Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Witnessing The Great Migration, Masai Mara, Kenya

On the Great Migration
Endless lines of wildebeest
   This was our last day on safari and we were spending it at one of the most exciting parks in East Africa. Known as the jewel of Kenya, the Masai Mara National Reserve is the continuation of the Serengeti plains of Tanzania. It is also the home to the Great Migration.

Its a tough, croc eat wildebeest world
 This migration of millions of wildebeests, zebras, and antelope plays out in one of the most exotic ecosystems on earth. Seemingly endless lines of some of Africa's most resilient animals follow the rain and green grass in a treacherous circular route. Along the way they must sustain themselves, fend off attacks from Africa's biggest predators, and give birth to fuel future generations of migrators.

  To see this natural phenomena is a bucket list item that everyone should have but relatively few get to experience. You have to time your trip to Africa, visit the right part of the Mara or Serengeti, and still get lucky. And lucky we were.

    On our last day Deedee, Becca, and Chris all got up at 2:30am to catch a ride for their sunrise hot air balloon trip. The rest of us had breakfast at camp then headed out through the reserve to meet up with them. The three ballooners were riding high after their trip and their champagne breakfast. On the way to pick them up we had noticed a large amount of wildebeest and zebra gathering up near the Mara river. Could we possibly experience a river crossing on our last day? What where the chances?

 We gathered up a little ways back from the river where the majority of the animals were congregating. Other safari vehicles parked alongside of us, no one wanting to get too close and scare the animals into not crossing. We decided to settle in and wait and eat our packed lunches.

  Shortly after passing out the lunches a dust cloud kicked up by the river and all the vehicles took off, roaring across the ground towards the cliff overlooking the river. The first of the migrating wildebeest and zebra emerged from the river below onto our side. We were the fifth or sixth car so we ended up with a wondering view looking down into the river. Hundreds....thousands of wildebeest and zebra charged down the far bank, racing towards the river.

It is happening!
  A huge croc, the biggest I've ever seen, snapped onto a full grown wildebeest and dragged it off downriver. Other wildebeest raced past their downed comrade, bolting across the river to the "safety" and promise of green grass beyond. Little did they know what lie in wait on the far bank. Or maybe they did know and the instinct to come was just too strong. For one wildebeest the instinct failed him.

Just as quickly as the migration river crossing started it stopped. Although it seemed like it stopped a little too suddenly. Some animals turned around and ran back up the other side, a few came up by us, and a dozen or so were just stopped in the river looking confused. That is when an adult lion sauntered out of the shrubs in front of us. None of us had seen it coming. Apparently the wildebeest had. This is why they stopped crossing.

 The lion stared hard down into the river where the last dozen sat looking like sitting ducks. Then in a blur of a movement the lioness disappeared over the embankment. We heard an audible gasp from the people in vehicles on the opposite bank. We knew why a moment later. The lion came striding up over our side of the bank dragging a wildebeest in its mouth. It must have leaped right ontop of it, grabbing it by the throat.

 We watched the wildebeest idly struggle for a couple of minutes and then resign to its fate. This river crossing had ended in spectacular African fashion. When imagining how this final day would go I could not have hoped for a better result. The circle of life and the great migration played out in real life right outside of our vehicle door. It is something the six of us will never forget. This is Africa.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Entering the Masai Mara, Kenya

 Before we entered the gate of the famous Masai Mara reserve in Kenya we had already seen bathing zebra and a pack of banded mongoose doing their best meerkat impersonations. The group new that a big day lay before them as we had planned to stay the entire day in the reserve. We brought our lunch and our adventurous attitudes and before we knew it we were right in the thick of things.

   The term 'mara' to the maasai people means spotted. And as we looked over the vast savannas of the Masai Mara we could understand what prompted the name of this place. Lone acacia trees spotted the plains like dark dots. Herds of elephants and smaller creatures ambled off in the distance. But before long something much closer caught our eye.

