Day 8 (September 17, 2013)   Maasai Mara National Reserve


    This day is completely for watching wild life in Maasai Mara reserve. Our target is locating the great migration of wildebeest and taking our chances of watching a crossing through river Mara by some of them. But if we already managed these goals the previous day we could just be in a safari for the East area, the closest to our camp.

Maasai Mara map

   The spots marked at map are:

 0- Rhino Tourist Camp
 1- Lookout Hill   

 2- Bridge over river Mara and Mara Triangle's Visitors Center
 3- Paradise plain
 4 y 5- Popular crossing points


Oloolaimutia gate to Maasai Mara   One day we do things right finally! We take our breakfast before 6 AM and as the dining room is crowded it means it is the right time. We leave the camp before the vans and are in front of the Oloolaimutia gate in no time. We’re not the first today, but close enough.

   As we were told in the bank, we pay 80$ per person and 300 ksh by the car in cash and come in Maasai Mara following the road taking to Keekorok Lodge because the rangers at gate have just told us we can get fuel there.

   In the way we can see our first antelopes, they’re Topis. Later are wildebeest and zebras very close to the road. A beautiful waterbuck keeps staring at us while we pass one meter far from it. We even see elephants and buffalos from far, in the middle of the vast yellow plains. I think about taking some pictures of the Oloolaimutia Hills behind us in order we can use them to identify our starting point when returning this evening.

Road to Keekorok Lodge
Topis in Maasai MaraWaterbuck in Maasai Mara

   We see our first road signs reaching Keekorok Lodge. There, the guard at door explains us they don’t serve fuel, that’s in Sarova Camp, at North. As going to there would be several kilometers in the opposite direction of our route, we postpone it to the return trip, expecting a half of the tank is going to be enough for today. The important is tomorrow, where we know we cannot get more fuel until Narok, the very long ride we suffered the day before yesterday.

Guineafowls in Maasai MaraMaasai Mara landscape

   We take a road to the West and we realize soon it is not the main road as we’re following just two wheel tracks in the yellow grass, passing through a vast plain and completely alone.

Zebras in Maasai Mara landscape

   We think it will end somewhere and go on by it. We soon see how all the black points covering the landscape are becoming wildebeest. This must be the great migration. There are wildebeest over all the places we can see! We get our cameras ready as we’re going to pass through the herds.

Wildebeest migration in Maasai MaraOur car in Maasai Mara

   Having driven between gnus, the time to the end of this track in the “good” road pass so quick. We intuitively take that road to the left, expecting to be south.

   And it is. This is confirmed by two armed rangers who stop our car for coming in. We don’t feel like we can deny it: they need to go 2 Km further to the Hippo pool where there is a meeting point for rangers and we were going to go there anyway.

   We remove pour things from the back to make some space for them. I take advantage of this for asking all I need to know: I can get fuel in Serena Lodge and they confirm the area for big cats is the one I though, around Explorer’s camp, following this same road, but to north. They also confirm the hill I’m pointing is the Lookout Hill and we can get out from the car there.

Rangers in our carMrak ofTanzania border

   We go quite concerned about them in our car or, better said, their weapons, but they’re kind and friendly all the time. We even take us to the big stones marking the border to Tanzania and make us drive through the Tanzania side for a minute. We leave them in the Hippo pool, where we can see two of them open mouth against open mouth in a sort of fighting.

   Our next stop is after a short ride through the only bridge for the Mara River in all the Reserve. There, we find the pass to Mara Triangle, a different area which have an agreement with the Reserve and our tickets can be used for getting into it. I confirmed this point in their website before coming. Here there are a lunching area and the only public toilets in the Reserve, which we use without second thoughts.

Hippos under bridge over river Mara
Mara Triangle passSteeped eagle in Maasai Mara

   After the procedures in the ticket box the bar is opened for us and we can go into the Mara Triangle. We’ve got three reasons for coming here – which corresponds to the left side of the map -: Following the road along the Mara river up looking for the chance of seeing a crossing, stopping at Serena Lodge to get fuel and coming back through the plains, where it seems there are the better odds of seeing cheetahs.

