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Migration on the Mara


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To my surprise my alarm woke me at 04h15. I had expected to already be awake as I didn’t want to miss my flight which was to be the beginning of the biggest and most expensive holiday we have ever had. I had set my alarms at 15 minute intervals to insure that I would not oversleep. Jenny finally got up and we climbed into Michelle’s (Jenny’s Daughters) car at the exact time we had planned.

 

We were at the airport on time. We boarded the plane to Johannesburg and chatted like excited kids—that was until I asked Jenny if she had remembered to pack the yellow fever cards. Suddenly excitement turned to panic. We had no idea if we would still be allowed into Kenya without our yellow fever cards. Frantic I called Michelle asking her to go back to the house and look for the cards. She would then have to make copies and email the copies to us. Would they accept copies? We had to turn the phones off while and wait until we landed in Johannesburg before we would know if she had found the cards. There was no conversation on the flight to Joburg.

 

Once in Joburg we switched the phones back on to discover that Michelle could not find the yellow fever cards. I then called the tour operator in Kenya and asked if yellow fever cards were necessary. She was very calm saying that we didn’t need a yellow fever card to enter Kenya from SA. Relief, now we could talk again.

 

This was not a good start. We were seriously stressed out already.

 

On the flight to Nairobi, I sat next to a guy who worked for United Nations in Sudan. I didn’t know much about Sudan. I learnt that Sudan is the biggest country in Africa and shares a border with Kenya, as do Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania. He said that there was a similar migration of kob (like impala) in Sudan even bigger than that of the Maasai Mara. So this type of migration was not unique. He also went on to say that many years ago there were stories of mass herds of elephants in southern Sudan, but now there was nothing. Apparently everything has been wiped out.

 

After landing we slipped through customs easier than ever experienced in all my travels. They never asked for the yellow fever card. Our tour operator was waiting for us and our holiday had officially begun.

 

The drive from the airport to the travel agent and then to the hotel, was an experience in itself. It seems that Nairobi is growing too fast to accommodate the growing number of cars. In places they were widening the road, but that did not help with the congestion. It was very much like driving in Angola. The taxis here are called Matatu’s. I immediately noticed that Matatu is Zulu for the number three. This is the same in Swahili. The taxis used to cost three shillings thus the name. Matatu’s ruled the road and pushed and shoved themselves around hooting and so on. Than goodness I was not driving, but it was getting hot in the car and a short trip was taking a long time.

 

We collected our vouchers from the travel agent and went to the hotel. This afforded us enough time to relax before our evening appointment with a business associate at the Carnivore restaurant.

 

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Carnivore

 

The last time we were in Kenya (10 years ago) we went to the Carnivore Restaurant and I wanted Jenny to see it as I had seen it. They did not disappoint. Almost nothing had changed. We even sat in the same place I had sat 10 years ago. The waiters bring skewers of meat round to your table and cut strips off on to your plate. There is a huge fire place with skewers of meat on the coals. The only sad thing was there was no longer game on the menu, with the exception of Ostrich and crocodile. It seems that Kenya have difficulty controlling poaching and have thus stopped all hunting, in the hope that this will control the bush meat trade.

 

Although Kenya is not in such a good neighbourhood, they certainly benefit from business with their neighbours as they have supply routes to Sudan etc. Kenya supplies flowers and many agricultural produce to Europe and England. The flower export industry is very impressive.

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Holiday inn

 

 

We stayed at the Mayfair Holiday Inn in Nairobi. It’s a very colonial style hotel, and comfortable. The next morning we left the Holiday inn for Lake Naivasha. We had no idea what to expect. We drove through a pretty poor road for 2 hours. Huge fever trees and tree cactuses lined the road. We drove through a few settlements and were surprised to see zebra roaming around the settlements amongst the cattle, but no other game. The only reason I could think of is that Zebra s not so good to eat, and hence they thrive among the settlements.

 

Kiyangazi

 

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http://www.eatreasures.com/kiangazi.php

 

http://www.oserianwildlife.com/

 

Kiangazi lodge was an old colonial style place with huge green garden with rolling lawns. There is some ownership relationship with Ocerian flower company that produces roses for export. The garden was fenced to keep the hundreds of warthog and zebra out. However the animals would come close to get water from the watering hole just the other side of the fence.

