Recently I was in the Mara, to officially inspect a guard of honour mounted by the departing wildebeests. I was not going to miss the last group of the migrating animals. On arrival within the Mara ecosystem, I was informed that the largest group of the wildebeests were already seven kilometres into Tanzania, but the tail end of the group was still within Kenyan territory, about 40km from the Masai Mara Serena Safari Lodge.
I have been watching and documenting the wildebeest migration for the last 20 years now. I know very well the kind of distance the animals can cover within a day. I also know that if they sense the arrival of the rains behind them, they have a tendency of turning back and spending few more days foraging for the new soft grass that grows on the patches that have been burned for the exact reason.
Armed with this reasoning, I decided to miss lunch and head directly to a place called “Ngiro-are”. It is the border post 30km from the Serena Oloololo main road. The entry to this road that is mainly used by the combined Kenya and Tanzania anti-poaching security force was a bit far from the gate I had used to enter the park. So I took a shortcut right through the acacia thorn bushes using the game drive routes.
After several twists and turns, and driving through deep trenches dug by run-off flood waters, we arrived at the point where the wildebeests were. They were in their thousands and the sight was one to behold.
Even after seeing them for the thousand time, I was still excited. The clients that I was guiding had been to the Mara before. They were local tourists who have a love for nature and usually used their own cars to tour Kenya, but this time they had chosen to have a professional guide with them. They had been to the conservancy where Mara Serena is situated, but had never been to the game area where we were. We call the area, “ngiro are”.
When we had had enough of the wildebeests, we headed back towards the Serena lodge, but in my typical style of game driving, I used a different route and arrived at the lodge from the opposite direction from which I would have arrived had I driven directly to the lodge.
After disembarking from the vehicle, the head of the family, who has been driving and guiding the family in the parks, approached me and gave his thanks for the drive to the wildebeest group. But he let me know that the other amazing thing was how we found our way back to the hotel, in an area so vast and without any direction posts at all. He told me if he were to drive into that section of the park alone, even after several times, he would not find his way back. I agreed with him, because it had happened before to other travellers who had tried to be adventurous.
Several years ago there was a couple with two little children, who were travelling in a rented SUV. They had decided to use the public campsites in the Mara. After checking in at the gate, they took a route that passed through the Musiara Swamp, in an effort to see the swamp lions active in the evening light.
The sighting was easy because there were many other tour vehicles within the area. With the excitement of the swamp lions, the couple did not notice the other vehicles had left and the darkness was fast approaching.
When he hit the road, he found from where he had parked, several game drive routes branched to different directions. The landmark he was used to direct him to the campsite was no longer visible since it was getting dark.
He had to choose one at random because he had to get out of the swamp first before he could figure out where to go. The route he took, unfortunately, led him further into the swamp, and was getting wetter with each yard.
He panicked and turned back to the mash lions. He took a different route and drove for almost an hour, turning all left hoping to join a main road. He found himself back again to the mash lions.
He was totally lost and confused by the time he was found by a team of filming crew who had permission to film the mash lions at night. Otherwise he would have spent his first night in the bush, with lions.