IN MAASAI MARA, KENYA’S most storied game preserve, the animals have been playing hide and seek all morning. But it isn’t long before we spy silhouettes amid the expanse, an awe-inspiring landscape of tall grass which unfurls like bolts of amber-colored cloth in every direction. A terrain of golden plains, graceful acacia trees and granite boulders beneath immense skies, the Mara plays second fiddle to its best-known residents, a diverse group of protected wildlife which includes not just the Big Five (lion, Cape buffalo, elephant, leopard and rhino) but an array of birds, reptiles and tiny mammals, too. Shared with its other official inhabitants, the ancient Maasai people, the park spreads out for some 580 square miles in Kenya, stretching eventually into neighboring Tanzania. Legendary warriors, nomads and cattle herders, the colorful Maasai named this land Mara — which in their language means “mottled.”
As I peer through binoculars from my safari vehicle, focused across a gorge, I understand what that means. At first the scenery appears almost mono-hued — solid as far as the eye can see. Suddenly, that sea of gold ripples with life, or “mottles” with movement in the distance. From what might be a door in the thick vegetation, a male lion emerges to trudge purposefully across the hill before us. As if on cue, another appears, his mane even bushier than the first. Walking perhaps 30 feet apart, they follow the skyline in measured steps. Spectators, we pursue them, our guide guessing where they might go next. He thinks they’re heading for water, so we speed toward a cliff nearby which overlooks a river bed. Some minutes later, the lions appear across the shore from us, descending to the river to drink. Even that is thrill enough. But the scene improves when four lionesses and their playful cubs join the party.
Later, at Sand River Masai Mara, a 16-suite, luxury, tented camp set on a remote section of the preserve near the border of Tanzania, we meet Mamba, a Maasai warrior who works as an askari at the camp. Askari, essentially camp security in the Mara area, often wear classic Maasai garb — a bright red blanket called a shuka and leather sandals — and don brass and beaded jewelry and carry a staff-like weapon known as a rungu. Their instincts and affinity for the wilderness, much of it passed down as Maasai lore for generations, make them ideal companions to walk us safely to our stand-alone tents after dark and to fetch us again at dawn before our game drives begin. Mamba comes in handy one early morning when a grumpy, massive Cape buffalo wanders into camp and blocks my neighbor’s exit from her tent.
While the Maasai people we meet at Sand River don’t hesitate to share details about their culture when asked, we find out much more with an afternoon visit to an actual Maasai village, located across the preserve. We’ve seen some villages from the air already. From the bush plane’s bird’s-eye view, the villages look like mystical circles irregularly spotting the grassy plain. Up close, we discover them to be small compounds, built to keep their cattle safe. A thorn and tree fence encircles a large, empty tract in the middle, which acts as both corral and main street. Occupying the perimeter, small houses, hand-built from twig and dung, have low ceilings and dark, tiny rooms inside. Beds are made from woven branches, then cushioned by animal skins and piles of grass. In one room, a makeshift kitchen’s hole in the roof releases the smoke that gathers when they cook.
Our visit lasts about an hour. It begins with a greeting from the chief, then continues with a performance by the women of the village. With plaited hair, and smudged with ochre and adorned with abundant jewelry, their haunting beauty matches their otherworldly, lullaby-like songs. When the men step up to strut their stuff, they demonstrate their vertical jumping, a feat many visitors have heard about before they’ve come. Taking turns, each “warrior” propels himself into the air. We are told they can continue jumping for hours in a trance-like state. Later, they show us how they make fire, rubbing two sticks together Boy Scout-style — but actually succeeding with a roaring flame. They talk to us honestly about the old days, when hunting lions and other animals was part of their way of life. They explain their polygamy and relate that a man’s worth comes from how many cattle he owns. When the tour ends, they lead us to tables brimming with beaded jewelry, carved figurines and woven shukas for sale.
As we leave, now wearing as many bracelets as the Maasai themselves, we marvel at their commitment to their centuries-old way of life. I’ve read the Maasai descended from the Nile Valley. They’re mentioned in the Bible as gatekeepers and fierce warriors. Today, though some keep cellphones tucked in their shukas, their timelessness gives a glimpse deep into Africa’s history.
INFO TO GO
Most visits to the Maasai are organized by safari companies as part of a more extensive itinerary. Try Sky- Safari by Elewana Collection.
TAP Air Portugal is adding 15 new weekly flights from the United States and Canada by summer 2020, a new record for the carrier of 71 weekly flights between North America and Portugal.
WalletHub compared the 100 largest U.S. cities across 24 key metrics to determine the best destinations for an upcoming Oktoberfest celebration. The brand’s study found the estimated cost for an American to attend Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, is $5,000. Munich boasts a $1.43 billion annual economic impact on Munich. During Oktoberfest, nearly 2 million gallons of beer are consumed and more than 510,000 whole roast chickens eaten.
Qantas will start using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on its Sydney–Santiago route starting in late June 2020.
Welcome to Rhodes, a medieval treasure beautifully preserved throughout the centuries. Rhodes is the capital of the Dodecanese, an island ideal not only for those who want to relax, but also for those looking for an action-packed holiday! With its bright green hills, rich green valleys and uninterrupted line of golden beaches, Rhodes is truly a blessed place. “The sun island” has more sunshiny days and milder temperatures throughout the year than any other location in Greece. It is, after all, one of the country’s easternmost places and among the first to welcome summer on its impressive beaches. Add in the excellent facilities for tourism, the island’s special blend of cosmopolitan and traditional, and numerous cultural and archaeological sites, the most important being the Medieval (Old) Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and you’ve got the perfect holiday destination. While on Rhodes, don’t miss a daytrip to nearby Sými. An island of sponge divers and seamen, Sými used to have 30,000 inhabitants before the Second World War and was the richest island in the Dodecanese, despite its small size. Today, Sými attracts many visitors thanks to its beautifully preserved Neo-Classical buildings and the famous Archangel Michael monastery at Panormitis.
On Location Experiences makes it easy for travelers to head to London or Mexico City for upcoming NFL games. Tottenham Hotspur Stadium hosts the Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders Oct. 6, and the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Oct. 13; Wembley Stadium hosts the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams Oct. 27, and the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars Nov. 3; and Estadio Azteca hosts the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers Nov. 18.
United Airlines announces a number of new routes.
Hotel brands all over the world have pushed for sustainability. For many, it began with reducing single-use plastics, like straws. InterContinental recently announced the end of in-room miniature toiletries.