Into Africa: Day Four: Awesome Experiences

Monday, Sept. 13

Awesome is one of those words I never adopted. It became so commonplace, it lost its real meaning.


Seeing the sun set over the Maasai Mara, after thousands of wildebeest and cheetahs have crossed your path is awesome. But I jump ahead.

Yesterday I learned when toasting with a German, you must look the person in the eye or risk seven years of bad sex.  Not quite the nature documentary tidbit but National Geographic Channel has brought together journalists from around the world, and that meant epic drinking and loads of fun. Anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom knows that the very best conversation happens at the bar at the end of the day. And I can now say that I have done tequila shots with South African tour guides, mosquitoes are seriously large here and you can still form words after being awake for 36 hours.

Today, over breakfast, reporters from Taiwan, Portugal, Spain and Israel talked dance, theater and politics — all at 8 am. National Geographic Channel showed us the first of the seven-hour global special airing Nov. 7, and which  brought everyone to this remote outpost. It is stunning. It tells the story of migrations of the monarch butterfly, the crabs on Christmas Island, wildebeests and sperm whales.

Then, we left Nairobi by the same small buses, and went to a small airport. From there we boarded a charter plane that holds about 44 people. As I write this, a hippo grunts, and I type by candlelight, which doesn’t matter other than for ambiance because the screen is lighted.

It was a bumpy ride and 45 minutes later we were in the Maasai Mara. When we landed, seven Maasai men greeted the plane. They wore traditional red dress and sang and danced a welcoming song for us. Their dance is like the pogo jumping from early punk, and they are thin and quite regal.

We came over to the patio where I am now and just below is a watering hole where hippos live. Everyone warns about getting in a hippo’s way and given their size and anger management issues, I vow to stay clear. I keep telling myself I am the visitor here, though it does not take much reminding.

My roommate is the same I had from the hotel, an Israeli journalist, who is very smart, and like the others gathered here, worldly, far better traveled than I. Our home for the next few days is a tent. I guess I don’t need to mention the obvious, but I have never before been in a tent. This is a luxury tent; it has a shower and a toilet and sink. I would have wept if we had to share hygiene space with the hippos.

Then we set out in a jeep that made the buses from the other days seem like luxury cars. They’re completely open and thrilling to be in. The land is flat, brown, and watering holes dot the scenery. Seriously large vultures, perch on the scraggly trees. Wildebeests, thousands upon thousands of wildebeests, are around us.


Carcasses of those that didn’t make the great migration serve as food for those still crossing. Four young male cheetahs hang out, sated after a meal. I just pray I am not to become a meal for them. The jeep driver, Moses, is of the Kisii tribe, and comes from a family that grows tea. He has one wife, traditional in his culture, and once had lions mate at the footrest of his jeep.

As he drove really fast over pitted dry roads with termite mounds and wildebeests as far as you can see, the sun set very quickly. And, though this is overused all the time, this truly was awesome.

Photos courtesy Doan Nguyen