Eight friends on an epic journey from the US to East Africa to celebrate half a century on this globe (some slightly more seasoned); our first stop was Rwanda to spend time with the gentle giants, the Mountain Gorillas and then on to the Mara Triangle.
Our journey so far has been amazing, how could it get any better? It did.
Our group of eight quickly became a group of 12; the four other people staying at Wild Eye were quickly enveloped into our fold (whether they wanted it or not!) as did Gerry, Jono and pretty much all the staff we interacted with.
Let me start off by saying, the staff in the Mara Camp is fantastic, from our rangers to everyone who worked the camp, what a group of people you have assembled. Fantastic meals, impeccable service and hospitality not found at the poshest hotels in the world. The setting is crazy cool, along the Mara River with the hippos honking like geese on steroids and the nightly sounds of lions roaring in the distance, hyena’s making their rounds and night noises, baboons bouncing off the tent tops one night and some in the group swearing a leopard was right outside their tent. With all this wildlife interaction, you never worried as you knew the Masai were watching after the camp both night and day.
Early morning sunrises with the biggest sun I think I have ever seen, heading out to see what the day has in store for us, “Twende, twende”. Hoping that every day will bring something exciting; it did not disappoint. We make the rounds, hoping that any second a crossing would happen while watching a wildlife show on the plains of the Mara that was never ending in both volume and diversity.
A hyena chasing down a young wildebeest, secretly hoping it would get away and knowing it wouldn’t. Watching the wildebeest die was hard to witness, but seeing an ecosystem survive (hyena, birds, a lucky leopard that was able to steal the kill) and sustain their life for another day brings the brutality of the kill down to the simplest terms; the survival of many.
Lionesses hunting and missing three times! Elephants crossing the river and helping the babies get up that first big step onto the bank. A brutal buffalo smack down right next to our vehicles; dust flying, the sound of their horns crashing, seeing gashes and bloody cuts appear, realizing the true intensity of the fight wondering if this was a fight to the death when finally a wise old bull had had enough and came in to diffuse the situation and they all walked away.
Topi’s on every mound, cheetah brothers just this side of the Tanzania border relaxing in the shade on a hot afternoon and two days later taking down a young wildebeest who had broken its leg on a crossing.
The crossing! What we have all come here for; the animals started early this year, would we even see one? Luckily for us, they were heading back our direction and we were blessed. The crossing is like nothing I imagined; and perhaps harder to describe.
Great herds of zebras and wildebeests start to gather, build and then, loll around. Zebras who have already crossed are on the other side incessantly braying to encourage the stragglers to cross. When a few finally decide to head down to the river, vehicles come out of nowhere racing to the edge of the river banks hoping to catch a crossing, the hippos move en mass up the river for the show and the crocodiles make their way up the river hoping for a meal. The zebras tentatively test the water, freak out and run back up the riverbank. This happens so many times you begin to think a crossing will never happen.
The waiting is exciting, boring, hot and tests your patience, but you are afraid to leave because you don’t want to miss anything. And when it finally does happen, you are so glad you waited it out. It is a crazy rush of adrenaline, where do you shoot? The water, the river bank, tight, wide, holy crap, did that croc just hit that zebra and miss!?
It is a frantic thrill ride watching the zebra and wildebeest cross and when it is done you are so amped up it takes a few minutes to calm down and realize the mass of animals that just crossed are now casually eating grass 10 feet from your vehicle. Now you are hooked, you want another one. You watch the animals and are so sure they will go again; your rangers assure you that you have time to go see other things, and they are right. My husband and his vehicle buddies nicknamed their ranger EF Hutton, “when EF Hutton talks, you listen”.
When Ken talked, they listened; he had an innate sense of what was going on or about to go on and his instincts were spot on.
As spectacular as the crossing is, spending time watching black rhino’s lazily graze is in a garden of Eden is amazing too. Seeing an elusive leopard casually slip into your view for a brief time and then disappear too soon, I could spend all day watching leopards.
Lions resting in a water hole, giraffes with their funny gate, breaking a never ending skyline that makes a 25 foot tall animal look small and baby elephants walking under their mothers, always protected, always surrounded by the herd.
Our last night in camp the Masai people wanted to share a bit of their culture with us, traditional BBQ meat and a ceremonial dance and story telling. A blessing of good fortune for safe return home from our new family. The last day in camp, our last game drive, everyone a little melancholy this journey was coming to an end. Unforgettable experiences that we will talk about fondly, new friendships forged that I hope last a life time, old friendships strengthened by this shared experience.
We are your last group, are you sure we can’t stay an extra day or ten? All good things must come to an end, who said that? Back to real life but with a better outlook as the camaraderie and experiences we had in the Mara will stay with us for a lifetime.
Someone once quipped the only person I envy is the person who has never been to Africa because they have so much to look forward to…How true.
See more of Curt and Stacy’s work:
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