked at us and asked how many cows we owned, the embarrassing answer was none. He seemed very amused by the answer. He then in jest offered 10 cows for my toddler.

A woman selling their handiwork in the village
A woman selling their handiwork in the village

The Masai drink the blood of cows along with water as sustenance. The Masai are proud warriors and pride themselves over hunting though the Kenyan government dissuades them from hunting and in case a wild animal kills livestock the government offers a compensation.  Our guide asked John where the lions ‘simba’ was that day and he casually pointed over to a stop on the plains. The Masai definitely are one with the land they live in and many of them also act as safari guides to the tourists. The women also make bead jewelry and other souvenirs to be sold to tourists who visit though bargaining is a expected by everyone. The Masai have embraced the good that tourism brings them while remaining true to their origins.