A girlfriend of mine commented that she thought it was awesome that I had had such a great time in Southern Africa. I smiled and told her “Ummm, it was actually Kenya” and she replied with an exited “yeah, so cool!”. On the basis of that alone I figured I might just post a couple of maps to give the non-geographic people (nothing wrong with that) an idea of where exactly we were as well as a bit better idea of why we went.
Below is Africa with Kenya marked. Our flight from Thailand took vaguely that path is marked by the arrow and we went straight into Nairobi.
As mentioned in my last blog we then caught a flight to the Maasai Mara National Park and began our Mara odyssey. I have marked on this map the other places we visited in Kenya as well, just for reference for the up-coming blogs 🙂
#1 – Maasai Mara National Reserve, #2 – Laikipia, #3 – Amboseli National Park
The whole reason I picked the Maasai Mara great migration experience is because I had seen so much of it on such programs as “Life On Earth” etc from Sir David Attenborough. I was thrilled with talk of wildebeest stretching from horizon to horizon from July til October as they made their way from the plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania north to the Mara then turning around in late October to follow the rains and heading back to the breeding grounds of the Serengeti for the remaining months of the year. The maps below show the general migration pattern. I most wanted to see the wildebeest crossing the Mara River as they make their way to the grazing lands but as with all wild life there was no guarantee.
On our first day in the main part of the Mara reserve we had let Charles (our guide) know our wish list. Julie wanted a cheetah on a mound, Billy and Dave just wanted to poke their heads out of the roof and enjoy the excitement of Africa and I had no idea really of what I wanted…. Except we all wanted to see a crossing. We wanted to watch thousands of wildebeest plunge into the Mara River, a couple fall victim to crocodiles, lions picking off the easy targets as they reached the other side, then the main herd thunder off into the distance. Not really a big ask surely?
Charles was in communication with other drivers and it seemed the wildebeest were massing at one of the crossing points and that we might be lucky enough that they decided to take the plunge and cross over. You see it is not as simple as you might first think. Just because they are all hanging around the river banks does not necessarily mean that they are actually going to cross. They seem to be incredibly indecisive creatures from my point of view. First they wander aimlessly around an open area just grazing and making gnu (the other name for wildebeest is gnu) noises. Then another distant group might see them and after a lot of milling around they might charge over and join them making the group larger.
Through all of this to-ing and fro-ing we sat in our vehicle on the bank of the river watching to see what would happen. There were quite a number of other vehicles gathering with us and everyone was pretty sure that a crossing would take place. All we needed was for the wildebeest to get with the program. After about 45 minutes of watching nothing much we moved pozzie to get a better look at the milling and eating herd to gauge where their collective heads were at. Sadly from what we could see over the course of another 30-40 minutes the gnus were snoozing and nothing much was happening. Charles was saying that we needed the sun to come out for a longer period (it was playing hide and seek in the clouds with moments of sun then shade again). Apparently the wildebeest get agitated in the heat and are more likely to cross when in full sun. Sadly the sun was not being particularly co-operative.
With a whole bunch of nothing much happening we decided to head off into the bushes to have our lunch. If anything exciting started to happen someone would let us know on the radio.
Instead of the whole shebang lunch (table, table cloth, chairs, etc) we opted for the shortened version where we unpacked onto the bonnet of the car, loaded up our plates and kept the fuss to a minimum. And with Murphy’s Law in full operation, we had no sooner put the final spoonful of food onto our plates when the call came over the radio “it looks like they are going”!
Talk about the worlds’ fastest pack up. We had everything back in the esky and packed in the front of the car in 2 seconds flat. And so began the “Ferrari safari”. Racing along the pitted dirt tracks back to the river we each clung on for dear life with one hand while the other juggled the full lunch plate with the other. It was rather thrilling I would have to say.
Then as we approached the river we could see what felt like 100’s of other vehicles all with the best spots lined up along the bank. We were never going to be able to get a spot to see anything let along take any decent piccys. But I had underestimated our Charles. He roared up and drove straight through the throngs and we ended up being the second car along the river bank somehow and there in time to see the first gnus hit the water.
Julie and I just grabbed cameras and started banging away. Had it not been so intense it would have been funny. We knew that this might be our only crossing and we were determined to get something usable in terms of a decent photo.
The most shocking thing about the entire experience is that it was all over in a heartbeat. Literally from first photo to last it took less than 5 minutes for 2,000+ wildebeest to cross the river. After so much milling and indecision, once they decided to go they just went for it. Not hesitation and no stopping. It was amazing and while there were no crocodiles lurking and no lions feasting it was still exactly as we had hoped and I would have to say that all 4 of us were completely thrilled at the chance to see something so timeless.
One of the fun bits to top off our first crossing would be the moments after it was all said and done. The wildebeest had crossed, the photos had been taken and there was a moment to sit back down and get excited. Then we just grabbed our plates from where we had put them on the seats, took our drinks out of the seat pockets and picked up with lunch from where we had left off, much to the very vocal amusement and admiration of the people in the vehicle next to us, “wow look at that, they still have their lunch ready to go”. It was just one of those weird quirky moments that wrapped up the whole experience quite nicely.
Some of the other vehicles at the beginning waiting for something to happen. By the time they crossed there were 20+ trucks all lined up facing across the river side-by-side on the bank edge.
The first brave souls.
Crossing in full strength.
My favourite gnu photo. I developed quite a liking for these quirky fellows with their mournful cry.
Potential predators (although these 2 were not there for the crossing) – just a gratuitous lion photo 😉
These two were near the crossing but being late in the season they were basically so well fed that they really didn’t seem to care enough to swim up for a look or a snack. I should also add that Nile crocodiles are huge and these two were no exception. Absolutely massive!