Have you ever seen ‘Duma’? - My happy ending in the Masai Mara

This article is dedicated to all my friends who love cheetahs, lead their lives as passionately as these elegant big cats, and continue running as untamed and as wild as them.


I watched it again earlier today. It is about the special connection between a boy and a cheetah. My fascination for these animals, though, goes way back. Things are simple: whenever you like something or someone, it is what it is and you can’t change it, only your heart holds control over that.
Needless to say, my greatest wish when deciding – together with Marcel – to go on a safari through Kenya was to see a cheetah. And I knew that the biggest chances for that would be in the Masai Mara.
The endless plains of the ‘Mara’ – how connoisseurs endearingly call it. They actually resemble plateaux to me. The bumpy road from Narok comes ‘equipped’ with surprises, as you spot giraffes, just like that, and enjoy the warm welcome of the small but beautiful camp overlooking the wild and run by a lovely British couple.
From Narok to Mara, Kenya

Noon heat gone. Clouds on the horizon. Safari time: on.
Wildebeests are the first to greet us; they seem very bored when they walk, as opposed to Thomson's gazelles, which change pace and direction in a second. We’ve only entered the gate for a few minutes and we are already in a hurry. I don’t understand what’s being communicated through the radio. The only part I get is ‘Sawa’ (Swahili for ‘OK’).
Expressing your thoughts and wishes when on a guided safari is very important, in my opinion. That’s how our guide came to know what I wanted to see and got us straight to the biggest surprise. It was surreal. Whenever one of your greatest dreams gets fulfilled, it comes with a shock. It is not that you are disappointed or that the image you’ve projected is a different one in reality, it is just that the plain pressure of the dream is gone and it takes some getting used to.
First cheetah; Masai Mara, Kenya

Small cute ears, strong tail, perfect back pose. The stretching starts and I can see its eyes. They are warm and full of intelligence. You do need creativity in a world of teeth, don’t you? Then, the playful cheetah gets up and starts walking away. In an attempt to see some more, we reverse and witness it almost start its famous sprint.
Drops of rain on our skin. We reach a stream of water with several hippos soaking and enjoying happy times. I won’t even try to describe the smell! The rain intensifies and we are forced to close the roof.
Happy hippo; Masai Mara, Kenya

Things change so fast in the Mara, though, and the sun pierces again, in no time.
I was so mesmerised by my cheetah encounter, that I even forgot that I could see ostriches here. Or zebras, for that matter. Marcel is hooked by the happy-go-lucky behaviour of the striped horses.
Zebras! Masai Mara, Kenya

There are lions to our left and we can spot several elephants from afar, to our right. 8 of them. But we miss the encounter with the black rhino. The hippos are now out of the water, ready for the sunset. Monkeys and small rodents guide us to the exit, as I notice a similar vehicle to ours, lingering in the dusk and take a picture of it, against a reddish sky.
After two plates of the carrot and ginger soup that became my favourite dish, followed by messaging one of my closest friends and laughing my heart out, I slept like a baby. Marcel spent some time by the fire with the Masai men who were guarding us. I was so torn between going to see a traditional village and choosing not to. I was afraid that it might be an experience too commercial to digest, so I stuck to genuinely interacting with the Masai and observing them from afar.
‘Did you hear the lions last night?’
‘No. I think I only heard some hyenas.’
‘You’d be eaten here alive’ chuckled Marcel.
The morning game drive followed. Impalas in the bright light were a beautiful sight! So were all those winding roads inside the park! Animals seemed a tad fewer than during the evening drive, but we did get to see the smallest and biggest antelopes on the Globe – dik-diks and giant elands. Hippos were again bathing and Marcel’s friends, the zebras, seemed ever more energetic than he remembered them. Images of giraffes in the distance were driven away by the shock at the sight of a semi-rotted corpse of an older giraffe. Our guide told us that he had been in the Mara when it died; its legs had given in, apparently. I could still perceive the spots and the blend of not only so many species around, but of life and death.
Morning light; Masai Mara, Kenya

The wildebeests and the acacia trees painting a goodbye-picture is one of the last moments recalled from the Masai Mara. The one place that, after attempts to see the cheetahs in the wild in Iran, had finally given me the ending I sought.
I went over to our host, the owner of the camp, and whispered in her ear: ‘You know, it doesn’t look like much from a distance, but the real charm of the Mara is felt when you’re inside, surrounded by the animals. I understand now why you’ve moved here’.

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