Laikipia grew smaller and smaller as we took off in our tiny airplane on the grass landing strip. We landed in the Maasai Mara, greeted by two more Land Rovers and more drivers and guides who were ready to fill us up with more adventure.
This was different from our last stop. We hunted to find the animals in Laikipia whereas in the Maasai Mara the animals were like the low-hanging fruit…they were everywhere. Within minutes from when we set off to head to our new camp we saw hyena, baboons, giraffes, cheetahs, warthogs, cape buffalo, every kind of antelope…they were all over the place.
Let’s take another look at this water buffalo:
He warrants an even closer look. Wow, those flies liked that big guy!
And the birds really liked this giraffe, can you see them lined up on her neck?
The rains came sooner than expected this year so there was a hint of a chance we would catch some of the great migration, but that was a false alarm. It was still so cool to see so many wildebeests roaming around. Such strange animals:
The lady who was in charge of our new camp met us on this large veranda overlooking the most gorgeous lushness, all set up for lunch.
And after we ate (again, pretty amazing food!), she showed us to our tents.
This would be a good time to mention our camp was nestled right next to a river FULL TO THE BRIM with hippos. They kept us all up half the night with their crazy blowing and grunting noises. And it wasn’t just the noises the first night, it was that those guys are apparently the meanest and one of the most deadly. There are no fences allowed in this part of the Mara and we saw some of their footprints in the morning around our tents. Scary business, right? (We could never go anywhere at night without shining our flashlights for a “guide” to come help us. Not sure what they were going to do if a hippo or lion came across our path, but I’m glad we never had to find out!
We headed out on our first evening game drive and almost immediately found a leopard.
They had just told us back at the camp that those guys are really tough to find, so our hearts were pumping at this find and we followed that beautiful creature for a very long time. Fascinating.
I was awed by how clean and fluffy that fur was, makes you almost want to hug it, don’t you think?
Hippo skull just sitting there…
We also ran into these sisters:
…who loved each other.
Check out the canine tooth that is missing for this one:
Each night we gathered here before dinner:
Dinner felt so fancy in this cozy spot with candlelight.
(That was the night we celebrated Max’s birthday, hence the birthday banner up there…)
There was one other man from Australia staying in this camp our first night, and a really nice couple from England our last night, and it was interesting to get to know them as well as our hostess lady at dinner.
My favorite morning was this one:
Leaving all bundled up to greet the sunrise after our hot chocolate wake-up call, that giant sky beckoning us, totally orange this morning…
…perfect backdrop for the huge male lion we found…roaring.
I don’t know if you can tell from that video, but I’m telling you, that roar…over and over again, apparently calling his pride, made our jaws drop. We were so wide-eyed and in awe that we got to be there, right then. It was such a beautiful, rich, also sort of scary sound.
I love this video Grace got from a different angle with more roaring:
We followed him for a little bit…through stuff like this:
I’m pretty sure this has got to be a wink…ha!
We reluctantly left our lion friend and rolled rough a deep ravine filled in part with hippos.
And we had breakfast set up on the banks of a the Maasai River, hippos grunting and huffing and puffing below (this is when our suspicions were confirmed that those were the noises that had kept us up all night long, they are noisy!)
Claire keeps hoping she’ll pass us all up in height…excuse this hat-hair of mine and check out that sweetie Claire:
She’s succeeded in beating Grace…
Not so much on me and Elle.
We sat and watched this pack of cheetahs forever to see if they would attack the herd of impalas nearby…by the looks of them these guys hadn’t eaten in a few days:
But they were too busy lazing around for that. Aren’t cheetahs so beautiful?
And zebras too?
So much variety and beauty.
We followed a whole slew of giraffes in our evening drive, mamas and tiny babies, so many all together (I am in love with giraffes).
Look how tiny this baby is:
We found another gorgeous “sun-downer” spot to stop and take it all in.
A little peek into the shenanigans:
I love this picture because it helps us remember that although Lucy loved this experience, she wasn’t always chipper about it. There were lots of early mornings and some crazy situations. There was frog in one of our tents. There was a crazy bat in another. There were late nights. But she braved it all like a champ and I was so proud of her. Love the love everyone has for her showing up in this picture:
Our awesome guides and drivers:
All the while, giraffes on the horizon:
Love this little sequence of Max and Abby:
Ha! Lu wanted to get in on the jumping too:
We had our last couple game drives, one of which involved following one massive lone elephant:
(they are so fascinating)
Watched cheetahs thinking about trying to get some dinner, watched some ostriches:
…and a pack of angry-looking hyenas:
Found a cool bright green snake in this gorgeous tree:
We took a little walking safari in the afternoon and got POURED on…
It was the first real rain of our whole trip which made me so grateful. I had been so worried about weather and it had been so beautiful, felt like a good way to end, standing in pouring rain watching hippos roll around in the muddy river that runs by our camp, their huffs and grunts still going strong.
Later we found a huge hippo out of the water.
