We had flown in on a tiny 6 seater one prop plane from Nairobi. Still jet lagged. We arrive in the afternoon and are greeted by Masai Warriors. For some reason, I thought they were tall people, very dark and ferocious. They were very pleasant and not so tall. We land on a barren dirt runway. The landscape is immense, I can see to the mountains some 30 to 50 kilometers away. Dry and dusty. We arrive in the wet season. But not many clouds around. I see the earth and savannas. The scrub and grass. The mind is alert. Driving in a land cruiser. We arrived in the morning. Though we were going on Safari, (the Arabic word for travel/ voyage is Safar) we managed to see Zebras on our first day. Our driver Johnson, a Masai, and Purfnkey, a full Masai warrior.
Enkewa lodge run by Jose a man from Barcelona with his young family. it does look like rural camping in Africa, nestled in a river stream, with a main dining room and an elegant dinner service. There is a library and salon next door. Our glamping is 200 meters away, with other tents nearby. I had a funny thought about my father from the Bronx and I imagine him saying, “what’s the matter? Ain’t the Bronx zoo good enough for ya?”
I am astonished as we’re driving to the base camp at at Enkewa, there are elephants and zebras as we’re driving towards this nestle of a safari camp. There are hills in the mountains stretching from horizon to horizon. My mind is trying to piece together what is the geological history of this land that goes back to the earliest in geological time. There is an exhibit in the New York Museum of Natural History, and it is a savanna landscape, with the earliest humanoids. What they had done is found footsteps encased in lava and made a story based on those footsteps. From those footsteps they realize that it was people fleeing a lava flow.
The first apes who made the transition to humans walked on these very lands. Though through the hundreds of thousands of years there have been shifts in weather and climate, glacial freezes, but nothing more destructive than the industrial age over the past 200 years. It is bizarre that humanity is committing ecological suicide. The more coal we dig out of the ground and burn: the more smoke and pollutants we pour into the atmosphere: the more chemicals that we harvest from the earth and make it into a toxic brew that poisons our waters: the more we have of our technological age that may connect this via social media but leaves us largely alone and isolated. It is ecological suicide. This incredibly beautiful globe known as the earth. As I had written in the poem, Gaia, what was the sound of the seed first coming to life what was the sound of the ash swallow in her first infant breath?
I come back this sense of wonder about this paradise known as Masai Mara in Kenya, which is a continuation of the Serengeti Park in Tanzania. This is probably the Garden of Eden. Yes, a garden where lions eat zebras. Cheetahs eat gazelles and more. Leopards start the bushes for their own feast.I also see how this ecosystem, free from the devices and machinations of man, are able to determine their own destiny. Of course, the pollution in Nairobi and industrial centers around the world influence even a remote sanctuary here in the Masai Mara.
For two days, we would wake up at 5 AM the first glimmer of daylight arising from the mountains by the Tanzanian border, and knowing that we only see a tiny bit of what is there. We do not have the natural awareness of the hundreds perhaps even thousands of plants, animals, birds, insects and all that are in front of us. Some years ago we were in the Daintree Rain Forest in northern Australia and we were walking through the forest at midnight. The naturalist with the aid of a small penlight which show us small insects frogs that sends their prey by a change in temperature. He would point to the underside of the tree were a certain kind of spider was. Hundreds of observations that were beyond our ability. I feel the same way in approaching our journey in the Masai Mara, we only understand the broad strokes, we can only fathom from our experience. Through the eyes of our guide we follow the riverbanks, the small depressions and sanctuaries in the land, and in one turn we find cheetahs. There is no way that anyone could possibly know that in a small clump of brush a few feet beneath a tree would be this cluster of cheetahs. Even more astonishing is that we could drive up within four or 5 feet and photograph them. In my mind I’m thinking these things are going to attack us. Even more astonishing was how mellow and apparently oblivious to us.
This happened even with Lions that we met who were having a glorious dinner on the carcass of the zebra. I thought the animals would run away. But the lion was merely intent on his dinner. Vultures were nearby waiting for their chance. Hyenas were in the distant planning how they would steal that delicious carcass. From this one carcass hundreds of animals, birds, insects, microbes and all would soon be feasting on this down to the bones. A very Zen meditation. Down to the bones. Throughout our journey over the next two days there would be white bleached bones strewn across the landscape. Once goal that I picked up that look completely barren and inside was a nest of insects in a rather moist environment. That is the genius of nature. If we allow nature to take its own course without human interference with this earth survive.
In this exquisite expanse from 30 to 50 km in the distance, the eyes having to adjust to such an enormous distance, but our guide and driver have an intimate awareness and knowledge of the landscape. Our guide is a full-fledged Masai warrior initiated because he killed a lion single-handed. It is considered a great honor to kill a lion with your spear. Now that Kenya, to its credit has outlawed the killing of wildlife, what will be the next generation and incarnation for the Masai warriors.?Will the warriors have to become scholars, craftsmen, or some other vocation?
For many eons the Masai people have lived in this land tending their cattle and hunting. This window is closing. Our guide is 36, he has two wives and ten children. Several generations ago only a few children would have survived, but now with access to vaccines and rudimentary modern medicine, the children are surviving to adulthood. Though the Masai a one of the most ecologically conscious people, not by any outside education, but the necessity of living in the land that offers no excess, every food and plant, every bit of animal is completely used. There are no stores so there is no packaging in plastic. Or at least that is the way it is been up until today. But now each Masai warrior has cell phones that make them immediately connected with their friends and family. In a generation, the use of computers cell phones and roads that stretch out to this remote area, while it may serve as a bridge and a beachhead to the future, it is also a farewell to a traditional way of life that is survived for eons.
I struggled to write and record my thoughts when I was there at Masai Mara, but I was struggling to make sense of what I was seeing. The huge game of the incredibly graceful giraffes, gazelles, the water buffalo, the rhinos, crocodiles, the warthogs, the birds in flight. Each moment we were on Safari we were seeing it through the with the help of our guide and driver. They were like leading the blind. We would’ve seen the zebras, the water buffalo, and elephants, but so much was hidden from sight.
Traveling in our open Land Cruiser, large open windows about 2 m², and driving along incredibly bumpy and often times nonexistent roads. Our driver Johnson and the Masai warrior who is the spotter, graciously answers all of our eager and often times naive questions. We feel like we are in the middle of a National Geographic movie. It feels so incredibly surreal to drive within a few yards of a herd of elephants or watching zebras cross the road. It is so far out of the context of our understanding it takes a while to adjust that you are truly seeing something real. There is a story of a pygmy who lived in the jungle of central Africa. Everything was within a few meters of his vision. He had never seen mountains. When he was out of the jungles and looking out to a vast savanna and so on elephant, he couldn’t understand the idea that it was in the distant. To him it was an elephant that was maybe a few inches tall. This sense of mental cultural adjustment was part of our crash course in the Masai Mara
Evening calls. The wonder of Masai Mara stays in our dreams. Stay tuned for more
A rare Leopard on the Watch!