“The views were immensely wide. Everything that you saw made greatness of freedom, and unequaled nobility

Karen Blixen

I visited the Masai Mara in Kenya in 2012. I remember my first impression of the vast and wide plains: except for a tree, a giraffe or elephant here and there, your see nothing but the green colors of the grassy plains. It feels like you are transported back in time. There is nothing but you, the plains and the beautiful animals that call this part of the world home. That trip, we missed the famous annual great migration in the Masai Mara by a couple of weeks. Therefore, this time one of my main objectives is to see the Masai Mara and the annual migration.

Life is simple here

We land in Tarime, Tanzania, on the same grass airstrip were we landed in 2012. We see the hut that we then jokingly called “Terminal 1”. 4 years later, it has been modernized and now has a door and windows.

From Tarime we drive to the border between Tanzania and Kenya. We clear customs in Tanzania and this time we don’t have to walk across the border between Kenya and Tanzania. This time our driver can take us across. After another short flight we land in the heart of the Masai Mara and 45 minutes later we arrive at Elewana Camp.

The circle of life: the great migration

Every year one and a half million wildebeest and several hundreds of thousands zebra and antelope migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania, to the Masai Mara in Kenya, before heading back south again to Tanzania. This migration takes a full year and a lot of them never make it because their journey involves crossing rivers. Rivers where predatory crocodiles and hippos are waiting for their prey. Daniel, our guide tells us that the migration is currently at the Mara River, so that is today’s destination. On our way to the river, we already see thousands and thousands of wildebeest moving over the plains. They are all on their way towards the river. Hundreds of zebras and gazelle joining them.

Hundreds of thousands of animals

It is an amazing thing to watch: big groups of wildebeest are sitting on both sides of the road. Some are in the middle of the road, scattering away at the last minute as our jeep approaches. It is surreal: everywhere we look, we see herds and herds moving in the same direction. Some in single file, some as a group, some moving slowly, some running at high speed. We arrive at the river at a place that, according to Daniel, is a common crossing. Apparently there has already been a crossing that morning. With more and more animals arriving, Daniel is expecting another one.

Crossing the river is tricky

Slowly we drive along the river and see several crocodiles joined by some hippos. We see a couple of dead wildebeest in the river. The crocs already had their breakfast this morning and are saving the rest of their prey for later. We sit and watch as a group of wildebeest line up close to the river. The ones in the front seem to be negotiating whether to go in. Some of the bigger males run back and forth along the troops. It’s like watching an army getting ready for battle. Finally some in the front decide it is time to cross and once the first two enter the river, the rest of the herd follows.

It’s an amazing: some thousand animals jumping into the water, scrambling to get across the river and up on the riverbank on the other side. We watch in fascination as this group is lucky and they all make it as there is no crocodile in sight.

Croc versus Wildebeest

The next day we leave even earlier in the hope to catch another crossing. When we reach the Mara river, we see that a crossing has started. We watch from our jeep as a crocodile is slowly making its way towards were the wildebeest have started to cross. The croc gets closer and the wildebeest stop getting into the water, sensing the danger. The ones already in the water return towards the safety of the river bank.

The crocodile waits, hiding half under water. The wildebeest start crossing again and the croc snaps at one but let’s go without much of an effort. Apparently he is not very motivated to get into a fight. Instead he slowly and leisurely floats down the river in front of us. Then a young wildebeest decides to cross the river. We are relieved when the wildebeest reaches the other side. However, instead of getting onto the riverbank and safety he (or she) decides to return to our side. Slowly but surely, it moves straight towards were the crocodile is floating. We are positive the wildebeest will back up and get itself to safety. We are wrong and the wildebeest runs/swims straight towards the crocodile. Mr. Croc decides that this is too easy to ignore, grabs him and takes him under until he drowns. He secured his lunch for later. After that it’s clear to us that wildebeest are not the smartest animals and therefor are at the bottom of the food chain.

Elewana Camp – Glamping in the bush

Elewana camp is a little gem on the banks of the Sand River inside the Masai Mara National Reserve. The river is the border between Kenya and Tanzania and if we cross the river we could just walk into the Serengeti on the other side. The camp has only 16 tents, each with wood floors, antique furniture, a big claw foot bathtub and an outdoor shower. We had amazing meals, both inside as well as outside overlooking the river and a campfire every night.

Masai Mara: so much more than the Annual Migration

The Masai Mara National Reserve is best known for its large concentrations of big cats, such as leopard, cheetah and, of course, lions. It also has  a large population of elephants. Even if you miss the dramatic arrival of the Annual Migration, the Masai Mara has so much more to offer. On this trip we saw a pride of lions hanging out at a riverbed, we saw several cheetah families, one of them gorging on a gazelle they had just killed.

Giraffe, Zebras, Elephants and so much moreWe see a journey of giraffe, dazzles of zebras, and a lone rhino. We pass herds of elephants and one evening we encounter a very rare animal: a pangolin. I have not seen our guide as excited this trip, as when he spots this weird animal at the end of one of our game drives. He explains that pangolins are extremely rare and he has only seen two in his life. I get it, although I prefer the majesty of elephants, the beauty of cheetahs, the quirkiness of zebras and the gentleness of giraffes.

Africa in my blood

In conclusion: I had no second thoughts when it was time to leave the other camps, but here, I don’t want to leave. I wish I could stay because like the first time I visited the Mara, I somehow feel I belong here. 

I know I have Africa in my blood.

Photo credit for all photos: Mariel van Tatenhove

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