After the youth camp, the team took three days and went on safari, and meet the Maasai people.
On Friday, the team piled into three vans and headed out toward Maasai Mara Preserve, in the southwest part of Kenya. The preserve is hundreds of square miles in size and is home to all sorts of animals: wildbeests, zebras, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, hippos, and more. The team was excited to see as many animals as possible and also meet the Maasai.
The drive out to Maasai Mara is abut 150 miles, but takes between five and six hours. Part of the reason is simply traffic – there is more of it in Kenya than one might expect! But part of the reason is the roads, too. There are no true freeways in Kenya, and the last 50 miles of the trip is traversed over a bumpy, very unforgiving dirt road. In fact, our driver indicated there had recently been a strike by several safari drivers over the condition of the road leading to Maasai Mara. Thankfully, the team bought dust masks for the trip over the dirt road, as we had heard stories of people in previous years getting sick after the safari due to all the dust getting there and back. We think the masks worked, because only one person on the team got ill!
The van the McKnight family (Mike, Cindy, Cassie, and Jamie) was in developed a fuel leak on the way to Maasai Mara, so it was doubly good they had masks. On the way, we stopped to have the van repaired and they piled into the other two vans. Amazingly, the van was quickly repaired and arrived at camp only a few hours later than we did!
After we arrived in Maasai Mara on Friday, we had a few hours and went out looking for animals. Even that first day, we saw an amazing variety of animals: lots of wildebeest and zebra, and even a lion!
Saturday was the day we were able to go farthest in the the park. God blessed us with many sightings of big game, some up really close. We stopped at a river near the border with Tanzania and were able to see hippos and crocodiles. There were armed rangers at that locations, because hippos are among the most dangerous animals in Kenya. Even at a distance and in what seemed a relatively docile mood, they were surprisingly loud, even from across the river.
Just a few minutes away from the hippos, we crossed the river again and stopped at a picnic-type area and had lunch. This area also marked the border between the Maasai Mara preserve and the Transmara District, another area where lots of wildlife is found. From here, we could also see the Serengeti in the distance too.
After lunch, we briefly crossed into Tanzania and didn’t realize it, until we came a cross a huge border marker. We had fun taking photos there, and then headed back toward our camp near the Maasai village.
It was then that the McKnight’s van had more problems, though. It got stuck just a few minutes after we left the border. Worse, that caused an electrical problem with the van and it simply wouldn’t start. John and Peter, our drivers, didn’t bat an eye. They simply hooked up a strap and chain, and after several attempts were able to pull the broken van out from being stuck. But it still would not start. So, they hooked up the chain and we towed the van all the way back to the entrance to Maasai Mara. Mike, Cindy, Cassie, and Jamie took it all in stride and we all enjoyed the ride back regardless. It took over an hour to get back, and not only did we get to see a giraffe up close along the way, we even were lucky enough to spot a cheetah!
Once we returned to camp, we went to see the nearby Maasai village. They were a welcoming, open people, and invited us to ask questions and take photos. The men welcomed the team with a dance they do when they are courting wives: the higher you can jump, the less cows you have to pay for your wife. Several of the Cornerstone guys were invited to jump, too, and it looked like we all would have had to pay many cows for a wife. Cows are highly valued by the Maasai, and their entire village is set up around being able to protect them at night. The women shared a tribal song with us also.
We got to see a pen in which the Maasai herd their goats into at night from protection from wild animals. Their village is laid out with the houses on the outside, facing an open center. The cows are herded into the village center at night and guarded by all, for they too are vulnerable to animals such as lions and cheetahs. The Maasai also explained the the center of the village is an area used for tribal ceremonies. They also demonstrated how they make fire by friction.
We were then invited into the Maasai homes. They are constructed of sticks, mud, and cow dung, and can last up to nine years. They are built by the women and take about two months each to construct. We were escorted in through a very narrow door, and inside it was very dark, but they did have a fire going and after a few minutes our eyes adjusted. Each house has a room where they keep the youngest cows (calves) inside each house. The main area of the home has a place for a fire and cooking, and off of that room are several sleeping areas – usually one for the husband and wife, and one for the children. The sleeping areas utilized cow hides to help soften them. The houses also had a strategically placed hole for smoke from the fire to escape. Very little time was spent inside the houses. The team agreed that the Maasai are ingenious in their culture, to live off the land the way they do.
After making some purchases from the Maasai, we walked back to camp and were all happy to get sleep Saturday night! Amen!
Sunday morning we woke very early to try and get a few more hours on Safari. The highlight of the morning was seeing two male lions together up close. Close, as in right outside the van close. Wow! We also got to see a herd of elephants with their babies, including one not fifty feet from our vans.
We left Maasai Mara all amazed at the beauty and diversity of God’s creation, full of memories that our photos just can’t convey. The safari was an experience we will all treasure for the rest of our lives. After many hours of driving, we finally made it back to Huruma late Sunday afternoon, ready for the work projects to start the next morning!