We have been go, go, going since we left Pemba Island! We flew from Pemba to Arusha on Monday, 9/25. Spent 1 night in Arusha and then off to the Northern Serengeti on Tuesday, 9/26. That morning, Emily went for a nice, long run around the quiet town. Mostly long, straight dirt roads with meeting the occasional local walking to work. Everyone smiles and says Jumbo! While she was out on her run, the hotel called our room to let us know our flight had been moved up 1 hour and 45 minutes! I texted Emily to let her know, but cell service is spotty. Once she got back, we raced to get packed up and out the door.
The airport was small, fast and everyone friendly. Our plane was a red, fighter jet (as the boys referred to it). It was a 9 passenger plane with a pilot and co-pilot. Our plane took off and we made 2 additional stops on dirt run ways to let off passengers and pick up more. A few hours later, we finally landed in Kogatende the Northern, Mara Serengeti of Tanzania.
Once we touched down at Kogatende airstrip in the northern Serengeti, we were greeted by our safari guide Simel. After speaking with Simel for a bit we learned that he is from a Maasai village about two hours east of where we are in the Serengeti. He told the boys that as a Maasai warrior, he has a lot of experience with lions and that he would keep the boys safe on the trip.
Simel told us we would head to the resort, but the boys asked if we could see animals first. So we headed straight to the Mara river where a herd of 400 or so wildebeests were congregating on a bluff across the river. We parked and waited. Occasionally a brave (or stupid) wildebeest would approach the river’s edge contemplating being the first to cross, then turn back and go up the side of the riverbank to rejoin the herd.
Eventually a brave young wildebeest made the move and led the herd into a wide, rocky and hippo-y part of the river. Around 3/4ths the way across the river they turned around. It looked like a wildebeest whirlpool as they struggled against the current and each other. Crocodiles were lurking near and the hippos were not pleased to see the wildebeest coming into their territory. The herd made it back to the northern side of the Mara river and climbing back up onto the bluff.
Shortly after, Simel pointed out another herd of wildebeest in the distance. He said the first herd would not cross until the new herd arrived and that once they arrived there would be a lot of pressure on the group so he was confident that we would see a crossing. As the new herd moved closer we realized it was massive. Maybe another 500 or so wildebeest followed by 20 zebras.
Time felt like it was moving quickly but it was probably 2 hours before the giant herd decided to go for it and jump back in the river. This time they choose a less rocky portion but it was very wide. It was an incredible sight for us to see the volume of animals fighting the current. Many of the younger wildebeest were pulled slightly down the river before they eventually made it to the southern side of the river. Once the herd began climbing the river bank on our side, we were fortunate to be positioned perfectly so that the wildebeests and zebras passed right by us. We learned very quickly that being in the right position is not pure luck, having an awesome guide like Simel is key. We got the sense that we lucked out with Simel being our guide to the Serengeti. There was one baby wildebeest that seemed to be swept far enough down the river that we all thought it would be a crocodile dinner. Amazingly the baby kept fighting its way across and eventually popped up over the riverbank. The boys cheered with excitement that it survived. One of the adult wildebeest was midway across the river trapped on a rock bank. We realized that this wildebeest had broken one of his back legs. He was hobbling very slowly and struggling to make it. As we were watching him, we noticed all the other wildebeest that had already crossed were coming back to the edge- crying, looking for there mother/baby. It was really sad to see and hear the cries but once they found each other, the wildebeest ran together jumping with joy! It was a really beautiful sight. The boys loved cheering on each one to make it across.
By this point, we had not seen the poor guy with the broken back leg. He must have been swept away with the current. Just as soon as we were pulling away, we saw him climb up the bank dragging his back broken leg! Everyone around clapped and cheered as this poor guy worked a miracle to make it across the river!
After we left the river, we just headed out into the Savannah. We happened to stumble upon 2 male lions and 1 female lion resting in the shade. We watched them for a while. The male lions slept without a care in the world as the female lion kept watch. A few times Nash was moving around in the safari vehicle and she was 100% staring at him! It looked like she was definitely eyeing Nash up as a small little chicken nugget. Simel kept telling Nash to be still/ stop moving. Honestly, it had been an extremely long day and the 4 year old did amazing!! After our lion encounter we decided it was time to head to our camp and rest for the night!