 

We immediately opted to go for a walk to the lake. For this we needed a guide as there was a possibility that it could be dangerous. There were huge fever trees towering above us as we approached the waters edge. We must have seen 10 species of game during that walk, including giraffe, and hippo. We even saw a small group of flamingos. It was incredible to see all this game that was totally unfenced and free to roam anywhere they pleased.

 

Later that day we took a game drive. There were drops of rain and we nearly cancelled. We went into the adjoining private game farm which was owned by the same concern that managed our lodge. It wasn’t long into our drive and we had already seen teams of wild animals. We saw plenty little dik dik, a tiny little antelope that can move its nose. Later we would see more and more. Warthog were like a plague and they were everywhere. The Game farm was 10 000 hectares and supported 200 hyenas and 30 leopard. It was amazing animals everywhere. I could not believe that the vegetation could support so many animals. Our game guide was very good and extremely knowledgeable. We tested each others knowledge all the time.

Our guide admitted that they cheat to see leopards here and often hang a piece of meat (usually road kill) from a tree. When we got to the tree, we saw nothing and drove off, but Jenny instantly saw a leopard walking in the open. We were very close, about 25 meters. The light was bad, and we tried to take some pictures with the flash. Luckily I had packed the sigma flash and batteries for it. The leopard hopped up the tree with utmost ease and started eating the meat that had been tied there.

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Leopard

 

As we watched, we could see that the leopard had seen something and remarked maybe he has seen another leopard. He then climbed down the tree and hid in the grass. He was not in a good spot for more photos, so we left him. We hadn’t driven 200 meters, when we saw another leopard. Snapping away with the camera and the video camera we followed this leopard until they met. The two leopards then had a face off and growled at each other. The new comer was submissive and the dominant leopard slid up the tree. I think he had seen the other leopard, but did not want to confront it in the tree, so he descended to safer ground to show the other one off and continue with his meal. We look plenty photos, but the light was bad and none really came out well.

 

We were treated so well by the guides and they went to extreme lengths to make us comfortable. They had sent another vehicle ahead to get a fire ready for us and we were able to have a drink at the fire place and meet up with some other tourists. This afforded us a chance to have a night drive on the way back.

 

The room was great, and they had left rose petals everywhere and a rose on the bed. They showed us the other camp called Chui camp. We were super impressed and asked if we could spend the next night there. It was arranged immediately.

 

Day three, after a healthy breakfast we took a trip to lake Nakuru. The road was shocking. It had been destroyed by heavy trucks, and was now destroying the Toyota Hiace we were in. Hats off to Toyota. I would never take my 4X4 on that road. Even so I would at least drive it slower. As we bumped and bounced and rattled our way down this road other vehicles in a far worse condition than ours would tear past us.

 

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Lake Nakuru

 

Two hours later we arrived at the gates of lake Nakuru. Here we had to pay 40USD each as park fees. We didn’t really know what to expect, but once we saw the Nakuru park, we were knew we had made the right decision to take this bumpy road and the extra cost. It is a spectacular sight and should not be missed. We also did not realise how many other animals were at the park. We saw buffalo, eland, rhino and we even saw some lion munching on a dead buffalo. Our guide did remark that we were extremely lucky as he has never seen lion there.

 

Apart from the flamingos and pelicans, our highlight was to see a mother white rhino with her newborn baby.

 

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Baby Rhino

 

After the long day we bumped and grinded our way back to the new camp called Chui camp. I need to take time to describe this camp. They had adopted a totally African theme here and spared no expense on details. The main dining area, bar and lounge are all under one roof with a fireplace in the centre. The whole structure is under a papyrus thatch. The roof supports were made from twisted fever trees which had been carved and engraved with all sorts of art. The walls were rough bumpy concrete with lots of windows. Each window had a hand carved wooden frame. Each part of the building had such detail. The bar had carved chairs and the footrest was carved with animals, which apparently told a story. The rooms were equally as impressive with a fire place and fire going when we got there. Again there was a rose on the four poster bed with mosquito net around it.

 

The Ocerian flower company employs over a thousand people of which 130 worked for the wildlife sanctuary.

 

We found the local Kenyan guides and people amazingly helpful. They are truly polite and welcoming. They have a deep knowledge and understanding of wildlife conservation and why certain laws are in place. Kenyans have a great way of greeting you; its Jambo- for hello followed by “welcome”. It really makes you feel welcome and that the people here really appreciate the fact that you have chosen to visit their country. It shows that they understand the benefits of tourism and each person does his best to make you

feel welcome.

