Footsteps in…The Masai Mara

I have lived in Kenya all my life and I have been to the Masai Mara, several times but I have never seen the great wildebeest migration. And that’s about to change, because M and I are off, on a tiny grasshopper plane from Wilson Airport to the Mara Serena Lodge, where we hope to catch the migration this year.

The plane is tiny….the pilot has to open and close the little ladder, and we can feel every bump of turbulence in the sky, but 40 minutes later, we are in the Mara and seeing the shapes of animals from the sky above.

The grasshopper plane

We are staying at our favourite property in the Mara – the Mara Serena. This is a prime location for the migration, as it is situated on the Mara River itself. Judging by the number of wildebeest already crawling on the plains, the migration is in full swing. Welcomed with a lovely cocktail, I am already looking forward to the next couple of days.

We arrived in time to catch a couple of rays of sunshine by the pool and have the perfect panoramic view of the vast plains below us from the pool deck, and we can see hippo basking in the sunshine, on the banks by the Mara River which snakes its way across the land.

Landing at the Mara Serena Air Strip

4 pm soon rolls around, and sundowners placed in our cooler, it is time to hop into the jeep and head out to try and spot some game. The migration is at the top of the list, and we really want to see one of the infamous river crossings so we tell our driver Simon to drive us to the river, where we spend the next couple of hours alongside other tourists hoping to see a crossing.

Now, this is where we learn that wildebeest weren’t nicknamed stupid creatures for nothing. There was a large herd by the river, looking like they wanted to cross to the other side, and they kept playing ‘river cross tag’ for the 2 hours that we sat there. One or two wildebeest would come to the edge of the river, place a hoof in, place a bit of their leg in, attempt to start crossing and then turn back. And while this is happening, the other wildebeest are looking on…waiting. When one turns back, they all turn back. Not a great start to the river crossing we were hoping for.

The next morning, we are awake at the crack of dawn. The beauty of Kenya dawns on me, as I watch the sun rise, like a large glowing orange ball, above the plains. A lone hippo is grazing along the road, and we stop and watch while the first rays of sun pour over the earth, and the hot air balloons begin to soar, rising slowly. Life is stirring, we are truly alive. It is going to be a beautiful day. I can just feel it in my bones.

A beautiful dawn over the plains

Hoping for a crossing this morning, we head to the same spot we left yesterday to find that the herd has already crossed but excitement is in the air – as there is a large pride of lions watching this herd. The lionesses look like they are getting ready to hunt, and the wildebeest, sensing this are bleating nervously.

The lionesses, prowling
(photo courtesy of www.maheshacharyaphotography.com)

They are cornered well – the river is on one side, and on the other, the lions. There is nowhere to go, and the herd stays closely huddled together, but a young wildebeest decides to leap across, and at that moment, the lioness pounces on it, bringing it down.

A kill, in action!
(photo courtesy of www.maheshacharyaphotography.com)

Interestingly, she doesn’t kill it- she injures it enough that it cannot walk, and then leaves it for her cubs to kill.

Bringing the wildebeeste down…
(photo courtesy of www.maheshacharyaphotography.com)

The cubs are cute. They pounce on the wildebeest, pawing it, each cub claiming it for its own. One cub soon tires of this game, and feeling rather brave, leaves its siblings and decides to try and hunt its own wildebeest. He crosses the road to where the herd of wildebeest are, and barely managing to roar, he lets out a growl and breaks into a run, succeeding only in scaring the herd and dispersing it. Tail between its legs, it crosses over to the pride and sits down.I cannot help but chuckle away at this sight…reminds me of a scene in the Lion King!

Mine!
photo courtesy of www.maheshacharyaphotography.com

There are thousands and thousands of wildebeest already on the plains, and the migration is in full swing. Driving along the river, we smell the stench of rotting bodies, and see a couple of bloated bodies floating around in the swirling water, vultures now circling them. These are the ones that didn’t make it across the treacherous crossing. This is the circle of life, of life and of death, and we see it right here, in the plains of the Mara.

It is time for our champagne breakfast by the hippo pool, and we are ravenous. Simon parks the jeep and we walk along the river bed, to the area that the Serena has set aside for this surreal breakfast. Welcomed with a glass of champagne by a Masai, we are ushered to a table at a prime spot, where we can see the gigantic river horses lazily floating about, basking in the sun, and on the other side, clambering out onto the bank to graze.

Breakfast on the banks of the Mara River, Serena Hippo Pool

As we eat our freshly prepared breakfast, I am well and truly in heaven. This is my country. Magical Kenya.

Champagne Breakfast fit for a king! Delicious!

An hour later, we head back to the jeep, fully intending to spend the rest of the day by the pool, but on leaving the hippo pool area Simon spots what can only be described as millions of wildebeest. The plains are moving with black dots and they are fast approaching the Mara River. Simon tells us that we may be in luck, a river crossing looks like it is about to happen and so we head to what can only be described as the best seat in the house. We get there in time to see about a hundred wildebeest come to a grinding halt at the rivers edge.