  Numerous vultures perched in the low acacia trees brought us to the sight of our first kill. A female lion was guarding and mawing at a slain buffalo. She seemed pretty full but not yet willing to give the meal up for good. After about ten minutes she finally trotted off into the nearby trees. It only took seconds for all of the vultures to descend upon the free meal. They fought and squawked at each other. A few maribu storks also joined in the fray.

 Not to far away we came across two more lions. These two were ambling from shade to shade...which included the shade made by these safari vehicles. We all got a very close look at these two lions.

 I was hoping to catch the tail end of the great migration, although October can be a bit late for that here in the Mara. I was pretty excited to see a long, long line of wildebeests heading South. We didn't find any big groups near the river, which is where the migration can get really exciting, but we did have some elephants and hippos playing in the water.

 As we explored we came across more lions, some hyena, a cute pair of black back jackals, and tons of hoofstock. We found the bulk of the wildebeest, zebra, and topi hanging out in the very green grass past the Serena lodge. This is where we found one of the best picnic spots you could ever ask for. We ate our lunch under one of the lone acacia trees with the migrating wildebeest and zebra as far as we could see.

  Back in the car we saw a couple of beautiful male lions. The big manes instantly gave them away. I was most impressed by the fact that James spotted these two lions while driving and talking on a cell phone.

  We had an amazing first day in the Mara and were excited to come back tomorrow. Stay tuned for the culmination of our trip in the next post.

Friday, November 2, 2018

We made it to the Mara Concord Game Lodge!

Bernard treating us right
Our rooms at Mara Concord
  Our last big stop on our whirlwind tour was the famous Masai Mara National Reserve. This park is the crown jewel of Kenya, and is their continuation of the Serengeti across the border in Tanzania. It is home to the Great Migration, the Big 5, and the warrior nomads known as the Massai.

At the Tanzania/Kenya border
  We are staying at the Mara Concord Game Lodge. It was a long trip here from our morning game drive in Lake Nakuru, and down one of the bumpier roads we had been on in Kenya....which is saying something. Luckily we had the audio book version of  Harry Potter Book 1 playing to help pass the time. Early on Erica said she wan't Harry to become a quidditch hero by the time we got there and he very nearly did.

Everyone was very eager to get out of the vehicle once we finally arrived. We were greeted by the staff and the moist towel and fresh fruit juice. When we were shown to our rooms we realized that we had the entire lodge to ourselves for the night. We breathed a sigh of relief while unpacking, knowing that we were here for three whole nights. The staff was over-the-top attentive as we were the only ones here. They built a big traditional fire for us right next to the Mara river flowing by outside of our rooms. We could hear hippos bellowing from the water just downstream as we sat around the fire enjoying our cold drinks. Bernard kept the bottles of wine coming during dinner as everyone said yet again, "how can it get any better tomorrow?"

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Morning Drive in Lake Nakuru National Park

 It felt great to wake up without an alarm clock and in such a beautiful place. I meandered to the bar, pictured above, to get some computer work done while sipping the first latte offered on the trip. The view down over the lake was amazing and with everyone else in the lodge heading out for early morning game drives I felt like I had the whole place to myself.

Slowly the group started finding their way up to where I was for morning coffee and a grand breakfast buffet. After breakfast we put the finishing touches on packing and eagerly got underway for a game drive around the lake. We weren't disappointed. We had a very close encounter with a beautiful maned male lion right next to the vehicle. Crowned cranes fed near the waterhole, and we were able to find some more white rhinos for David, who missed the fighting ones on the previous game drive.

   We also got a rare chance to get out of our vehicle down by the lake's edge. Lake Nakuru really gained a lot of fame when it was featured in a fly over in the movie 'Out of Africa.' Robert Redfords character flies low over what appears to be a pink lake. Really it was a grouping of over a million flamingos that gave the lake this pink color. When the lake mysteriously flooded a few years ago most of the flamingos flew off to other lakes to find their food. However, as we stood on the edge of the lake we could see quite of few flamingos have found their way back.

   We did have an armed ranger escort us on our walk to the lake. He was more than happy to interp along the way and was excited to be a part of the jumping photo below. Another example of the really nice people you meet here in Africa.