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Mara River Crossing - Day 1

To cross or not to cross, that's the question

View The Greatest Show on Earth? Wildebeest Migration in Serengeti 2014 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I didn't sleep all that well last night – someone upset a zebra at one point and his barking went on for ages; and in the early hours of the morning two hyenas were fighting somewhere in or near the camp.

We were woken up at 05:45 this morning with coffee and biscuits at the tent. This is my kinda camping.


I felt like I was part of a Colonial movie later at breakfast when the waiter said: “Will you take egg and bacon this morning sir?”

There was a nice pinky-purply sunrise this morning as we left the camp.



Turning into bright orange as the sun climbed over the horizon.


Were these the zebra that kept me awake last night?


Our camp surely has to have the best position of any of the mobile camps in the area?


Today is to be a full day of watching wildebeest crossing the Mara River. Now, wildebeest are fickle creatures, and crossings are far from guaranteed, but we set out with high hopes, heading for the river and one of the recognised crossing points. We are not alone. A pride of Landcruisers are hiding in the shadows of trees, watching for action, waiting for excitement.



There are herds – or confusion as a group of wildebeest is also known – on the river bank. That is promising.


The wildebeest stop milling around and start grazing. We move along to the next crossing, where the wildebeest are on the bank ready. Something spooks them and they run back up!


They move further east along the river, towards the next crossing; so do we.


There are zebra at the front again however, which is bad news – they are much more cautious than the wildebeest, and tend to stop the others from crossing. They start grazing.



One of the major problems with stalking the wildebeest migration, is the flies. Where the migration go, so do those pesky little flying things too, and they love to sit on your mouth, glasses, hands....


They don't bite, they're just bloody irritating!


The herd our side of the river (southern side), head towards the river in great numbers, then change their mind. The northern herd have also changed their mind and are on the move again towards the original crossing. We drive that way too.

Seeing a river crossing is a waiting game. You require lots of patience, a huge amount of luck and a good guide. Dickson can read wildebeest body language, knows where the crossings are, is quick to spot any changes and has radio contact with the other drivers.

A Spur-Winged Lapwing joins us on the plains.


Suddenly the herd starts running east again. We can see one wildebeest scaling the bank down to the river's edge.


All the Landcruisers race off after them. We also have to cross a small ravine – one of the vehicles takes a short cut, but as he was an inch away from turning the car over, we decide to take the long way round, following the approved track.

When we get there, nothing is happening. Apparently the wildebeest went down the bank, sniffed around a bit and back up again.
They are now moving to the next crossing. So do we. They turn around again. So do we. The southern herd is now coming down to the crossing; but change their mind and turn around. And again. And again. The northern herd has also moved away from the edge. This has now been going on for about four hours.

Suddenly there's an excited cackle on the radio and it's all actions go! Dickson shouts: “Hold on!” and races off at breakneck speed towards Crossing # 4. This time it is NOT a false alarm and we see wildebeest after wildebeest heading across the Mara River.


The current is quite strong, and the wildebeest are being swept down river, making it a hard time for them to make sure they reach the safe landing spot this side.


Once the first couple of animals have crossed, it becomes an unstoppable wave of wildebeest and zebra, each one driven by the same ancient rhythm.



Some may hesitate at the front, but instinct overwhelms any fear.




Even the nervous zebra braved the river to get to greener pastures.


Dust kicked up by the mob swirled overhead as they fearlessly leaped from the flat parched plains above down the steep river bank and the promise of fresh food.




The river became a thronging mass of hooves and horns.


The pressure from behind pushed more and more animals down the bank.





Swimming against the current is hard work for adult animals, but for one of the small wildebeest babies, it proved too much. He was swept downstream and out of our sight.


We feared the worst as all the other wildebeest had appeared our side of the river, just not "our" baby.


Long after the river was empty and the migrating herds safely on the south bank, grazing happily, the little fellah showed up, exhausted by otherwise OK. Fifteen van-loads of safari tourists exhaled with relief: “awwwww”.

And then it was all over. Seven minutes. One thousand animals. WOW!!!!

Tranquillity was once again restored, and we went back to the waiting game.

Yellow Billed Stork

Meanwhile we spot a memory of elephants (I have been reading up about collective nouns of animals) in the water further up and head that direction.


Elephants have been known to cross the river, although they are not considered to be part of the Great Migration. These, however, were merely bathing and drinking.



The smallest of the baby elephants (probably about 2 months old) was having a whale of a time, full of beans and mischief!



Scratching his belly on a rock.



Even a lone hippo has ventured out of the water today to go for a stroll in the sunshine. You really don't want to get between a hippo and the water, and this guy was showing his displeasure at another vehicle which he considered to be in his way.


There are more elephants further downstream.



Spotting dust in the distance and seeing other cars rushing off can only mean one thing: CROSSING!

We follow their lead and speed off to Crossing number four, but by the time we got there, it was all over.

It is all over for this wildebeest too – it is believed that up to 250,000 animals don't make the 1,800 mile round trip each year. The plains here in northern Serengeti are littered with carcasses such as this one.


We spend the rest of the afternoon watching, waiting, moving from one crossing site to another, waiting, swatting flies, watching, moving, eating our packed lunch, waiting, following the herds, feeling hot, having a siesta in the car, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Nothing more happened.


As the afternoon went on, the skies darkened and a storm was brewing.





By the time we got back “home”, the camp fire was being lit, but our sundowners turned into watching lightning in the distance from our balcony. Rain stopped play and we went to bed.


We are really grateful to Calabash Adventures for arranging this safari.


Posted by Grete Howard 04:54 Archived in Tanzania

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Absolutely wonderfuL, even the waiting was so long.

by Shane

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