Great River Crossing

To see the Great River Crossing, you need to aim for the Northern Serengeti in August or early September . I had thought that it was effectively one big herd of wildebeests, but in fact it is maybe hundreds of herds, each with some thousands of animals. The trick is to see the herd gathering, then sit and wait for it to take courage and swim across the Mara River. The migration is in both directions at the same time, and we saw herds going east one day, and crossing west the next. Observing the group dynamics is quite fascinating. Once one or two leaders have made the decision to jump into the water, the rest very quickly stampede to follow. But any sudden disturbance during a crossing, and the tail end ones will turn and flee back into the bush, from whence it may take them a couple of hours to emerge, and try again. We saw 6 river crossing - that is 2 a day for 3 days. Each one was quite different

We stayed at Mara under Canvas, a mobile camp which I would not recommend to anyone. I got bad food poisoning from the meal on the first night, and could not eat anything other than camomile tea and soup for three days - the camp basically could not give a damn, or could not understand. The camp is owned by a group who have 4 or 5 camps in this area, and the manager was absent doing work at another of these camps for most of our stay - but, even on his return, he could not grasp the situation.

The food that we saw was evil looking; the breakfasts were parsimonious (my wife was on breakfast eating, I was not) and lunch, where, if you could manage it, you could choose your own bread roll filling, only offered tomato and cucumber. Whilst this is a comparatively remote camp, with all the other of the company's camps in the area, they ought to have had very regular supplies of food in.

Accommodation

Mara Under Canvas on Tripadvisor and Wild Frontiers

The camp is eco friendly, running on solar lighting. The camp consists of 10 spacious tents with en suite facilities, including a separate en suite WC and bucket shower. The accommodation tents are fairly basic, but perfectly adequate. I have no idea how they compare with other camps in the area, but we did see an awful lot of other camps around here, so it is worth checking them out. There is no need in fact to choose a mobile camp, as this just spends half its time in the southern Serengeti, and returns to exactly the same spot here every year.

The camp completes its facilities with a dining tent where meals are served- same table for you and your guide! - and a lounge tent where the staff recharged their mobile phones. There was no bar as such, and no staff were normally visible - you needed to go and find them if you wanted anything.

There is no wifi, and mobile phone connection is patchy

In the evening they lit a camp fire about half an hour before dinner, and there was enough wood to keep it going for about half an hour after dinner. As in many safari camps, you need a security man to escort you back to your tent after dark. Lion were heard at night, and in the morning we woke to see the migration taking place within 100 metres of our tent.

It was ironic that after all our problems at this camp, that they set up a table and "tip box" for us to sign their visitors book.

We entered the Serengeti from Ngorongoro. It took 10 hours on corrugated dirt roads to drive from Ngorongoro Farmhouse to Mara under Canvas. Our itinerary showed us as flying, which only takes 90 minutes, so we were quite baffled by the long road drive. The inevitable happened and our jeep broke down short of the lodge. A passing jeep driver effected a temporary repair, but our jeep continued to be plagued by ignition problems for the next 3 days. This was serious in as much as the guide could not park on the flat river bank, but instead had to park well back on wherever he could find a steep enough slope to enable him to do a jump start on the clutch. Thus we were denied the best views

Our main reason for coming to the Northern Serengeti was to see the Great Migration and the River Crossing. Anything else was extra.

Each morning we saw one or two balloons over the camp. They take 16 people, and cost $550 a head for the hour's flight. Looked a bit pricey to me, but those that took it seemed happy with the experience

To a certain extent, these days, all game drives are cheating somewhat. Our driver had the local guides RT channel open all the time - in Swahili, so the punter could not understand what was said. He would then roll up at a tree and, without looking, say that there was a lion there, or a leopard.

Various sub plots unfolded. One day there was a flash flood and the only means of getting to the other bank disappeared under water. As it was a couple of hundred kms detour to reach the next Mara ford, that ruled out visits to the other bank

One day we saw the effects of the migration on the local airstrip. Wildebeest, thousands of them, wandered over the runway, and before a plane could land jeeps and men waving their arms had to shift the wildebeest

Hippos a plenty in the Mara River

And crocodiles. Given that wildebeest had been crossing for some time, the crocs appear to have taken all the animals that they needed, and we never saw an actual croc attack while we watched 6 crossings. But we did see a fair number of crocodiles sitting watching the wildebeest crossing

Elephants came down to the river to drink

And we spotted a leopard up a tree

Given that there were tens of thousands of wildebeest, then there were inevitably natural deaths among the herd. This meant that vultures kept an eye on things and moved in when they spotted a meal

         
         

Lions too follow the migration

It was interesting watching this lioness half heartedly hunting. She did not appear to make any real effort to disguise her presence, and the quarry soon ran off at high speed. This was followed by a pair of lions mating. The male was quite affectionate

And a number of miscellaneous lions just lying around

 

So on to the 6 river crossings. We realised that the trick was to see the wildebeest and zebras swim towards you as the drama was in them entering the water, and you saw that from the side of the river opposite their entry. So we saw 5 correctly, and one from the wrong side.

This crossing below, is the one we saw from the wrong side.

 

 

The crossing below was the most dramatic of the ones we witnessed, due to the steep bank that the wildebeest had to navigate in order to enter the water

 

 

After that it was back on small aircraft - 5 quick stops to reach Dar es Salaam and the unimpressive Qatar Airways flight back to Spain

 

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