Our first of 2 full day game drives began at 7:30 am. We headed out of our camp and began to drive through the Serengeti. We quickly saw a group of elephants approaching in the distance, so we parked and waited for them. Slowly they walked directly toward us and we counted 11 in the family, including several young elephants and babies. They walked around our car; we were that close to them. It was mesmerizing to watch them. The babies stayed close to their mothers, and the adults would stop to eat along the way. They are huge, lumbering animals and being that close to them, you get a sense of their power. A testament to their sheer power are the trees throughout the area that are split in 2 from the elephants banging their foreheads into the tree trunks. The reason they do this is to get the leaves low to the ground for the babies.
We continued on and saw large groups of wildebeests everywhere (by large I mean several thousand in any given group), many congregating near the Mara River. We have the unbelievably good luck to be here in the midst of the wildebeest migration. This is their annual migration from the South Serengeti to the North Serengeti and into the Masai Mara in southern Kenya (this is a continuation of the Serengeti, but in Kenya it is called the Masai Mara). The migration occurs for around 2 months, from mid-June to mid-August. To be here during this migration is something powerful to behold. That 1.5 – 2 million of these animals migrate every year at this time speaks to the forces of nature that exist to ensure their survival.
A huge part of the great wildebeest migration is when the wildebeests actually cross over the Mara River, which they must do to keep going. Every safari worth its salt is trying to catch the wildebeests crossing the river including us. Our guide Daniel was focused on having us witness this event. He said it is often a waiting game, as the wildebeests don’t really want to go. They are waiting for one brave wildebeest to go first, and then a massive stampede follows and they all go. With his last group, Daniel waited 5 days, and they finally saw a crossing on the 5th day. So we waited in several different spots for a few hours. At 12:30 we went to a new spot where no other jeeps were waiting and started to have our lunch in the car. About 5 minutes into our lunch, Daniel looks up, drops everything and guns the car toward the river. Samantha and I heard and saw nothing, but he was yelling that it’s happening! We grabbed our camera and cell phones and pulled up to the edge of the cliff. What we saw was incredible. A literal stampede of thousands of wildebeests across the river. They were running down the bank on one side, across the river and up the steep bank on the other side. Suddenly Daniel heard a loud cry from one of the animals, and they split up in the river with some running back where they came from and the rest running to the other side. In seconds, the river was empty and one unlucky wildebeest was underwater in the jaws of a croc. We zipped around to where the croc was and saw the horns and back of the wildebeest above water, the rest of the body being held underwater by the croc, who had the wildebeest by the throat and was drowning it. 2 other crocs circled the wildebeest and clearly intended to partake in the prize. It was fascinating to watch; one wildebeest sacrificed so that thousands could cross over and continue their migration.
The day wasn’t over yet, and we had managed to get a front row seat to an amazing event, one that not everyone has the good fortune to see.
As we drove on, our guide saw a spotted hyena in a rocky area. We drove over to see it, as this is not a common sighting. We actually found 2 spotted hyenas when we got there. We sat watching them, and suddenly the male mounted the female and they started mating directly in front of us. It was crazy to watch them! They stayed that way for a good minute or 2, and then separated. There was a pool of water near them and they both jumped in the pool and played together. In 14 years as a guide, Daniel had never seen spotted hyenas mating.
The rest of the day was amazing. The list of animals we saw include: giraffes, topi’s, a cheetah (another rare sighting), an old African buffalo, hippos, gazelles, striped mongoose and more crocs. We learned so much along the way; our guide is a virtual animal encyclopedia. He is smart and knowledgeable, making our safari incredible on every level.
After a long game drive, we headed back to camp to shower and have dinner. The custom here is to meet 30 minutes before dinner to chat and have snacks. Dinner that followed was fantastic and it continues to blow us away that can do what they do in tents, in the middle of nowhere.
We celebrated the 28th birthday of our new friend Philip, traveling with his mother Judith. He is a remarkable guy, living and teaching in Kirgizstan and China. It was fun talking to them and we really enjoyed their company.
Last day of our safari here is tomorrow. How can we beat today??