Monday, April 11, 2016

If Carmen SanDiego had just used landmarks, she would have probably known where in the world she was.

When I first arrived in the Mara, I was having serious doubts that I would ever learn my way around. Out here, there are no street signs, no mile markers - just dirt roads and endless grass. Considering I get lost my hometown that I’ve lived in all my life, I didn’t have much hope.

But, luckily for me, we do have one tool up our sleeves to help us get around: landmarks.

Landmarks can range from the natural - bushes, tree, stream crossings - to the manmade - culverts, road intersections, or river overlooks. To create one, we pick the feature we want to denote as a landmark, take a GPS point, and choose the perfect name. The only rule is that the landmarks need to be 200 meters apart from each other. And that kids, is how a landmark is born.

Our landmarks are super useful in a variety of ways:
  • They help us remember where we are when driving around in endless fields of grass, especially here in Serena. When Sting is singing about “fields of gold” he’s really singing about the Mara.
  • We use them to give directions to a rescue car when we get stuck or the Cruiser decides to not turn back on (this happened just last week!).
  • They also help us to give directions to campmates when something amazing happens, like a ridiculously awesome carcass session or there’s baby cheetah cubs playing or there’s a pangolin walking across the road (ha, we wish...)
  • We use them to record a relative distance for carnivore sightings. Let’s say we see a lion while on obs. We make note of GPS coordinates and the distance and direction from the nearest landmark. 
  • The names can sometimes remind us of an important topographical feature. For example, Cripple Tree is right next to a part of the road that is extremely bumpy, and if you don’t take it slowly, you’ll “cripple” the car. 

Landmarks aren’t only useful; sometimes they’re a bit of a source of entertainment. Take the following few stories as examples.

  • The longer you are out here, the more, uh, creative your landmarks become (read: you start to see things that you shouldn’t be seeing in the bushes). For instance, this is Gorilla Duck Face Tree, because the RA that named it thought it looks like a gorilla doing the “duck face” that us millennials do when we take our selfies.

Gorilla Duck Face - if you can't quite see it, the gorilla is looking to the right with his lips pursed out.

  • The 4-kilometer marker is on one of our main roads that informs safari-goers that Serena Lodge is (you guessed it!) 4km away. The funny thing about this landmark is that when you are parked right next to it, the GPS will tell you that you are 320 meters from it...right. Clearly, at some point something got a bit wonky. But it never fails to make us laugh when the GPS tells us we are a few hundred meters away from the sign, when we could conceivably get out of the car and touch it. 
    Yep, definitely 320 meters away in this picture...
  •  We get to unleash our creativity with landmark names, and again, the longer you’re out here, the more interesting the names get: Car Wash, Boo Tree, BobLobLog and Wanda LobLog (yes, they're happily married) and Ambush (it's a bush, get it?!) are all landmarks we have a good chuckle over. 
Car Wash, giving the Maruti a good scrub.
Landmarks are such an everyday aspect of our lives, we often forget how important and helpful they are. So, thanks landmarks, for always being there to make us laugh and guide us home.

Oh, and this isn't a landmark, but this wouldn't be a hyena blog post without a hyena picture! 
Moulin Rouge saying hi!

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