When you go on safari (and you should, because it was incredible) I have a few pieces of advice:
1. For heaven's sake take a camera with zoom (I won't whine about the girl at our camp with the 35x optical zoom and the mind-blowing pictures she got. I was torn before we left: wide angle for the stunning vistas? Or zoom for the animals? The answer is ZOOM!)
2. Dress in layers.
3. safari means "journey" in Swahili, any kind of journey really, not just a trip to see animals. Now you know.
4. Learn what the Big Five means.

Oh look, we can check off #4 right now! You'll hear everyone talking about the Big Five and see it mentioned in reviews and you'll be asked about it. The Big Five is a phrase coined back in trophy hunting's heyday describing the most dangerous big game animals to hunt on foot. The lion, buffalo, elephant, rhino, and leopard were chosen because of the hunting difficulty and the danger involved, not their actual size. Now of course, most of those animals are strictly on the no-hunting list, but the phrase is still used by all the camera-wielding hunters in Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

Not that our animal wish-list was limited to 5, but it's a good start. Let's go on a safari, shall we?

[These posts are going to be long. I can't help it. But you can always just look at the pictures if you want.]

We flew from Nairobi to the Masai Mara, a national reserve in southwest Kenya that's part of the Serengeti Plains ecosystem. The Serengeti is in Tanzania, and the 1510 square kilometers that dips into Kenya is the Mara. Our 16-seater plane was so small that the pilot just turned around to pass out some mints in a tupperware container and let us know there was a cooler of water in the back.

Though the illustration of what an "emergency landing" looked like gave me some pause, the flight was really smooth and lovely. 

We stopped at one private air strip on the way and let off two guests, and then the rest of us got off at our air strip (actually owned by our camp, but used by several camps in the general area). When we landed, guides from our camp were there to pick us up (along with two other guys, one of whom knew Emily and Philip!) with a table of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate and snacks. We saw a few adult elephants standing on the plain as we had our "Welcome to the Mara" snack. That's some airport shuttle!

Our first game drive was delayed by a freak hail and rain storm the afternoon of our arrival, but it was short lived. Then we met the guide that would be with us for the rest of our stay. Our vehicle was an open sided Land Cruiser with three rows of seats behind the driver and nothing on the sides to limit your view (or protect you from wind/rain/animals, but that was only a problem once). 

On our way out to the plains (the camp is fenced in the bush), we ran across a whole herd of elephants who had taken advantage of the short rainstorm to play in the mud.

We turned off the engine and watched as they came our way. One elephant designated the tree directly beside our vehicle as the scratching post, so we all sat very still and watched the mud-covered herd scratch.

Interesting fact: "Masai Mara" means "spotted plain" or "spotted land" of the Maasai people, which makes sense because the plains are dotted with occasional trees. However, as recently as the 1960s, the Maasai called the area Osere or "thick bush." What happened to all the bush? Elephants are hard on trees.

Eventually our guide decided it was time to move on when one big Mama elephant with two calves behind her started looking a little stressed. "She's pretending to eat while she watches us,"  our guide, Alice, told us. Apparently in Mama-Elephant speak, pretending to eat is not a good sign, so we moved on. 

One down, four to go.