The Wildebeest Migration
Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
273Trip End Oct 08, 2008
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At the gate there are some perpetual grazers - one herd of wildebeest, a few rogue zebras, and several Thompson's gazelles. Always nice to see these beasties, but we did also see them yesterday. As if to make up for this fact, Dixon immediately drove us to a mini pride of lions - two females and a snoozing male. One of the females was sitting up and staring unconcernedly at her surroundings
Note to Lion King fans: Simba means lion in Kiswahili. It's really quite an educational film...
After this initial excitement, there was...not much. Our first night really spoiled us for a normal drive, which involves driving around looking for anything that might prove interesting. Mainly we watched a lot of grass. Our excitement was such that we stopped to photograph a small group of zebra and Thompson's gazelles with a lone topi. A while later there was an impala standing right next to the road, but it wouldn't behave itself and look at us. No, no, it had to run away. Some time later still I saw a gray thing on the ground and said, "What's that?" It was a warthog. Shortly thereafter we found another impala waiting for a photo-op at the side of the road. While it walked the wrong direction, it did stop and glare at us long enough for Travis to get some really pretty photos. The faces of these creatures are so beautiful and delicate.
"Dixon, I think a vulture landed just up ahead," said Mike
"There are a whole lot of vultures," said Dixon.
THE KILL. Oh yeah. We found it first and it was sweet. A group of hyenas had managed to get themselves a breakfast of wildebeest, and everyone wanted in on the action. (Including us.) The hyenas wouldn't let anything near the food, so the vultures sat all in a row waiting for their chance to eat. Maribou storks were landing in great, dark elegance. They wandered around while waiting, not being quite as lazy as the vultures.
A lone hyena was trying to get in on the food, but he wasn't part of the group, so the other hyenas kept running him off. He kept creeping back. At one point he even managed to get a bite. Watching the other hyenas was fascinating but not altogether pretty. They pulled apart that wildebeest like it was...meat. They flipped it over, and back again, and always the horns were facing us, reminding us that we were looking at an animal being eaten. Mmmm, wildebeest.
Drive, drive, drive. Another glorious photo-op on the side of the road as a Grant's gazelle stopped to stare at us before turning tail and bounding away
Drive, drive, drive. Although they were rather distant, we spotted three elands wading through the tall grasses. They're the largest of the antelopes, but they look much more sturdy than an antelope, with great hulking shoulders. These belie the fact that they run really, really fast.
Drive, drive, drive. Elephants in the distance wading through the tall grasses. It was a lovely picture of elephants walking through the savanna - rather iconic. I know they like watering holes, and in Asia they live amid the trees, but it just felt right to see African elephants plodding along in the absence of trees. Two adults and a baby, with the possibility of another baby, or just a large, gray rock.
We stopped for a long moment when we came upon the wildebeest herds. Interspersed among them were zebras, doing zebra things. Everyone in the van was quite impressed, and we all commented on the fact that, although it was Maasai Mara's turn for wildebeest migration, we hadn't seen all that many
Then the zebras did the same thing, but unlike the wildebeests, they had a ringleader who called constantly, as if to ensure that all of his herd was making its way across the road alright. Lorraine was sure that as they came across the road, the sort of nodded to the leaders. Mike was more sceptical. Little zebras in brown stripes stayed close to their mothers. All in all there was a great deal of zebra honking. It's a really weird noise for an animal that resembles a horse. Excellent experience, though, and we watched this for several minutes. I took a zillion zebra photos, for which I was teased by my darling husband.
Then we saw...a dead buffalo. Lovely. Nothing else had really found it yet, but Dixon expected that before long the vultures would come down for it.
Drive, drive, drive. Secretary birds! What funny, tall birds, with lovely faces and legs that appear to be adorned with leggings. They weren't bothered by us and continued their walking, always staying close enough to be examined and photographed thoroughly. We ended up seeing four of these odd critters.
A stop at the border. There's a sort of pyramidal stone in the middle of nowhere that denotes the border between Kenya and Tanzania, Maasai Mara and Serengeti
Drive, drive. Giraffes! They were too far away, really, and Dixon was in a hurry (why I don't know) to get to the hippo pool and lunch.
The hippos reside in a specific place on the river bank, and at this point we were allowed out of the van for a little exploring, but we couldn't go into the trees without an armed escort. The escorts were soldiers on duty, and their duty was to sit around and make sure stupid tourists don't wander into the woods.
Sunning themselves on rocks were several little lizards, including a beautiful red and blue agami. Likewise, the hippos were sunning themselves, but they didn't look nearly so pretty in the doing. Hippos have skin that's extrememly sensitive to sunburn and to dehydration, so when they're out of the water a long while their skin turns a rather unattractive pink (formerly thought to be the hippos sweating blood). There were a few cute little hippos, and one waded into the water with its mother. We walked around the bend with a soldier to see the crocodiles (not exciting), and a hippo in the water opened its mouth huge. It was the only one to do so and at that moment Travis was showing me a photo he'd taken and therefore was not prepared for such an excellent moment. Next time. Some Spaniards declared that they found a water snake, but as it drew closer we identified it as a baby crocodile
So we'd wandered around and looked at hippos for at least an hour, and we were hungry, so we prodded our escorts to feed us. This fell to Elie, who took the brunt of our complaints throughout the lunch hour, being as he was unattached to the auto repair. Yes, another van had a blowout and somehow destroyed its suspension, so we sat around for hours as our drivers also stood around and watched the progress on the van repair. To be fair, they did assist a few times. But we were all incredibly irritated that our long day of safari (which had yielded so little compared to yesterday) was being ruined by someone else's van.
Finally we left, and we thought it would be alright since the weather was cooler and we'd seen so many animals just before sunset yesterday. Little did we realize what the cool meant...
As we drove back some vultures were making a meal of...wildebeest. Our tally of vulture species jumped to four, but I couldn't name any of them for you. Sorry. And before the deluge, we found three warthogs. They turned, stuck up their tails, and trotted away the minute we stopped to look at them
Rain, rain, rain. Drat our luck. I thought at first that it didn't matter. We were in a van, after all. But apparently it did matter, because Dixon really didn't slow down for anything. At one point there were about ten vans lined up on the road looking at something. After much staring at rainstreaked windows I opened one and identified the head of a lioness sitting in the grass. Couldn't see anything but her head, and we'd had loads of better lioness poses, so we continued onward. Just before hitting the main road again, I saw a buffalo.
Drat buffalo. Yesterday we'd seen two at dusk and Dixon had said we'd see more today, so we said to drive on. We didn't see any but a dead buffalo today, and I wanted my rabbity buffalo, especially since I wouldn't see a rhinocerous. But no buffalo for me. The rain was a downpour and Dixon didn't take his foot off the gas.
By the time we got back to the camp I was in a fury. Lucky for me I married Travis, who, even if he's mad, too, will generally point out exactly how ridiculous I am. We therefore were able to acknowledge that, even without my buffalo, we'd had a very good run in two days. And he declared that no one owed me anything, least of all a buffalo.