 

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Chui Lodge

http://www.eatreasures.com/chui.php

 

We only spent one night at Chui lodge as we were to fly out that afternoon. We took one more game drive in the morning to see the other game that they had at the Ocerian game corridor. This included Buffalo, Rhino, warthog, Giraffe, white bearded Gnu (wildebeest) east African Pattersons eland, warthog, plains zebra, Grevys zebra, ostrich, warthog, the tiny dik dik, more warthog, topi, Defusas waterbuck, Grants gazelle, Thompson’s gazelle, east African impala, Cokes hartebeest and we also saw another leopard and some hyena. In South Africa we have different wildebeest, Eland, and waterbuck. I have also never seen a grevys Zebra.

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Grevys Zebra

 

We then returned for lunch and were taken to the airport at 3.40pm. I am not happy in those little aeroplanes that bump and bounce around, I felt more at home bouncing around in the Toyota Hiace.

 

We landed in the Mara 45 minutes later to meet with Jonathan, and Nyango our driver and guide from Serian camp. Serian camp is one of the many concessions outside the actual reserve, but as there are no fences in the reserve there is little difference between the reserve and the concessions. The difference is you wont see Maasai cattle in the reserve and there is no entrance fee.

 

As soon as we had landed we drove 200meters to where a few cars had gathered to see three cheetahs walking between the cars. They looked thin and appeared to be on a mission. They took absolutely no notice of the vehicles. They stopped for a drink in a small pond filled with water lettuce and a few hippo. We were convinced they were going to hunt, but there appeared to be nothing in sight. Out of the blue a small herd of wildebeest running in single file attracted their attention. (a small herd of about 100 wildebeest). It was happening we were about to see a kill. No stalking, the cheetah just trotted diagonal to the wildebeest, then the front cheetah darted into the wildebeest and missed, the middle cheetah darted in and missed, the front one tried again and missed. With video camera running I almost missed the third cheetah who had got hold of a wildebeest and tackled it to the ground. We had just seen our first kill, within 40 minutes of landing on the Mara!!! Absolutely unbelievable! We knew then that we were in for a good holiday. We had already seen baby rhino, leopard, lion, buffalo, and now cheetah and a kill. We still had seven days left in Maasai Mara.

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Cheetah kill

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When we planed this trip we didn’t want to have a hectic travel schedule and try to visit all the places Kenya has to offer. We wanted to see the Mara and spend time there, the visit to lake Naivasha was just a warm up of things to come. Want we wanted to see during the migration was a crossing, and most of the time you need to wait for this.

 

http://www.serian.net/

 

The camp at Serian is owned by Alex Walker, who has been a professional hunter for years. His camp was also awesome. The rooms were tents on decks that looked over the Mara river. The bathroom and toilet were separate and open air. Each tent was far enough from each other so as not to even notice that there were other people in the camp. Our tents were a good few hundred meters from the dining room and mess. When we walked to and from our camps we were accompanied by a guide. He looked a little scared and one night we bumped into a buffalo, a few nights later there was a lion kill just behind the camp.

 

That night we watched South Africa beat Argentina in not so convincing world cup semi final. Well done Argentina they played their socks off.

 

The next morning we were up early for a drive. We saw so many wildebeest and other animals it was absolutely amazing. We also located two prides of lions, and took plenty of photos. We had breakfast on the open plains surrounded by wildebeest. After returning for lunch and updating the diary we went out again for an afternoon drive.

 

I must add at this point that we were alone in the vehicle just Jenny, myself the driver and the guide. This was Serian’s policy. They did not believe in mixing people on vehicles. It was by far the best thing as far as I was concerned. We saw the other 4X4’s loaded like a Deli train. We had plenty space for the cameras and could stop at any time to look at a bug if we had to.

 

On the afternoon drive we spotted three lionesses. We followed them to where their cubs were hidden and watched as the cubs suckle from them and played with each other. There were 7 cubs in all. After watching this for some time, the cubs went back behind the rocks and the adults lay down and rested. The cubs didn’t seem too fussy which mother they suckled.

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Lion Cubs

 

We moved on and I said we should try to locate the pride that we had seen earlier that day. When we found them, they were already hunting. We watched as some lionesses stalked while the others didn’t appear that interested at all. It wasn’t like on the discovery channel. One lioness would stalk for about ten meters, then roll over and lie on her back. Then another lion would sit on top of an anthill and swish its tail. But we kept our eyes on the lioness in the front, who was in serious stalk mode. They were stalking a herd of wildebeest that was more than a kilometre long. I couldn’t believe that the lions did not even take notice of us. One was stalking right next to the vehicle.

