Just. Keep. Moving.

This annual spectacle involves up to 2 million wildebeests moving between the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. You may call it a “food trip”. After all, them wildebeests and zebras traveling, migrating together are seriously in need of greener grass such that they move from one side to the other, and then back. The herd crosses the Mara River where predator beasts lurk, searching for the weakest amongst the migrants, ready to pounce on its prey. We didn’t see any of such NatGeo drama where a lion 🦁 actually chases and kills and feasts on one poor wildebeest or zebra, but we had close encounters with some lions guarding its prized kill, calling on the rest of its pride to join the feast, and a junior simba dragging a zebra foot.

Animal tracks visible from a hot air balloon.

The Grand Migration follows a cycle. And those who wish to view this magical wildlife in its annual journey must heed certain rituals. Like waking up early. At sunrise, you stand a good chance of seeing a “kill” involving these nocturnal hunters. At the very least, you can catch them eating their prey with a vulture or two waiting for the leftover carcass. It’s not easy especially for the late risers, but the sacrifice adequately rewards. We spotted quite an assortment of these lionesses with her cubs but only a few of the alpha males with their glorious mane.

πŸ“Έ by Ernie Albano
πŸ“Έ by Ernie Albano

From the hot air balloon, we shrieked in delight watching the wildebeests and zebras running or just hanging around. So many of them, that it looked like colonies of ants from a distance. The animal tracks were so visible too from the air. The Maasai Mara has acacia trees looking like giant bonsai plants where we spotted elephants, lions, cheetahs and even a lone sleeping leopard hidden up on its branches. I’m sure you’ve seen many photos of these Safari animals. My iPhone cam shots are not bad but I didn’t pass up the chance to borrow some photos taken by a friend who is a hobby photographer. But what I want to share here are photos of how we went about these game drives. Like how about waking up at 3 am, leaving your hotel at 4am to arrive before 5am where your hot air balloon is being prepped for flight? Or eating tons of dust following land cruiser safari vehicles who responded maybe just a few minutes earlier to radioed alerts on animal sightings in the vast expanse of the savannah. And mind you, radioed animal sightings don’t mean you can get there in a jiffy. Some drives can be a half hour to an hour of bumpy rides along dusty paths.

The land cruisers have no air conditioning. With an open sun roof, this is understandable. The early mornings are fine but it gets warmer towards noon. And so you’ve got dusty, bumpy and hot by midday and it’s not a good combination especially if there are no animal sightings. At one point, someone in our group told the guides we’ve seen enough antelopes, wildebeests, zebras and birds. This is so so our guides can skip these searches and instead focus on more lions, cheetahs, elephants, leopards, rhinos, hippos and even hyenas. It was our 3rd day of game drives, and we were tired despite all the excitement. Besides, it made lotsa sense to restrict the game drives to the Big 5. If at all, we’d change the rules only if there’s a kill, a mating or some animal in labor to give birth. Fancy that?

Here’s more. I’m a coffee lover and days don’t start with me without a good cup of coffee. But you need to watch your take of this fine liquid brew if you care not to do your business in the bush. In fact, you can’t actually pee in the bush! There are spots where there are toilets but while on a game drive, you just can’t tell your driver guide to stop so you can pee. No way, JosΓ©. If you think your bladder is not in good condition, skip the morning coffee. 😭 Then of course, there’s the packed lunch. Unless you start very early and wish to get back to your hotel for a decent lunch, you need to make do with a packed lunch. There are designated picnic grounds (with toilets) where you can eat — sometimes with the dust πŸ˜”. Whether you’re in Maasai Mara or Serengeti Plains, enjoy the dust. It’s on your jacket, your shirt, your pants, your HAIR! I hardly touched nor ran my fingers through my hair after that first time that it felt hard and thick with dust. Yay! Finally, do remember that the hotels and lodges know exactly what should go into that lunch box that won’t spoil till noontime. I’m talking boiled egg, a piece of fried chicken, a simple sandwich, a banana, an apple, juice and water. If you’re in luck, there may be a small bag of potato chips in your box. One hotel packed us a really good lunch — a choice of a veggie burger, or noodles with stir-fried veggies or something I had for 2 straight days: mixed rice and stir-fried chicken with veggies. It may be a cold lunch but certainly better than a boiled egg and fried chicken. Only issue is you’d eat it in a picnic area infested with “pets” looking like giant rodents. I don’t know what they are, but here, have a look. I found a couple cavorting right under the table beside my foot.

Soooo, have I managed your expectations well enough? 😊

Going on a safari requires that one keeps an open mind. There are a lot of surprises, hopefully pleasant surprises more than disappointments. The animal sightings are not guaranteed. You may not see what you like to see, and then see what you’re not interested in. Everything is sooo natural, unscripted, spontaneous and even unexpected. There are rules to follow, safety procedures to observe. You may cut short your game drives but such are decided “in the field”. If you’re the type who easily get bored, I suggest you don’t go. Those NatGeo documentaries watched from your Lazy Boy may be good enough for you. Plus you can have your hot meal while watching. As our Safari guide Joshua would say, you need patience to truly enjoy this. Hakuna Matata!