Tanzania Safari Day 1 – The Great Migration crossing the Mara River
Oct 7 – 2016 – Northern Serengeti Game Drive & The Great Migration crosing the Mara River
If you’ve ever seen a BBC/PBS documentary on the Great Migration, you’ve probably heard narration by Sir David Attenborough’s distinct upper class British voice.
Well, when you’re there seeing the migration in person, you can hear his voice in your head. Or at least I did, and it was pretty cool.
Now, to completely mess up your inner voice, let me just say “Morgan Freeman”.
Mid October is not know as “prime time” for the Great Migration, but it still has action at the Mara River. We were on the South side of the river, so the Widlebeast herds were coming from North of us in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Park.
I flew a 1 hour bush flight from Arusha, over Ngorongoro crater, and into Kogatende airstrip in the Northern part of the Serengeti. I met up with Adam from Proud African Safaris, and got to check out his Safari-Ready Truck. By Safari-Ready, I mean a fully rigged FJ77 series (long wheelbase, 4 door) Land Cruiser, with safari roof, brush guard, air intake snorkel, suspension & body upgrades, and seating for up to 7 tourists. Then add things that other tour companies often charge extra for… like multiple “bean bag” camera mounts, a few pair of binoculars, a powered cooler, AC outlets for charging electronics, a stocked “snack bar”, and a small library of maps and books on the flora and fauna of the region.
I got to drive an FJ77 “Troop Carrier” version 8 years ago on Frasier Island in Australia and fell in love with these. I wish you could get them in the US (Toyota actually still makes them for certain markets, but never offered them in the US).
Anyway… The airstrip was immediately adjacent to the Mara river, so after filling out some paperwork, we jumped right into the game drive… After only a few minutes, we located a good sized Wildebeast and Zebra herd of a few thousand animals – just across the river and looking for a crossing point.
In places is was crowded near the river, and then sometimes they went back and dispersed to graze on grass.
We followed them for a few hours, as they’s go down to an island, then all go back up to shore, split up, graze, regroup, try another spot, get spooked and run back up, get brave and run back down.
Basically – don’t bring young children unless you have lots of things to distract them as you wait.
Now, here’s what you may not know about watching the river crossing…
You stay in the trucks, a few hundred meters back from the riverbank – for possibly hours.
If the Wildebeast see a truck before the point of no return, they’ll get spooked and reverse back up the other side.
Once it looks like they’ve reached the point of no return, you drive like mad-men over rough terrain to the river bank and jostle for a good viewing position with however many other trucks are there.
If anyone does this too soon, or there’s not enough critical mass in the herd pushing from behind, then the Wildebeast get spooked and reverse.
Wildebeast also change their minds for no apparent reason whatsoever… so you may see the entire herd on a rocky island in the river, ready to cross. Then one turns around, and they all follow back up the opposite riverbank and start grazing again.
Our herd checked out about 3 different crossing points – each was visited multiple times.
Finally, they actually started crossing… in front of a huge croc:
… who basically just sat there. Someone in another truck said he snapped at a small Wildebeast, but I didn’t see it because some jerk guide pulled between me and the croc.
Here’s a 5 minute video I made of the crossing:
You can See in the video that some of the late arriving safari trucks actually pulled really close to the path the Wildebeast were taking on our side of the river, spooking the ones in the water and causing them to stop crossing and go back to the north shore… So half the herd made it, and the other half turned back.
The video is better, but here’s a few pics:
On the way to the camp, there was a sunset rainbow. Adam has a great eye for helping you set up photos, so he stopped the truck to frame the rainbow behind a stork in a tree:
Then we made it to the Chaka Luxury Tented Camp at sunset. They showed me my room,and gave me 30 minutes to refresh before dinner in the common tent (which also had a fully stocked bar).
There’s wicker and some carpeted floor mats, power, bottles of drinking water, running water, a shower, and a flush toilet in the spacious and very well appointed tent. Hot water is provided by the staff bringing steaming 5 gallon buckets to fill a soft sided container that is attached to a pulley system and vinyl tubing running into your shower head. They hoist the hot water up, and bam… you can take a hot (or at least really warm) shower for about 3 minutes.
There’s also a walkie-talkie in the room, and if you’re going to venture outside after dusk for any reason whatsoever, you have to call a staff member. There are no fences here, and lots of wild animals nearby.
Dinner was a great multi-course meal: Soup, Salad, Main Course, & Desert. It’s a preset menu with basically 3 options (chicken or beef or vegetable – sometimes fish). even so, they were very good options, prepared as you’d expect from a nice hotel. With the bar, they have lots of options for drinks and wine.
On the way back to my tent for the night, my escort was shining a flashlight all around. He stopped about 200 yards from the tent, and 300 yards from the dining area. About 50 yards away there was a pair of eyes.
He said “Cheetah”.
I though “Wow!” and then “Crap” as it walked toward us. I got a pic with my smartphone, but all you can see in the light reflecting in its’ eye as it turned and walked toward the dining tent.
No one else saw it. But we all heard Hyena’s hunting very close by that night.