After our latest misadventure in the Maasai Mara, we had forsworn this jewel of Kenya’s safari parks. Our first trip to the Mara had left our car with a cracked windshield; the second required a tow back to Nairobi. Despite the pain of getting there, the Mara packs a lot of punch and if you don’t mind sharing your safari experience with dozens of other vehicles, it really is worth a few trips. We’ve tried to time our visits within the 2-3 month migration season, but both times just missed seeing the wildebeest cross en masse. Last year, we were a little late, seeing just a trickle of gnus brave the crossing, and our trip with Marni this year came too early, as the late rains in Tanzania delayed the start of the Great Migration.
Fortunately, life is full of second chances. S’s childhood friend Niki visited us for a week in August, leaving a few days before D’s parents arrived for a ten-day stay. D could not get the extra time off work, so S and Niki flew down to the Mara without him for a chance to glimpse one of nature’s wonders. Cruising through the Mara, the Maasai guide warned that the wildebeest do not cross every day even during the height of the Great Migration. Sometimes you arrive at the riverbank just as the zebras lead the masses across and other times you wait the better part of a day with thousands of wildebeest at the water’s edge only to watch them all turn back.
Under the blazing noon sun, dozens of safari vans sped from one part of the riverbank to another, jockeying for the best position from which to move forward if the animals decided to cross. Two hours flew by without so much as a single wildebeest in sight before a herd approached one of the common crossing points. After waiting several more hours, S and Niki started setting turn-around times, which passed one after the other without any action. There were no crocodiles at the crossing, but the shallow river was littered with the bloated, belly-up corpses of wildebeest that had been trampled in previous crossings, which may have deterred the animals from entering the water. Almost always, the wildebeest wait for a zebra to cross before following suit. However, on this day, one gallant wildebeest took the plunge, setting off a 20-minute rush during which about 10,000 animals crossed the river.
Even after devoting more than half the day to the wildebeest crossing, there was enough time to also see many of the Mara’s other famed denizens.