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Maasai Mara, Kenya



Nestled within the enormous Great Rift Valley, the Maasai Mara is a wildlife sanctuary in Southwestern Kenya. From its gentle, rolling grasslands and endless open plains, Maasai Mara hosts an extraordinary concentration of animals. Upon my return home from visiting Maasai Mara, the most frequent question asked of me was, “Why did you travel so far to see animals when you could just go to the zoo instead?”

The thrill of it all, however, is the search. There is something so exciting and rewarding about taking a game drive through dusty dirt roads and finally spotting a lion, poised to pounce at his next prey as he blends seamlessly inside waist-high, golden grasses. Within the reserve, it's not unusual to see nine or ten safari jeeps crowded together and full of tourists taking photos of one lion with its kill. The jeep rides were very rough and exhausting, but well worth it. Although the nights were spent feeling completely depleted and worn-out, the days were spent driving alongside herds of elephants, giraffes, zebras and enormous, jaw-snapping hippos. Even the flamingos of Lake Naivasha seemed larger than life, with their brightly colored feathers taking center stage. At one point, I was just fifty-feet away from a small gang of cheetahs who just happened to take a rest near a giant termite hill in the sun. Early morning safaris by hot-air balloon also added drama to this adventure. From the rising of the sun over the mountains for a lavender-colored dawn to the flocking of wildlife at the chocolate-colored Mara river, the view of the surrounding landscape from up in the clouds was breathtaking.

I traveled to Kenya in October, just in time to catch the end of the migration of wildebeests, gazelles and zebras, which had started in August. Known as the Great Migration, this overwhelmingly large-scale migration begins at the Serengeti in Tanzania and is one of most impressive wildlife spectacles. As the animals travel in search of grazing and water, the numbers are so big that it’s really difficult to visualize, even in person. It was a peculiar sensation to see the migration of the wildebeests, in particular: Slowly and quietly, they walked in a line, one by one, that was so straight and long that I couldn’t see where the line ended or where it began.

Animals are not the only inhabitants of the Mara, however. In the middle of the plains, I also visited a group of Maasai; Kenyan villagers who live on the open grasslands of the Maasai Mara. They are a tribal people who share their lands with the wild animals who also call the immense grasslands home. Well-known for their monthly ritual of drinking cattle blood mixed with milk, their love of cattle is legendary and based on religious beliefs. The Maasai are tall and elegant, dressed in bright, dazzling red cloth with both the men and women adorned with beadwork and metal jewelry. The warriors are identified as the men who wear a lion’s mane as a ceremonial headdress. Upon arrival, the villagers immediately greeted us with an elaborate dance performance, which was complete with a spirited competition among the teenagers: jumping startlingly high, straight up in the air.

In a place where animals seem to rule the earth, the villagers hold a special relationship to the land of Maasai Mara and it’s easy to see why. From the poetic, statue-like acacia tree that stands alone in its grandeur to the big open skies that ignite every sunset on fire, Maasai Mara is truly a land that captivates both man and creature.