Masai Mara – a scenic wonderland

This is the last post from my trip with Wild Eye to the Masai Mara in October last year.

The Mara river and all the goings on around that river is the centre of attraction but by no means the only attraction. This post shows the diversity of scenery which you can see while travelling around the Mara Triangle.

“Jobs fill your pockets, but adventures fill your soul.” ~ Jaime Lyn

The Mara river can cast quite a moody spell depending on the weather. In October, it was the start of the short rains so the skies darkened on occasion which created quite an intense feeling of expectation when peering up the river.

On other occasions when the sun was out it created a relaxed carefree feeling and without animals on either bank all was calm.

We were parked on the west side of the Mara river. On the east side the wildebeest would mass and eventually the animals at the back would push the animals on the river bank closer to the river. In the next image, the wildebeest were congregating among the croton bushes waiting for the right signal to cross.

“Adventure is not outside man; it is within.” ~ George Eliot

While waiting for the crossing to build we would pull back from the river and watch from a rise about a kilometre away where we could watch the movement of the wildebeest and try to predict where they were likely to cross.

From the west bank of the Mara river looking east to Out Look Hill you could see thousands and thousands of wildebeest making their way over the hill and down towards the Mara river.

Crossing the Mara river is a daunting challenge because of the very steep banks along sections of the river. The river itself is flowing at around five kilometres per hour and each bank attracts predators. To add to the crossing’s challenge the river is home to many large Nile crocodiles.

The compulsion to follow the rains and move towards fresh grazing grounds seems to be overwhelming. Eventually the first intrepid river “crossers” venture down the steep bank and plunge into the fast flowing water.

“Live your life by a compass, not a clock.” ~ Stephen Covey

From the horizon, if wildebeest see a crossing taking place and they race to join the crossing. There is relative safety numbers so it is worth joining the mass crossing.

The Peninsula crossing is close to the Wild Eye camp so we were able to get there just after six in the morning. Of the four large crossings we saw, two were around sunrise at around 6h20.

Pensive but compulsive. The wildebeest were watching the surface of the water for any signs of crocodiles.

One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.” ~ William Feather

The multiple crossing routes at Miti Moja were further up river from the Peninsula crossing point. Here the bank was much steeper and deep paths had been cut into the earthen bank by thousands of previous wildebeest descending the bank towards the river’s edge.

Once in the water the wildebeest swim for their lives. The crocodiles tend to stay on the periphery of the crossing so as not to be trampled.

The Mara river takes a left hand bend just before the Purungat bridge. It is very rocky in this section and does not have the steep banks seen at Miti Moja. In the past many wildebeest tried to cross a few hundred metres up the river but drowned and would be caught up on the rocks. As you can imagine the smell of all the decaying carcasses must have been horrendous. Wild Eye was allowed to set up a camp a few hundred metres up river to prevent the wildebeest crossing at that point. The position of the camp stopped the wildebeest crossing in that section and solved the carcass build up so it no longer smells. The next image is of the view from the Purungat bridge looking up river from the bridge. The Wild Eye camp is a few hundred metres up river from the bend in the image below.

The view is also from the Purungat bridge but taken looking down the Mara river from the Purungat bridge towards the Serengeti in Tanzania.

A lone Masai giraffe looking east over the Mara river while the rain clouds were building in the background. Some of the advantages of visiting the Masai Mara in October are that it is low season and the rains were building so the skies became very colourful and moody.

Looking out over the plains on an almost clear warm October morning – bliss.

“The most beautiful gift of nature is that it gives one pleasure to look around and try to comprehend what we see.” ~Albert Einstein

By contrast, the afternoons tended to be characterised by huge cloud build ups which at sunset would create a vivid scene saturated with colour.

We were able to get across to the east side of the Mara river via the Purungat bridge. We ventured onto the east side to find a pair of black rhinos, an adolescent and it its mother. The background shows the vastness of just a part of the Masai Mara.

Just after sunrise we found a large male lion close to the Main road about four kilometres up from the Purungat bridge. The light was soft and behind him were the vast plains stretching down into the Serengeti.

