Kristen Honig Of Los Alamos Visits Maasai Mara In Kenya

Sunset in the Maasai Mara in Kenya. Photo by Kristen Honig

Maasai Warriors standing on either side of photographer Kristen Honig of Los Alamos were assigned to guard her the entire time she was in camp and walk her to her tent and guard it while she slept at night. Courtesy photo

Los Alamos

If you had told me 9 months ago that I would take two international trips during a worldwide pandemic, I would have said you were out of your mind. But the development and distribution of a COVID vaccine has made travel possible again for adventurous (or crazy) souls. Although traveling during a pandemic comes with some obvious risks and inconveniences, the biggest advantage is a lack of crowds.

In ordinary years, more than 300,000 tourist visit the Maasai Mara in Kenya annually. This means any major animal sighting will have 20 or more vehicles jockeying for the best vantage point (and as many as 300 at river crossings). But tourism levels in 2021 have been only about half pre-COVID levels, meaning a more private and personal game drive experience.

In mid-August, I joined a group of four other photographers on a week-long safari to witness the Great Migration. In our first half day alone, we saw a wildebeest/zebra river crossing, an unsuccessful lion hunt, and a coalition of cheetah feasting on a gazelle.

Throughout the week we spotted the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, cape buffalo, and rhino), two more river crossings in crocodile and hippo infested waters, and a proliferation of babies! We watched 4 lion cubs frolicking in a riverbed near dusk, a set of twin cheetah cubs chasing after their mom, and a hyena carrying a 2-week old cub in her mouth on the way back to the den.

We also had several opportunities to interact with the local Maasai. Not only were we invited to spend an afternoon in one of their villages where they danced for us and shared their homes, but we also had Maasai Warriors escort us throughout camp and guard our tents at night. And thank goodness for them, as we had lions and hippos fighting nearby at the car park on several occasions! I honestly slept soundly knowing they were on guard.

Daytime was bit of a different story, however, as I had a baboon sneak into my tent while we were away (yes, they know how to operate zippers) and run off with my toiletry kit. It was found by the river bank (somehow still fully intact) with a pile of cough drops on the ground. I guess they like sugar, too!

All in all it was an amazing trip. In a group that started out as strangers I have found great friends. The wildlife sightings were unique and plentiful. And the people of Kenya were incredibly hospitable and generous. I cannot wait to go back!

Editor’s note: Kristen Honig’s photos from some of her other trips are on display in the Fuller Lodge Art Center’s Portal Gallery until Sept. 25.

Lions in the Maasai Mara in Kenya. Photo by Kristen Honig

Lion cubs in the Maasai Mara in Kenya. Photo by Kristen Honig 

Giraffes in the Maasai Mara in Kenya. Photo by Kristen Honig 

Zebras in the Maasai Mara in Kenya. Photo by Kristen Honig

Hippos in the Maasai Mara in Kenya. Photo by Kristen Honig