What better way to get a perspective of the land, of its vastness and true extent than flying over it in a small aircraft. The Masai Mara’s plains stretched below us to as far as our eyes could see. The Mara River’s multiple bends were packed with hippos where sand banks were found, while a mass of black spots were seen on the open plains. The excitement in the airplane was addictive and electrifying as this was our first witness of the great mass of wildebeest, the Great Wildebeest Migration.
Landing at Mara Serena Airstrip, it was a delight for me and the guests as not only were we surrounded by incredible numbers of wildebeest and zebra, but welcomed by Andrew, Jono, Sammy, Jimmy, Tim and James’ smiling faces. With so many honestly friendly faces, it is hard not to feel relaxed, excited and happy in one instant! Into all the vehicles and we were off on the first game drive of our week in the soul-reviving Mara Triangle.
Mere minutes after we started our game drive, we were welcomed to the Mara by a cheetah chase! It was too far for photographic purposes, but an incredible experience to witness and get the guests thoroughly excited!
The Mara always produces!
We enjoyed great sightings of lions and leopard within the first couple of days.
The anticipation to see crossings is always at the top of the list, and it is definitely what us as guides want to show our guests at the beginning of the safari as not only for the drama of the crossings themselves, but because it enables us to focus on the other sightings and photographic opportunities in the area.
This of course was not the way this week happened.
We saw a number of build ups in the first couple of days but none spilled into a crossing for a number of reasons (at one point there were nearly 20 hippo where the wildebeest wanted to cross!).
But this is wildlife in the wild.
Nothing is guaranteed and that is one of the aspects that makes going on safari so damn exciting. You never know what is going to happen or what you could see as you round the bend in front of you…
Despite not having a crossing under the belt by day 3 there were loads of other photographic opportunities which kept our crew busy!
‘Interactions’ was probably the most dominant theme that came through during this week, whether it was with lions, vultures, zebra, you name it! Many hours were spent with this pride, amongst others, throughout the week. The interaction between the cubs and with the adults provided so many photographic opportunities, laughter, and captivated us all.
And of course, what could be more sweet, more photographically pleasing than having your subject interact with one another than just being static?
This little guy certainly put on a show for us!
One chilly morning with two guests, we were heading back to the above lion pride as we were looking forward to capturing more shots of the active cubs and their active, naughty nature.The wind had picked up and something must have been in the air, as this baby was going pretty crazy! Running around throwing it’s trunk here and there, picking up anything it could manage and throwing it around, slipping and sliding in the mud… let’s just say that the whole vehicle was filled with the sound of laughter and shutter speeds going off. It is a beautiful sound indeed.
Finally realising that it’s mother was quite far from him due to his morning activities, the baby elephant sprinted back to her as fast as it’s legs could take it, tail in the air where it then promptly started to copy her as she used her feet and trunk to loosen the grass to eat. It was adorable, to say the least, how after such activity, the baby then became absorbed in copying the actions of its mother.
It was hot and dry in the Mara.
The rains had not fallen yet and it was pretty guarenteed that around midday there would be gatherings of animals along the river banks in order to quench their thirst as the sky in the distance started showing signs of an approaching storm.
Knowing the size of the crocs that dwell under the surface of the Mara River, or tan their magnificent stature along the river bank, we headed to the waters edge, hoping that some of the eager zebra might decide to cross after their thirst was dealt with.
A herd of zebra and wildebeest were drinking along the river bank, but as it was quite shallow where they were and aided by the intensifying heat, they walked brazenly further into the river. Some zebra were even nearly drinking right in the middle of the river! A hop, skip and a jump and they would have been on the other side.
Enter two enormous crocodiles.
Enter the telephoto lenses.
Up the anticipation, find the right angle, camera settings, and start to breathe again.
The stage was set.
Now we were waiting for it to unfold.
Crocodiles certainly do know how to keep the suspense going! Lazily gliding towards the group, submerging here and there, we were all hooked to what would unfold, whether it be successful or not.
And then it happened.
The victim? A juvenile wildebeest that was tucked “safely” in between a pretty big group of adults.
Still on a buzz and high from what we just witnessed, a massive storm appeared on the horizon and we knew that it would bring the vast herds of wildebeest that we saw in the plains towards the river to cross as they continue their never-ending journey.
Although we had phenomenal sightings since touching down in the Mara, by day 4 the itch to see a crossing was now becoming something that we were all feeling in a big way!
Every time we would see the herds of wildebeest gathered and grazing or moving steadily in their lines towards the Mara River, I would look back at the guests in the vehicle and see the awe and reverence in their eyes, and know that it reflected exactly what I felt.
It never seemed to amaze how extensive the numbers of wildebeest there were, and how their numbers just never seemed to diminish. Even on the slopes of the hill far in the distance, we could see the thousands of black dots occupying the Mara’s land. It is truly something special to behold.
Day 5 and we were finally in for a treat!
The build up we were waiting for happened and the tension in the air from the wildebeest, zebra, and us was electric! We were able to witness a few different crossings during our safari, each one more exciting, more nail biting, more extravagant than the last.
To say that the crossings couldn’t have come at a better time would be a pretty accurate statement! It was spectacular.
This particular crossing left some causalities as the current was very strong, and the rocks on the other side of the river were incredibly muddy from the first wildebeest that made it across.
But pictures are worth a thousand words…
The Mara is a destination that just needs to be seen. It is life, it is death, it is colour, it is magnificence in its truest form and meaning. It is carer of the young, it is home to epic beasts and birds of various proportions and looks.
With each new sunrise, the Mara encompasses every aspect of life into it’s arms. It would be modest of me to say that when the safari came to an end, each guest fell into silence as leaving this place, the camp that was our home for a week, the staff that became our friends, the animals and birds that were our muses, is indeed a hard thing to do.
The Mara does not only leave us with a variety of photographs that encompass its whole being, from the largest elephant to a brightly coloured caterpillar, right through to the cultural evening hosted by the Maasai staff.
The experiences that we had and shared demand to be remembered.