Those are the strangest creatures. I got this quick video of it running, crazy that huge animal can move so fast:
Before we leave this camp I have to note some of my favorite memories:
On the morning we saw the roaring lion, and Lucy checked it out for a while, she was laying down on the seat (she claims she is NOT getting up every morning, but then she is malleable and loves the animals once she gets going).
We asked if she could hear all that roaring and she let us know that she was counting the roars. And there were 66 of them so far.
Bed turn-down service each night in both camps with hot water bottles (those rubber ones, you know what I’m talking about?) keeping them cozy. I am nerdy but I LOVE those water bottles. Maybe I need to start doing that here when it’s cold outside…except Lucy thinks they are the worst and most gross thing on the planet, so probably not her…
After dinner, of course, we played cards on the little sitting area between the two girls’ tents, moths dancing around the two propane lanterns set up so Lu could see.
Lucy finally did her devotional (she wanted to do it but chickened out the last two nights for some reason…) She talked about love and she did such a great job. I loved looking across the table to see Elle’s eyes glistening with tears, and I love that Lucy talked about how loved she felt at camp when Claire helped her so much.
Fires each night in both camps. Fires are so conducive to cozy communication.
Lavender soap that smelled so good.
I loved all our drivers and learned so much from them.
Muddy roads. Muddy shoes. Muddy floors (mostly in Uganda). Suitcases full of mud.
But all that mud made for SO much green! Both Uganda and Kenya were drenched in it and it was so gorgeous and lush.
Lucy carries her red backpack everywhere, which is filled with so many things she doesn’t even use: her empty hydro flask, a calendar, a three-ring binder filled with who-knows-what, markers, and cards. But you can bet she DOES put those cards to good use. We all used them every night when she shuffled them up and dealt out a game for us. The one we played the most is one that Elle and Lar taught the kids when Dave and I were in the Dominican Republic. It is a bluffing game and boy, we had fun with it.
I love watching my children together. Lucy linked into their arms to maneuver safely over the rugged footpaths everywhere we go. Spelling out letters with their bodies at a “sun-downer” spot, that vast expanse of green filled with giraffes right at that moment stretching out in front of us, mugs of hot chocolate on the little tray connected to the front of the land cruiser. Squeals of horror and laughter coming from the girls’ tent when they found a frog in their shower one night. The older girls giving Lucy her shots each morning in the last camp, each taking turns to have her under their wings making her (and them) shine. Max and Abby maneuvering newlywed marriage beautifully. The girls all thick as thieves laughing about something or other. Sure, there were times when squabbles broke out. But really not many. There is something sacred about gathering children, especially when they have left home and you know it is only a flash before they are gone again. It is holy to me.
Malaria pills each morning at breakfast, reminded like clockwork by Lucy. Oh the dreams they produce. One of my top ones was that I somehow agreed to let Max’s friends store eight full-grown cows in our bedroom. What makes the mind think of that material?
Talking in the darkness of our tent at night, just me and Dave, with the whole world of night creatures teeming with noise and life surrounding us.
Our last night became comical when a bat suddenly appeared in the girls’ tent swooping and bumping around trying to get out again, all of us wide-eyed trying to keep our freak-out on the down-low so Lucy wouldn’t have a conniption fit. We told her it was nothing to worry about and pulled off an awesome act of coolness despite trying to balance having our pants scared off and trying not to laugh.
We had been living out of suitcases for so long and slept in so many different places we were all ready to pack up and head home that last day. Lucy particularly was pretty homesick by then. But oh! How we already cherish all these memories!
En route back to the airport we saw this guy…check out the size of those tusks!
Here’s the airport…a tad bit bigger than the last one:
Our plane got a flat tire they had to fix real quick (yikes):
We said goodbye to all our friends and watched the Maasai Mara fade in the distance.
We spent the afternoon in Nairobi, very underwhelmed by a giraffe conservatory recommended by our drivers that had one giraffe with a gazillion people crowding in trying to feed it from a balcony, made us miss our giraffe friend Tallah, but we made the most of it:
The company who helped us schedule this whole safari dealio (Yellow Zebra Safaris) “adopted” eight rescued baby elephants, one for each of us to “foster” at this “elephant orphanage” and that stop was much better than the last…cutest little baby elephants that we got to touch and feel their trunks and marvel at.
I do not like goodbyes. I was so sad to split up with Max, Abby and Elle in that dark Nairobi airport, who were heading to Dubai for their layover and back to their lives away from us. But SO grateful they could be with us!
We flew home on our anniversary. Twenty-four years.
It was an extended day of traveling stretching out since we were going back in time, and it was very romantic smiling across the aisle once in a while in our airplanes we were in for hours on end. Ha! But this whole trip has been a pretty grand celebration of our marriage…at least I was celebrating him that he would do all that craziness with me 🙂
It is strange that something that you plan for and pray your guts out for and for and wring your hands worrying about and stay up night after night about trying to get ready for can suddenly just come to an end and be in the past rather than looming in the future. Oh how I will miss all this! But I’m so, so grateful for all those adventures that have made memories for us to carry with us forever.