The Great Wildebeest Migration With Kids
Most of us have seen the phenomenal photos and videos of The Great Wildebeest Migration taken by professional wildlife photographers and cinematographers. Images reserved only for those on assignment with National Geographic and the like who spend months on location to get the perfect shot, or so we had ourselves convinced. We had no idea what to expect for The Great Wildebeest Migration With Kids and what we may or may not have the opportunity to see. We did not know it yet, but we were in for the treat of our lives!
Maasai Mara Wildlife
Our day began early with the sun rising over the grassy plains of the Maasai Mara from our luxurious tent nestled into the trees at the wonderful Offbeat Mara Camp. We have so many fantastic things to say about our stay at Offbeat Mara, but I will have save that for another blog post. For now, I will simply say the beauty of this place will leave your soul smiling. Our Maasai guides, David and Kapen, were ready and waiting to take us to the river in hopes of seeing the greatest wildlife show on earth - The Great Wildebeest Migration. The drive out to the Maasai Mara Reserve was jam-packed with so many fantastic wildlife sitings, we wondered if we were ever going to make it to the river. We encountered lions, giraffe, a very satisfied ostrich, elephant and wildebeest...lots and lots of wildebeest.
All of a sudden lots of chatter on the phones and walkie-talkies of our guides, and David made a 180 degree turn of the vehicle. Something had been spotted by other guides in the area, it was very rare, and we were off to try and catch a glimpse. We bumped along for some time and then there it was, a beautiful lone black rhino, half of his body painted with mud, sauntering across the plains amid hundreds of wildebeest. At last count, there are less than 30 known black rhino left living in the whole of the Maasai Mara and we were extremely fortunate to have witnessed this majestic and very threatened animal. The impact of this hit me hard after we returned home and began editing our photos. The thought that black rhino may no longer be here in 5 or 10 years, before our children grow up is profoundly sad, and a stark reminder the fight against poaching must prevail.
After the rhino encounter and everything we had seen so far, one could easily pack it in as a successful day, but we were just getting started and the morning was still young. To the river! Anticipation mounted as we approached and passed several crossing points where herds of wildebeest were seen gathering on the banks of the river, each point seeming to grow larger in numbers, but no crossings yet. David, our Maasai guide, said he wanted to check one more main crossing point and he continued to drive ahead. As we approached the crossing point, dust was rising and we could hear the rumbling. They were crossing and we arrived just in time! Our hearts jumped sending hands scrambling for cameras and recorders, as our guides positioned the vehicle for optimal views.
The girls were excited and were cheering for the wildebeest to make it safely across, as several crocodile were circling the waters. Most were successful, but not all. Moments later two crocodile with their prizes encroached a little to far into hippo territory, and the massive hippo charged sending the crocodile scattering. This all occurred within minutes of parking!
After several river crossings, the wildebeest stopped, the water settled and all was quiet. The waiting game then begins. Across the banks of the river wildebeest herds were gathering and growing, climbing down to the river for a drink and then retreating, drinking then retreating, again and again. Zebra were gathering on our side of the river bank as well. It takes just one wildebeest or zebra to take that leap of faith and then the rest will follow, but it has to be one. Sometimes the wait it short, sometimes the wait is long, sometimes hours, and sometimes even days. We wait and observe the swelling of animal herds along both banks, listening to their grunts and squeals, and taking in the beautiful surroundings while anticipating the next crossing.
Any strange noises or movements can frighten the animals and prevent them from crossing. Thousands of people from all over the world come to Kenya just to see the migration, and for many this may be their one-and-only chance. Noises, to say the least, are frowned upon for lack of better terminology. A 3-year-old and a 6-year-old cannot possibly comprehend the magnitude of this fact, although it was ever-present in the minds of their parents. Our 3-year-old is loud, and by that I mean LOUD. Put the two girls together in an open-air safari vehicle for several days straight being shushed and asked to stay quiet, and they begin to revolt. Revolts typically happen when you least expect them, like when you are lined up side-by-side safari vehicles with people who own 6 different cameras each and enough money in lenses that would pay off our mortgage and the girls college educations - combined. They all sported the stink-eye when noise was made. The pressure was intense.
Then there is the issue of "The Potty!" Three times. Three times our 3-year-old had to go "potty" while we were at the migration crossing, and after seeing how much fun her sister was having, the 6-year-old had to have a turn. We are talking #1 and #2 people! Not so quietly, the urges were alerted to everyone by yelling, "Potty, potty, potty, potty, potty!" Our Maasai guides holding up colorful Maasai blankets as privacy curtains while the girls relieved themselves in bushes is an image we will never forget. Each time the need presented itself, we had to back the truck away from our prime viewing spot to find a nice, clean bush. Eventually we lost our spot, and on that occasion the wildebeest also started crossing again! Perfect timing! What do you do? You just roll with it. We decided to move on to another crossing point.
