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The travelling tales of a free spirit... All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware..

A little zebra crossing with a million or so wildebeest thrown in, no big deal.

UNITED KINGDOM | Tuesday, 1 October 2013 | Views [692] | Comments [1]

Free wine, a burnt down airport and a sigh of relief

After a very enjoyable flight (ie many bottles of complimentary wine) we landed in Nairobi, Kenya. For those who don´t already know, a couple of weeks before our holiday, Nairobi Airport burnt down. (Minor set back) I was, however, very impressed with the efficient running of the newly built part of the airport and in no time we were outside under the African sunshine. (With a slight surrounding mist to cool us off). The first panic was not seeing the tour company there with a sign for us as promised. Shit. There were about 6 people with signs but definitely no "Dutfield Party". As I had chosen the Tour Company all blame basically would be on on me and I have to admit, my palms did begin to sweat a little. I daren´t look at Christine who was already nervous about using a company she didn´t know.

A lovely man must have recognised our panicked faces and showed us where to go - around the corner and on the other side of the road were about 200 eager-looking faces holding up signs and there at the front I saw a big smile and the sign "Dutfield Party". Phew.
Michael (who had been dealing with all of our demanding emais for the last few months) is the happiest person I think I´ve ever met! He seemed genuinly excited to meet us and introduced us to our guide, driver and soon-to-be-friend, James. Equally happy and enthusiastic.
After a long bumpy ride we entered the Masai Mara. Straight away we started to see Zebras, Buffalo and Giraffes and by the time we arrived at the lodge we had been lucky enough to share our day with a Cheetah, SIX lions and many other amazing creatures...it was a great start.
Arriving at the Mara Serena Lodge was also a jaw-dropping moment. We could see straight through the entrance and reception lobby´s huge glass doors to the great expanse of Mara plains opening up before our eyes. What a magnificent view!! (I now understood why this was to be my cousin Christine´s 13th visit to the Serena Lodge). We were taken to our rooms which each had the same stunning view. After our delicious dinner we retired to bed early, dreaming of what would be in store tomorrow, having no idea how lucky we would be...

View from outside lodge, through reception to the Mara


The Rain Gods were in our favour

It was an early 5.45 start and we headed off, binoculars and cameras at the ready. As we left the lodge James told us excitedly that all the wildebeest were running straight down to the river RIGHT NOW so we may see the iconic crossing of the Mara river! He explained that some had already crossed into Tanzania, but it was dry there. With their keen sense of smell the wildebeest knew it was raining back in Kenya and so many had battled the crocodile infested waters once more to return to the green grass of Kenya and wait it out for a while, only to go back to Tanzania again when the time was right!! That right time appeared to be now. That was probably the only time in my life that I had thanked the rain.


Emotional Crossings

James put his foot on it and headed straight for the river, I could see the concentration on his face through the mirror as he skillfully maneuvered the van through the rough terrain. Alongside us were thousands of wilebeest and zebra flying down in the same direction with great urgency! It was so exhilirating and amazing to think that this is powered by pure animal instinct. They just know they must make this journey and they know where to go. In all honesty I was completely overwhelmed by such a fantastic display of gut instinct and I could feel my family around me felt exactly the same. We couldn´t wait to get down to the river! Of course as well as the excitement there was an underlying anxiety as we all knew we may see some fatalities.

When we arrived at the river a lot of the animals had come to a standstill, we were surrounded by wildebeest, zebra and topi and the anxiety we previously felt was amplified, we could feel it all around us from each and every creature. Some knew what to expect from previous years, they were all too aware of the hungry jaws lurking beneath the shiny surface of the river. Not to mention the strong currents to be faced. Others were babies, their first ever crossings, having no idea what they were in for and staying close to their nervous mothers.

We waited for a little while and, true to form, once one wildebeest took the plunge the others hurriedly followed. The current looked strong and we watched with bated breath as each one leapt in and fought for their life to get to the other side. Some were jumped on top of in the panic of it all but they still made it. Some looked close to drowning as they frantically swam and pulled their heads above the surface, breathing hard and fast. All of them won the battle against the current and I thought perhaps that we may be lucky after-all and see every tired creature make it alive. (Cue the happy animals skipping off into the sunset holding hooves and smiling).

I was naive. Two eyes rose above the surface slowly, followed by a long, green familiar-looking jaw, glistening in the sun. The croc had arrived. Back to panic and anxiety. The animals were still crossing, with us willing them on. They were swimming straight towards his shiny teeth. One zebra on the other side decided to swim back across to our side and almost walked right into his mouth. Luckily he wasn´t hungry for a zebra breakfast. James told us that this zebra only had a 50% chance of surviving on the way back, we urged her to return to safety and as if she had heard us she turned around and made it back up the bank. Phew.

lucky zebra

The croc was still on the hunt, however, and many wildebeest had a lucky escape as he swam towards them and decided not to take a bite. Unfortunately we realised that he wanted young meet, something easier to swallow. Right on cue he spotted a baby wildebeest. Our hearts sank. "Swim away, swim away!" I´m sure we were all chanting this in our heads. The croc was too fast and within a second we heard and saw the jaws snap and both croc and baby disappeared below. Both were gone. Needless to say a few tears were shed by devasted wildlife enthusiasts all around, but on the positive side, at least it was quick.

We soon discovered that the breakfast buffet was not closed and we saw the same happen again, only this time it was not so quick and a lot more difficult to watch as the baby put up a fight. It had been an emotional morning. You must remind yourself that the crocadile must eat or he will die. The cliched - but true- phrases "this is the circle of life" and "it´s nature" marginally help to ease the upset. I repeated these in my head over and over to form a dam against the flood of tears I could feel welling up inside. When it comes down to it a croc´s got to eat and he had a conveyor belt of options swimming right into his mouth, who could blame him?

We saw thousands of successful crossings and watched them disappear towards the horizon, continuing their epic journey in the distance - perhaps skipping off into the sunset holding hooves and smiling afterall (in my imagination this is exactly how it went).
For years I have wanted to catch the Great Annual Migration in full swing and I feel so lucky that I was privaledged enough to witness this thrilling natural event. To make it even better I got to share the moment with my family. What a brilliant, emotional start to Kenya.

Tags: mara serena lodge, masaii mara, migration, wildebeest




My favourite part was the use of "baited breath".

  Ant Oct 2, 2013 9:16 PM



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