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Of soul-homes, sky-temples & safaris: Part 3 – Masai Mara, Kenya

Of soul-homes, sky-temples & safaris: Part 3 – Masai Mara, Kenya

Masai Mara, Kenya

At the Lodge
At the Lodge
The Mara Simba lodge is a pretty, misty, quiet woody place nestled deep in jungle brush on the banks of the Talek River. Mobile phones don’t work here, and the lodge landline is usually out of order. It was like being time-warped into another dimension, an unknown parallel world – a world where we became different people, new people, our minds cleared of past memories, knowing that here, we were truly away, unreachable, untraceable, undiscoverable – free. It was a strange, liberating experience, forgetting who you were and just being. It stirred my soul, made me glow, made me grow, and I felt there wasn’t a happier, serener person in the world that day.

We checked into our simple but lovely rooms, had some lunch on the patio-restaurant, witnessed a mongoose family quarrel under the terrace, saw two monster crocodiles sunbathing on the shore of the river, and then, we were ready to go.

David was waiting for us outside, with the homely old white van transformed into an intrepid top-open safari jeep. We were suddenly grave – this was it, this was the moment, this was the reason why people from all times and ages came to Africa. This was why we had come to Africa, what we had dreamed about doing. And here we were! Every part of me was trembling with excitement – what would I see? What would I find? What would I feel? Would I be disappointed, or would it be something beyond my wildest expectations? And as David revved up the jeep and we slowly climbed onto the track heading to the simple wood-posted entrance of the Masai Mara game reserve, I knew I was in for the experience of a lifetime.

From the moment I started writing this article, I’ve been wondering (and fearing) how I was to handle this part. Some things are just inexpressible. You may go crazy taking photographs and videos, but when they come out and you see them back at home sitting in your living room, you realize that they are utterly soulless. Only in imagination can you recreate the vision that really was, that you saw, and then maybe you can try putting into words. You may or may not be successful, but you still try. And that’s what I’m going to do.

The wind rips past your face, screaming in your ears, your hair flapping madly behind you, your cheeks white with cold – and all of a sudden there unfurls above you a picture; a canvass so wide it fills every corner of your vision, overwhelming you and absorbing you in its depth. It is sheer vastness. And at that moment, you feel there is nothing and no one in the world between you and your God, but that great, rolling, timeless blue sky.

On Tour
On Tour
I cannot begin to describe that sky to you. It took my breath away. You remember I talked about soul-temples in the beginning of this article – that sky, that sky I beheld at Masai Mara in Kenya, that sky was my temple. You cannot appreciate sky, living in a city, or in a forest, or even in the mountains. But there, aboard that rattling jeep in the middle of the wild gold African savannah, there, I understood. I understood why the steppe peoples of Central Asia worshipped Tengri, and the Native Americans of North America worshipped Manitou – how could you not venerate, how could you not adore something so awesome, so pristine, so ineffably beautiful? It looked like God had just re-painted the roof of the earth with the freshest, purest of colors, and if you reached out a bit in front, you could actually grab a tuft of cloud in your hands, or brush against the sky with your fingertips.

That sky was something that could make believers out of atheists.

I could write a book describing that sky, and the feelings it evoked in me. Don’t worry, I’m not going to do that here! We did, of course, see other things on the safari, many other things. David had warned us not to expect to see anything apart from droves of gazelles and zebras. Since the animals wander about the savannah completely at will, sometimes in Masai Mara, sometimes crossing over to the Serengeti National Park in neighboring Tanzania, it was near impossible to predict where any of the animals would be at any particular time. But the sky gave us hope. I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed.

We romped about in the jeep for an hour, zigzagging through ubiquitous dirt tracks and drinking in some spectacular scenery. How David knew where to take us in that limitless unmarked expanse of savannah is beyond me – but soon enough, the gazelles appeared – Thomson’s and Grant’s, grazing prettily on the sides, skipping along in front of us, occasionally casting curious glances in our direction with their wide dark eyes.

There were antelope too, great grand curvy-horned bucks, and innocent-looking impalas, and then wildebeest, with their unmistakable shaggy gray beards, and this other unimpressive bovine creature called topi. We saw them, sometimes lounging around in intimate little groups, sometimes in enormous herds, swishing their tails, twitching their ears, and ruminating over supper – quite oblivious of our presence. Sometimes they’d be hanging out with funny looking birds too, crowned cranes, Marabou storks and blue quails, and sometimes we’d catch them in rather embarrassing positions.

Zebras
Zebras
Soon the zebras showed up, but they were never seen by themselves, or even in pairs. Zebras are fully aware of their own desirableness in the eyes of a lion, and sticking together in big bunches is the only defense mechanism they have. When a lion sees a flock of zebra, he actually sees an indistinct muddle of stripes, and while that can even confuse us at times, it is positively bewildering for the color-blind lion. If you happen to be an individualistic, itinerant kind of zebra, it’s not likely you’ll last the day.

While David was telling us all these things, I was thinking how exciting it would be to see a lion making a kill. We hadn’t seen any lions yet. There was no sign of them anywhere. The zebras and the other creatures were in quite a placid mood. There seemed to be no cause for alarm in the near future. David observed this, and after pondering a moment, abruptly swerved the jeep onto another track heading in the opposite direction. “This way,” he intoned under his breath, and we silently wondered where he was taking us.

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