There are really no words to describe the phenomena of millions of wildebeest migrating from the Serengeti Plains of Tanzania to the savannahs of the Masai Mara in Kenya. It happens every year…within the same time frame…without fail. Many have called it a wonder of the natural world. After having witnessed it firsthand, I have to say they are right. The herds of wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle go on for miles and miles, blanketing the floor of the Mara with their colorful patterns and wild grunts. It is nature at its best – the circle of life repeating itself over and over again – with only the strong surviving.
This July, The Village Experience was delighted to take Kids for Kenya on a journey through the country to explore Kenya, take in the stunning scenery, and meet the wonderful people. Kids for Kenya is a mix of parents and kids from the U.S. and Australia that work to raise awareness and funds for Village Experience partner communities. The kids raised funds through ice cream socials, pizza parties at school, and neighborhood lemonade stands. The parents did an extensive crowd funding campaign to encourage their network to get involved and help them reach their ambitious goal of $50,000. Everyone was overjoyed when the goal was reached the same day the group arrived in Nairobi. These funds are being used to promote education, healthcare, safe housing, women’s empowerment, and protection of young girls throughout Mbita, Maralal, and Lamu.
After many days of exploring Nairobi, Nakuru, and Mbita, the group arrived to Sekenani Camp in the Masai Mara for three days of blissful safari. The end goal – to witness the crossing of the wildebeest through the infamous Mara River. The group was excited to be out of the car after a long drive from Mbita and immediately fell in love with the Robinson Crusoe feel of the camp. Suspension bridges, fire pits, tented camps, Masai askaris, and acres of surrounding jungle provided the perfect environment for this group to experience the Kenyan bush. The following day, the group embarked on an all day safari to spot the Big Five and attempt to witness the crossing. We were amazed to see many different herds of elephants and drive alongside them through the park. What a truly humbling experience to be so close to these gentle giants. As we continued our drive towards the Mara River, we ran across jackal, hyena, waterbuck, topi, giraffe, zebra, hartebeest, buffalo, baboon, and an array of birds. After taking a picnic lunch in the park, we made our way to the river. We pulled up amongst the thousands of wildebeest and zebra that were in serious contemplation of whether to cross the river or not. We only had to wait about 30 minutes before the zebra started slowly descending to the banks of the river to test the waters. There was some hesitation, but soon an enormous number of wildebeest came thundering down the savannah to the river, and in seconds, the crossing was set in motion. Loud grunts of communication could be heard in all directions. Babies were struggling to keep up with their mothers and not lose sight of their family in the commotion. Animals were fighting for their lives to make the crossing and reach the other side. The muddy shores of the river were eroding making it more and more treacherous to cross.
Tourist vehicles were lined up on either side of the river. Cameras were charged and ready to go. There was such a feeling of anticipation to make it to the front lines to witness this amazing event. As soon as the first wildebeest made the descent, the vehicles were off…racing to the shores. To say people were in awe is an understatement. They were utterly mesmerized watching this spectacular event that they’ve only ever seen on National Geographic up to this point. As cameras clicked away, the vehicles moved position to see the crossing from different angles. As this particular crossing began to die down, the majority of the animals making it across safely, we drove down the river to visit with the resident pool of hippos. We spotted over 30 hippos, including a baby quite possibly born that very day.
We continued our game drive back in the direction of the camp and very quickly encountered a mother cheetah and her baby on the hunt. As they were stalking their prey – a small group of gazelle – the surrounding wildebeest were in full panic mode. We were then lucky enough to find two mother lionesses and their cubs napping in a clearing. The babies awoke with curious eyes to the noise of the vehicles approaching. Eventually the mothers awoke, stretched, and moved about…not in the least bit bothered by our presence. Our journey continued with ostrich, bushbuck, wart hog, and dik dik greeting us along the way.
We returned to camp in the late afternoon to relax by the fire, enjoy dinner, and turn in for a lovely evening in our beautiful tents. Only the sound of the birds, the call of the monkeys, and the pitter-patter of the hyrax on our tents awoke us from our deep sleep in anticipation of an early morning game drive. Not much could top yesterday, but the group enjoyed every minute of their time.
Before we departed the magical world of the Masai Mara, we stopped to visit a local village as part of a community tourism initiative. We were invited to participate in song and dance, learn how the beautiful beaded Masai jewellery is handcrafted, meet the families in their homes, and trade stories about our similarities and our differences. What we learned is an important lesson. Though we may be worlds apart, we are one people united by our love for our families, our hope for security, and our amazement at what this Earth provides.
Kelly Campbell is the co-founder of ‘The Village Experience’, you can follow her on Instagram: @kellsabroad