A small herd of Plains zebra were drinking at an old borrow pit created during the road making and which had since become a waterhole.

Looking west toward the Oloololo escarpment down in the southern section of the Mara Triangle. A inselberg is partly visible on the right hand side of the image. Two young nomad male lions were making their way through the grass to an inselberg behind us. The inselberg would provide them with a hiding place and a high look out point.

Down in the south of the Mara Triangle close to the Tanzanian border. The plains were dotted with Balanites and numerous grazing wildebeest. In the background was the Oloololo escarpment with storm clouds building in the late morning. We were on our way down to find a female leopard seen in a lugga (a seasonal water course). We never got a good sighting of the leopardess but the trip to find her was worthwhile.

“Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.” ~ Bob Bitchin

About five hundred metres up the Main road from the water hole where zebra were drinking, we found three male lions. The two older males were lying in the road and the younger male was lying next to a rock which he seemed to be hugging. When you are king of the plains you can lie anywhere!

A lugga with water flowing along it collecting into small ponds. These features provide ample water for the wildlife. The luggas also provide effective ambush areas for predators.

A red flame lily growing out of the rocks near where we stopped for coffee while we were waiting for a wildebeest herd building prior to crossing. It is my Zimbabwean heritage that makes me so fond of this beautiful but poisonous lily. All parts of the plant are extremely poisonous due to the presence of toxic alkaloids including colchicine and can be fatal if eaten. In Zimbabwe the flame lilies usually have orange/red petals where the bottom of the petal is yellow not red.

Looking through Leopard Gorge toward Out Look Hill in the distance. On the left hand side is Sierra Lima, one of the higher hills in the area. This is a verdant valley with a lugga coursing between the hills. This area was so-called because it was the territory of a large male leopard at that time. Unfortunately we never saw him.

A blue haze across the foothills in front of the Oloololo escarpment.

The sunsets in the Masai Mara can be spectacular. When a storm is not brewing in October, the late afternoon colours are soft and the temperature balmy.

“Wilderness is a necessity… there must be places for human beings to satisfy their souls.” ~John Muir

Driving out of camp just after 6h00 we found a male Masai giraffe sitting down in a large open area. It was a very peaceful scene. Sitting in the centre of a large section of grassland the giraffe would have been able to see any potential threats.

An iconic African sunset with the sun illuminating the underside of the clouds and a single Balanites Aegyptiaca or “Desert Date” in the foreground. This is an in-between time in the bush. The diurnal wildlife is making its way home and the nocturnal wildlife is stirring and beginning its nightly activities.

The eternal battle between predator and prey played out every day in the Masai Mara.

This large dominant male lion had been sleeping on the main road with his coalition partner. After some delay he got up to follow his coalition partner down the road toward a waterhole where many zebra were drinking.

Off the main road at the “picnic trees”, our photographic group stopped to stretch our legs and have a leisurely breakfast. This picnic site looked down onto the Kenyan/Tanzania border in the southern side of the the Mara Triangle.

On our last morning, down near Peninsula crossing point we found three large male lions. One of the males must have separated from the group during the night and returned in the morning. One of his coalition partners greeted him warmly.

“All good things are wild and free.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

A game vehicle silhouetted near a Balanite just before the sun set over the horizon.

I was fortunate enough to spend six wonderful days with Wild Eye travelling around the Mara Triangle during the day and sleeping in their bush camp near the Purungat bridge at night. The bush camp is set among the croton bushes on the banks of the Mara river. The bird life in the camp is prolific. There were constant sounds of hippos’ honks and grunts. The grunting sounds like the air-brake of a large Oshkosh truck going downhill. The grunts will keep you awake the first night but by the second night it is a familiar and reassuring sound.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”~ Mark Twain

The Mara Triangle, like the Serengeti, offers a wonderfully rich diversity of wildlife. This makes a photographic safari highly productive. I will continue to make my pilgrimage back the Masai Mara for as long as I can. It is one of the most special wildlife sanctuaries I have ever been privileged enough to experience.

“Adventures don’t come calling like unexpected cousins calling from out of town. You have to go looking for them.” ~ Unknown

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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