Tips for Kids on Safari
So, the kids made noises at times, and we had a few exciting "potty" experiences. Would we do it again? In a heartbeat! Would we have changed anything? Not on your life! Overall the kids did amazing, and we have some funny stories to tell. They had a ball, they learned and saw an incomprehensible amount of awesomeness, and they cannot stop talking about it today! Our advice for traveling with kids on safari is pretty simple, believe it or not. Be mentally prepared, be flexible, be understanding, be realistic, and acknowledge when it is time to just move on. As parents, being respectful to others and aware of your surroundings is key to keeping the stress levels down for both you and your children. It is okay to move on and see something else when things are getting a little restless, and you might just open yourself up for bigger and better things when you do (see below). You are providing the kids an experience of a lifetime, but remember they take it in smaller doses than we do as adults. Pack a survival kit for the parents, err um, I mean the kids. Provide them with their own set of binoculars, their own toy camera or an old one you don't mind them using (and dropping), coloring books, journals, books, quiet games, snacks, or music when the need presents itself. Ration these items. Don't use up all your tricks at once, as they will tire of those quickly as well. Parents, get out from behind the camera (admittedly a tough one for me) and encourage question and answer sessions, singing, and sharing and involve them in the moment. Don't stress about small stuff. Most importantly, have fun! It is sooo worth it! Now, if we can only come up with a packable port-o-potty...
Migration in Progress
Now we return you to your regularly scheduled program, the migration already in progress. The annual migration is the largest mammal migration in the world with reports varying from 1.3 to 1.5 million wildebeest, 400 thousand zebra, and 100-200 thousand Thomson's gazelle. The animals follow the rains in search of good grass to eat. Click here to view an excellent map of the wildebeest migration route from Expert Africa. We had heard these statistic before, but what surprised us the most was the crossings can go in both directions. We found this shocking! We found a new crossing point, and it ended up being the most phenomenal one yet, and we owed it all to Jasper and the great "potty" escapades! If we had not lost our spot at the last location, we would have never moved to this new spot! There was only one other vehicle parked, the animals were much closer and again they were gathering on both sides of the river. We had zebra on our left and wildebeest on our right across the river. They started crossing from several different vantage points and from both sides of the river simultaneously. They passed each other in the middle like kids at the end of a sports event slapping hands saying, "good game, good game, good game..." Why do they do this you ask? Because each thinks the grass is greener on the other side. (teehee) At one point the wildebeest came across the river directly toward us and we felt like we could touch them as they emerged from the water, scaling up the cliffs to the grassy green plains behind us.
A gorgeous bull elephant made an appearance among the zebra, then proceeded to give himself a mud bath while the wildebeest continued to cross the river. We couldn't bare to leave all the action, so we ate lunch right here on the river bank in the safari vehicle while we watched all of this unfold before our eyes.
The crocodiles were active and put on quite a show. There were several attacks, surprising wildebeest getaways, and others that were not so lucky. The action was intense. The scenery was beautiful, the wildlife abundant, and the entire experience was surreal.
We have a confession to make. In an effort to be completely honest with you, our loyal readers, about traveling with kids and the various challenges and rewards it has to offer, we must come clean. When planning our safari we had absolutely no idea it was to be during the greatest wildlife show on earth. It was not until we contacted Richard Trillo at Expert Africa to discuss possible itineraries that he informed us our timing would coincide with the migration. Richard happens to be the author of The Rough Guide to Kenya, in addition to being the Kenya Programme Manager for Expert Africa. Needless to say, we were in good hands, and Richard worked hard to create the ultimate family safari, placing us in prime locations to give us the best chance for abundant wildlife sitings. He did not disappoint! Yes, The Great Wildebeest Migration With Kids was a total planning accident on our part, but arguably one of the best accidental decisions we have ever made. Why fess up? We want to be honest about who we are. We are not travel experts by any stretch of the imagination, and don't pretend to be. We are a simple (sometimes crazy) family with a severe case of wanderlust who dreams of traveling and experiencing as much of the world as possible with our children, one little jaunt at a time. We hope our real-life stories inspire you to do the same. You can go on safari with kids! Kenya is a magnificent and magical place for the whole family and an experience of a lifetime! If you are considering it, don't wait, you will not regret it! We would be happy to answer any questions you might have, as well!
Disclaimer: Travel assistance was provided by Expert Africa. Our opinions, as always, are completely our own.
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