 

The front lioness must have been about 50 meters from the wildebeest when the guide said the wildebeest have seen them. And sure enough there was a small pocket of wildebeest that were staring at one place in front of them. The lioness in front then charged at the wildebeest and in the confusion brought one down. All the other lions then started trotting to the kill. As we drove towards the kill, we had a lion in front of us, behind us and next to us.

 

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Lion Kill

 

We were the first vehicle to the kill and within seconds a few other vehicles had arrived. There were about six vehicles now watching the lions tear this wildebeest apart in the fast failing light. It was a small wildebeest and as more and more lions arrived we knew it was not going to feed all 15. They growled and tugged and tore the wildebeest up and fought over the pieces. The smaller and younger lions could only watch while mothers shopping basket was being demolished by the males. It wasn’t long and it was all over. Nothing left, just a bone which two bigger lions were tugging on. The other lions then turned their attention back to the wildebeest and went shopping again. It was too dark for us to follow, so we took a night drive home.

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Continued

The next day we decided to try our luck at seeing a river crossing. It was not a good time for a crossing as all the wildebeest had entered the Mara, and they were not leaving yet. It was a long drive. We stopped on the way to watch as vultures were eating from a dead zebra. They had no manners and even though there was plenty to go around, more energy was spent on fighting other vultures off than eating the zebra. Alex said later that vultures are like the politicians in Kenya. I said that South African politicians are more like ticks. The most work they do is crawl up the host’s leg and suck the blood from its genitals refusing to let go, until they are fatter than fat.

 

The place where most of the crossings take place is full with crocodiles. The biggest in the world I am sure. Pity Steve Erwin never saw these giants. They had already gorged themselves on animals that had died in earlier crossings. There were a few carcasses in the water bloated but untouched. Huge herds of hippos were everywhere. There was no sign that there would be a crossing. It was hot and there were no wildebeest anywhere near the river. We decided to give up and drive around a bit, and then we saw it. Wildebeest, like ants running towards the water, flanked by 4X4s. We were going to see a crossing. This is what I had come to the Mara to see. We drove to the crossing point, which was looking more like a car park in anticipation of the big event. We hoped that we had chosen the right spot. It just seemed like the most obvious place, there was an easy entry and exit. We found a good parking and waited. Then we waited, and waited. I remembered the driver needed to check the tyre the first day, and I needed to check the tyre and it was urgent. We were not allowed out the vehicle at this stage in case we distracted the wildebeest so we drove off some way for eats and drinks and of course we could “check the tyres”.

 

Now feeling much better we moved back to the “crossing point” The wildebeest had moved about 50meters closer to the water and had started moving around in circles again. We saw three wildebeest on the opposite side of the river and they looked as if they wanted to join our herd. The guide said they were calling them across. Then suddenly wildebeest dived into the water, but not where we were expecting them. They were about 80 meters away and chose a rocky position to launch themselves into the river. Suddenly they had some urgency and other wildebeest started running from miles away to join in. They just poured into the water and shot out the opposite bank. Within minutes the one bank was empty and the other was full. A crocodile tried his luck, but really wasn’t serious, more curious. As far as I could see each wildebeest had made it with a few hundred zebra. We guessed that there were around 3000 wildebeest in that crossing. It was over in 15minutes. Some wildebeest even decided to go back, while others were not sure if they wanted to cross, and turned back. A few weeks before we left there I read something on the internet saying that at one crossing 100 000 wildebeest had died. That was 1% of the wildebeest on the migration.

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Crossing

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That was the third day at the Mara and we still had four days left. We were very fortunate. Some guests left the day before and saw very little. The other days we called back on the lions with the cubs and tried fishing in the Mara river. We also did a little walk and a cycle ride (followed by the 4X4).

 

Serian also said that they would organise a fly camp for us, as it was all included in the price, as was everything at the camp. All drinks, everything. The fly camp was something special. It’s hard to explain the lengths that they went to, to make us happy and to make this holiday special.

 

Serian camp

 

We went on a game drive in the morning and watched some lions mating. Then we bumped into Jonathan Scott (big cat diary) who asked us if we seen a cheetah with cubs. We found these cheetahs later and watched then demolish a baby Thompson’s. We knew that she would hunt again, but there is a rule that you are not allowed to spend too long at one place in the Mara. Later we saw Jonathan Scott again and he told us how the cheetah had tried to catch a warthog after we left. We saw some Giraffe necking and big herds of buffalo and a herd of elephant. We also saw another crossing.