It looks like we will see a river crossing….

Again, the same story as yesterday – a hoof in the water, hoof out again and an air of uncertainty. But then, a brave wildebeest takes the plunge and gets in, swimming furiously to get to the other side. He swims halfway across before the rest of the herd jumps in, and bleating and grunting, begin the cross. Wow. This is nothing short of spectacular.

…and here goes!! A river crossing, in full swing!
photo courtesy of www.maheshacharyaphotography.com

The air is full of the sound of splashing water, grunting, bleating, and one by one the wildebeest jump in and cross the mighty river. The zebras, not to be left behind join in too, barking as they cross. It is surreal, watching these animals get in on one side, and come thundering out across the other side, running onto the plains dripping with water.

Swimming furiously to get to the other side, amidst a swirling current
(photo courtesy of www.maheshacharyaphotography.com)

This is surreal!
(photo courtesy of www.maheshacharyaphotography.com)

Clambering to safety on the other side…made it across!
(photo courtesy of www.maheshacharyaphotography.com)

The herd forks out and some decide to jump into the river off a mini cliff, in a brave attempt to cross with the rest of their herd. It looks like it is rush hour at the Mara River! A crocodile is waiting in the waters at the cliff, and as some wildebeest attempt the jump, one is not so lucky as the croc drags one by its leg and takes it under. Several others suffer the same fate. And while this pandemonium ensues, a hippo casually basks in the sun, taking in all the drama.

Taking a leap of faith…
(photo courtesy of www.maheshacharyaphotography.com)

The migration is described as one of the wonders of the natural world, and I couldn’t agree more. It is nothing short of spectacular – we must have seen over ten thousand wildebeest cross the river. The crossing took about 45 minutes, with more and more wildebeest and zebra coming from one end to another. Most make it to the other side, but some get pulled in by crocodiles, others die from broken legs while jumping off cliffs to get into the water. The circle of life, indeed. In action, right before us. An image that will be forever etched in my memories as one of the most stunning wildlife moments of all time. And to think, this happens every year!!

Rush hour in the Mara! Definitely one of the wonders of the natural world.
(photo courtesy of www.maheshacharyaphotography.com)

The wildebeest move in a cyclical pattern every year, starting their migratory path in late July, traversing the plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya in search for greener pastures, and the Mara River stands between animal and green grass. And this is where the Mara Serena wins, hands down because it is situated right next to the river, and while sighting a crossing isn’t guaranteed, what is guaranteed is that you will get to the scene of the drama within five minutes of the crossing starting. Which is exactly what happened that morning – we had been at the rivers edge for about 10 minutes before the rest of the guests that were staying at the Serena were brought to witness this spectacle.

And we were on the side of the river that enabled us to see the crossing from the perfect angle – from the animals face, versus its behind, which is what about hundreds of other people saw, being on the other side of the river. The point being, if you want to have the ultimate migration experience, choose to stay at the Serena. (Disclaimer – I am not employed or in any way affiliated to endorse their product, I simply happen to love the Serena brand and will promote it because it is worthy of being promoted).

The other side of the river bank

Completely satisfied with the morning’s drive, we head back to bask in the sunshine until 4 pm, when we head out yet again for a sundown game drive, but having seen enough wildebeest to last us a lifetime, we head in search of other game. Of course, leopard is always on our agenda but this creature seems to evade us every time we go on a safari, and this time is no different. We spot a rotting gazelle carcass in a tree, but no sign of a leopard licking its chops after devouring that animal!

We do see a beautiful herd of elephant – majestic, gentle giants but not so gentle when they have little ones around. The bull comes pretty close to our van and flaps its ears gently to remind us to keep our distance, and Simon backs the jeep up, keeping a safe distance between us and the herd which crosses over to a pool of water, and starts to drink.

Heading deeper into the plains, amongst the thousands of wildebeest that dot the land, we spot a buffalo getting rather angry, stomping around and whisking clumps of wet mud with its horns, and then settling into the mud, as if it is in a spa!!

And in the distance, we spot a lion and a lioness nuzzling one another. Simon takes us closer to this couple, and jokes that they are on their honeymoon, and no sooner does he say this than the male mounts his lioness, and begins to roar. The “act” is over as quickly as it began, and the lioness rolls over onto her back, paws in air, as the male gets up and walks over to a sunny spot, lies down and promptly falls asleep!! I guess they don’t call him the king of the jungle for nothing!

Moving on, we spot a cheetah atop a termite mound, scouring the horizon for predators. We see the tips of tails poking out in the long grass and Simon tells us that there are cubs lurking around their mother…but we are not lucky enough to see them. We are still excited to have seen a cheetah though!

Cheetah atop a termite mound
(photo courtesy of www.maheshacharyaphotography.com)

This has been an incredible trip, and we have seen exactly what we came for – the great migration, all that it has to offer and much, much more. I am proud at this point, to belong to this majestic country and all it has to offer. This is indeed, Magical Kenya.

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