   When we’re in the river road, and before having any sight of the Mara River, we meet the great migration. Again? No, it seems this is the real one. There are so many animals that make what we sawn before like the teaser of the movie we have now. Wildebeest everywhere, including the horizon, which, in this huge plains, is bigger than the one in the previous area .

Great migration in Maasai Mara

   Zebras and wildebeest are leaving the road as we drive through and it is now when we get our first sights of the river. Only some minutes later, we find a crossing point which looks active based on the amount of vans grouped on it.

   When we find the way to the edge we take it, but all the vans in this side of the river are stopped before it, where the river water cannot be seen yet. I ask to a driver in low voice if we cannot go further and I’m answered that not yet. They want to avoid the wildebeest across the river.

Migration at River Mara shores   Some minutes later the engines are on and they drive to the edge. We do the same, looking for a good view of the river. There are a good amount of vehicles, but there are even more in the other side. Well, it seems we’ve got another goal for today: we’re in a crossing point waiting for the wildebeest to come. But they don’t look as brave as per doing it: some of them are continuously coming down to the shore and always deciding to come back up with the rest of them. There are a group of zebras in our side which we thought at the beginning they would want to cross in the other direction, but now we think they’re just calling their partners in the other side. We can hear their funny yells.

   After one hour waiting, the zebras show us how to cross the river. Two of them go and swim their way to our side. I thought this could be enough for encouraging the wildebeest, but it is not, and all animals in the shore go backwards, as can be check in the video we’ve taken of this mini crossing.
Migration at River Mara shores

   We’ll be there still some more time waiting, and even we see a zebra crossing in the opposite direction, but the wildebeest seem far from being encouraged to do it. We assume one can be here the whole day and still not seeing a proper crossing. Maybe the big rain from last night made the river is coming with more water and that could be enough for wildebeest waiting a better day to do it. Who knows!

Wildebeest in a crossing attemptZebra crossing river Mara

   We follow the river road, which now goes far from it, until Serena Lodge, which we can see in the top of a hill. In our way we can see buffalos, some baboons, hyenas – including one taking a bath in the road side – and several kinds of antelopes. When we’re driving up to the lodge, we can see the sign pointing to the gas station, out of the area for guests.

Serena LodgeBaboons in Maasai MaraHyena in Maasai Mara

   I already expected a more expensive fuel here. Actually I was afraid the lack of options could make the fuel a lot more expensive than it really is, so 125 ksh per liter as we’re paying looks fair to me. I put 3000 ksh in fuel without waiting to fill as I think this may be the last time we need to get fuel.

Gas station at Serena LodgeTopi upon a termite mound

   Now we must come back to the bar marking the pass between the Triangle and the Reserve. The lunching area there is the one we’re thinking to use for eating the pack we’re bringing from the camp, but we’re going to do the return trip through an interior road and burn our chances of seeing cheetahs.

Typical landscape of Mara TriangleElephants in Mara TriangleYellow billed stroks in Mara Triangle

   We see a lot of things: ostriches, elephants, we pass by an area with water and several animals drinking from it and birds, we see one of those blue and red lizards they call Spiderman, we can see our first vulture, and even split on two a herd of impalas, one group at each side of the road and every group is calling each other as we’re stopped there for the pictures. But we don’t see cheetahs. At least, as the junctions in this area are well signed, we can follow our way without any losing.

Spiderman lizzard
Vulture in Mara TriangleImpalas in Mara Triangle

   Just leaving the Triangle we can see several vans parked in the lunching area and we take one place. We see monkeys here and there and we leave the car to take some pictures of them. But then, one of the monkeys goes quick to the opened door and gets into the car. “It’s got into the car!”, I say to my wife smiling, but when I look inside I can see it searching between the things we have, with my sunglasses in its hand. When it touches the tablet I realize it can get us inThe thief monkey running away with our candy bag troubles and I jump inside to stop it and avoid it from taking of breaking something, but I just manage to touch it while it jumps out of the car by the window with the bag of candies we have for the children. What a bastard! But we can only following it with the eyes as the red of the bag is difficult to hide.

