6.35 am: Arrival at Mara
On a chilly Saturday morning, tour vans start snaking unsteadily through the rough terrain leading to the Masai Mara National Park. A lion roars and the sound reverberates across the vast vegetation.
“You can feel the vibrations. That is the king of the jungle,” says William Ole Pesi, a tour guide who has worked at the Mara for 20 years.
The focus however, is not the lions, or the Big Five that rule the park. The shift is on what is termed as the ‘wonder of Africa” – wildebeests crossing Mara river.
7. 30am: Animals start moving to the river
The wildebeests are sighted forming a line that seems to stretch to infinity. They are making their way towards the river that separates Mara and Serengeti.
“I hope today is the day,” says Albert Zelig, a German tourist who has been camping at the Mara for two weeks, waiting enthusiastically for the migration.
9. 15am: Beasts stop
The wildebeests make a sudden halt. The tour guides suspect they have seen a predator, or they need to feed. They break the line and scatter across the field, casting uncertainty on their possibility of crossing.
“We have to wait and see. They have their own clocks,” says Robert Wambua who has driven tour vans for over ten years, and especially during the migration period, which he refers to as golden time in the tourism sector.
10. 26 am: Signs of crossing
A radio call comes through. The animals have started converging, and are showing clearer signs of crossing. Their grunts echo through the land. They edge closer to the river. Tourists, as if on cue, speed towards their vans for the perfect view.
The car engines are switched off. Thee is silence all over, save for the for the moans, bleats and grunts of the wild animals.
11. 45 am: They are at the cliff
It is getting hotter. The sun is relentless. The wait continues. The animals move even closer to the cliff.
12. 07 pm: Crossing starts
A rumble is heard, almost like the cry of a wounded animal. Dust rises. Followed by a stampede of feet and huffing animals. The first animal jumps into the river. Suddenly, thousands of wildebeests are throwing themselves in water. The crossing has started.
12. 09pm: First group crosses
The first group has successfully crossed into the Serengeti. Others are not lucky. Some fall into the waiting jaws of crocodiles. Others get injured in the chaos. A hippopotamus rises above water, but the wildebeests step on it, making it duck in on impact. Clicking sounds of cameras immortalising the crossing blends with the commotion.
12. 13 pm: Calmness descends
The animals are on the other side. Some that didn’t jump walk away from the river.
“Not all of them cross at one time. Others change their minds and decide to wait,” explains the guide.
12. 15 pm: Nothing compares
Tourists exclaim, marvelling at the beauty of the migration.
“Wow! Nothing in the world compares to it. I could watch it forever,” says Zelig.