Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A few days with the Maasai

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the past two days in Maasai Mara National Reserve in southwestern Kenya.  The area is often referred to as The Mara by locals and is named in honor of the Maasai people.  The Maasai are semi-nomadic people who live in Kenya and northern Tanzania and are probably the most recognizable of all the African tribes due to their traditional customs and dress.  Since Kenya is the birthplace of tourism in Africa the Maasai were really the first ethnic group exposed on a large scale to the rest of the world and thus are the most recognizable to outsiders.  Here is a photo of a Maasai “spotter” I met on safari:
When you go on safari you generally have a guide, who is driving your vehicle while pointing out animals and giving you information about what you see (i.e. migration patterns; what the animals eat; why they are acting a particular way; whether a specific animal is special, such as being pregnant or injured; etc.).  While the guides always do an excellent job, some companies may also provide a tracker or a spotter.  A tracker can look at the environment and tell if an animal was there recently and if so in which direction the animal went.  A spotter is someone who, with a blind eye, can find and identify animals at a great distance.  In The Mara many of the safari companies employ local Maasais as spotters because they live amongst the animals and are trained from birth to keep an eye out for them.
In general the Maasai have maintained their traditional customs and lifestyles, however, with the increase in tourism more and more of them are finding ways to make a living, or at least supplement their incomes, with jobs in the tourism industry.  For instance, as you enter the reserve your vehicle is bombarded with Maasai women trying to sell you beaded bracelets and other handmade goods.  Most of the lodges and camps are staffed by Maasai men. Due to being frequently exposed to Westerners many Maasai have adopted some of our modern habits.  For instance, at one point I was watching a Maasai herding his cows while talking on a cell phone.  Or, as you can see here, this spotter was returning a game drive vehicle at the end of the day to storage for the evening:

In addition to seeing many Maasai, we also saw plenty of animals; about 150,000 of them I’m told.  We could see zebras and wildebeest as far as the eye could see in the midst of migration.  And several lions.  Everyone comes to Africa wanting to see big cats, but they are actually a somewhat uncommon occurrence.  But we got lucky and were able to see lions both days.  Here are three female lions sleeping.  The lion on the far left is actually pregnant according to our guide:
I absolutely loved my trip to Maasai Mara.  I could have stayed there forever.  I just hope I can go back sometime.

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