   Some candies have fallen and we can see how fast these monkeys can open it to eat what is inside.

   A guide of one of the groups lunching here, who has watched the whole thing, tells me I shouldn’t try to catch it as they can scratch or bite.

   Our packed lunch is quite good, but we can only eat it with one eye, as the other must be checking the monkeys, mongooses and birds chasing us. I’m keeping the distance by using the club given by the maasai yesterday, but we can feel the pressure while lunching.

Pressure in our lunch time

   When leaving the place I have a clear new target: reaching The Lookout Hill. Somehow, the views are not so spectacular as the ones in Amboseli. Our plan now is going North from here to the Explorer’s Camp area looking for the big cats. I ask to one driver has just stopped some tourists here looking for a confirmation about this plan and point me to the North, as I’ve lost it while climbing the hill. He tells me also there are a couple of lions below and we take the car and make our way down the hill.

Maasai Mara views from the Lookout Hill

   We find a stream in our way North. The water is not a problem as it is not more than 10 cm deep, but it is the slope. It is not just steep, but make of big rocks. It would be difficult even by walking, and I had just turn around and look for another place if haven’t seen the car in front of us making it, doing every rock very slow, letting one wheel leave one rock and then the other. This way I encourage and go after him. When I’m done with the difficult descent I can get the steeped, but flat, slope up easily by using the lower gear. When I finish and I can see what I did I’m euphoric and celebrating it. I’m even receiving the congratulations from the drivers in the other side.

Lions couple in Maasai MaraMale lion nappingLioness in Maasai Mara

   Some minutes later following this road we can see a lot of vans all around a single tree. It must be something important there. It’s the couple of lions we’ve been told by that driver: the male is sleeping deeply while the female is on guard, but indifferent to the amount of vehicles around them. We have the freedom of taking a picture of Eva and the lions on her window and then turning the car for getting the same for me.
Line of vans
    When we leave that place, we do it following the road to North as planned, but also following a couple of vans with the hope they can take us to some interesting place, as they’re in communications to each other. In our way we can see several vultures in the top of a tree and, later, some others flying in circles over something we cannot see from the road. Then it seems there is something serious going on as a lot of vans are taking the same way and fast. “This must be they got an advice”, I think loudly, and follow them as I can, as they’re faster.

   After some time in this “race” we find the road is splitting in two and the line of vans is splitting to both ways too. Although the most of them are taking the left, I go to the right just because our return trip is in that way. After 30 minutes following the vans we’re quite far in the last position but I think they must be coming back to the camps. That would be an explanation for the splitting: left-straight for the ones going to Talek gate, and right for the ones going to Meshanani. As we still have plenty of time, I’m driving slow, looking what is out there, as an ostrich walking just by the road, or a giraffe feeding from a tree.

Ostrich in Maasai MaraGiraffe feeding in Maasai Mara

   We don’t know where we are, but we do know we’re driving to the right direction, to the East, as the sun is in its way down behind us. After a long while driving, where we meet a big family of warthogs, eating in a side of the road, we see an airplane landing and we can check then we’ve reached the airstrip of Keekorok Lodge. Today we’re not going to get lost.

Warthog family

   We go slowly to our gate, making time, because we want to be in the park as late as possible in order of getting good pictures of one of these typical African sunsets, all in orange. This is the best place for it. Somehow, when we’re close to the 6 PM the sun is still too high for it. We reach our gate, but when we’re told there closing time is at 6:30 PM, we still come back for a while into the park looking for those pictures. I think we managed it.

Driving Maasai Mara at duskSunset in Maasai Mara

   We arrive to our Camp almost at dark, where Jackson asks us about our journey and I don’t manage to explain so many things as quick as I wanted.

   We take our dinner still amazed by all we’ve done and seen. This is a demonstration one day can be enough for Maasai Mara. We’ve driven for all the entire Reserve, right to left and up to down and back, as can be seen in the following map, where I’ve drawn our itinerary.

Our itinerary in Maasai Mara

   This has been also our last safari for a very long time.