 

We then drove to a spot on the Mara river amongst the trees. There was a tent with a shower and two beds inside for just Jenny and I. Another vehicle had gone ahead of us and set this tent up. There was a table and some deck chairs at the rivers edge. Below us we looked at the ground near the water and could see that lions had been there. The second vehicle had also brought with it a chef and a waiter. Can you believe how indulged we felt? The waiter made us coffee and heated up the water in the bush shower. Later he would come back and take our drinks order, and then diner. In some way I found this a little over the top, and felt guilty to be waited on like a king.

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FLY CAMP

 

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As we watched the sun set over the river and soaked up the sights sounds and smells of Africa we remarked how difficult this is to capture on film and there were no words that could explain what it was like.

 

The Mara was like living in the discovery channel. The animals in the Mara are so accustomed to cars that they don’t notice you. You can get so close, as there don’t appear to be too many rules to keep the cars on the roads.

 

The final night was fitting, as we all huddled together to watch the world cup final with South Africa and England. A couple of Kenyans came in from other camps and were supporting England. They were not so happy with the result.

 

The next day, we flew out and landed in Wilson airport and had to be ferried to Nairobi international on the Sunday. This is where the holiday nearly took a nasty turn. Fortunately we were very early for our flight back to Johannesburg. While checking in they asked for the yellow fever card!! We could not leave Kenya without the yellow fever cards!! Panic again!! It was Sunday. There was no chance that we could get a quick jab on the way out. Michelle had still not found our cards at the house.

 

Frantic, we called Michelle from the airport she simply had to find the cards. Luckily she found them in the nick of time and managed to fax them through to the airport in Nairobi just in time for us to board. Normally they wouldn’t accept a fax, but we managed to get through. So if anyone says that you don’t need to have a yellow fever card to get into Kenya, they are right, you only need one to get out!!!

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  • 3 weeks later...

I had just calmed down from the yellow fever card incident when up it came up again. How odd you can't get out without the cards. If I was nervous reading about it, I can only imagine your dread. How fortunate the cards were found, faxes were acceptable, and it all worked out.

 

But in between the yellow fever card incidents you had some outstanding safari time. A cheetah kill within 40 minutes of entering the Mara! Wow! Actually 2 misses and then a hit. That's just how I saw my only cheetah kill--a young wildebeest. But there was only 1 cheetah, not 3.

 

Then you were right on top of a lion kill too! That's great the pride had cubs.

 

The flamingos were out in in huge numbers for you in Nakuru. The baby rhino, how adorable! Nice grevy shot.

 

Great luck with the river crossing! You can spend days waiting with lots of false starts.

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Dikdik, it’s always a good decision to have a longer stay in the Mara!

 

If you can’t leave Kenya without a yellow fever card, it’d be a good idea to throw it into the campfire.

 

I love your baby rhino and lion cubs.

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It was a holiday or safari of a life time. We know how lucky we were with the sightings. I think that makes the difference. We apreciated it so much more.

 

Yellow fever card story cost more stomach ulcers and hair loss than I indicated in writing. It was closer than we think. Sunday. No fax machine at home. Michelle located the originals in a toiletry bag in the bath room - why she looked there I don’t know. Why it was there was another question!

 

It would have been nice to spend another day in Kenya, BUT NOT IN NAIROBI!

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madaboutcheetah

Dikdik,

 

Nice report and glad you had a great trip! I have been intrigued by Serian and your report just about sparked renewed interest. You recommend Serian during specific months only? Or good to visit any time in the year - to see resident game etc etc.,?

 

Cheers

Hari

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I am not really qualified to say anything about the Mara out of season. I do know that Serian is still operational, but he will run on skeleton staff. Alex is extremely flexible and will negotiate a good deal with you. I have no idea what his charges were, but I do know that he gave us a better rate because we stayed for longer. It is best that you try to deal with him direct. Season is obviously during the migration. There must be plenty to see out of season.

 

From reading your posts, I could say that you would be more suited to Serian as opposed to Governors Camp (Disney land on the Mara). It’s really what you make of it as opposed to being herded in and out of vehicles. The other benefit of being outside the reserve is that you can stay longer at sightings.

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks, good suggestion!

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