Morning Drive in the Masai Mara and Lots and Lots of Getting Stuck

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Africa » Kenya » Rift Valley Province » Masai Mara NP
February 11th 2016
Published: July 2nd 2017
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To make the most of our last bit of time in the Maasai Mara, we had an early morning drive. During the night however, it had rained, and rained, and rained. Pretty much constantly throughout the night, and it was still raining while we ate our breakfast (the breakfast area is under cover with open walls on the sides). By the time we got into the park with everything packed, it was just after sunrise, and surprisingly cold in the wind, but luckily the rain had reduced to just a drizzle and soon stopped completely, so it was nice to see the Mara in the early morning. One of the first things we came across was a large group of Spotted Hyaenas. There were a few along the road just in front of the car, a few to our right just up a small hill, and a few to our left a bit further down.

I think there may have been about ten in total, though there could have been more that I didn’t see. In between all of the Hyaenas was a small group of wildebeest and some of the Hyaenas a bit up the hill started chasing the wildebeest down towards some of the ones a bit further down, and the ones on the road just ahead of us started to follow. They didn’t chase them for very long though, because within a few minutes they stopped and all wandered off. It was a pretty cool thing to watch, and it was nice to see fairly large numbers of Hyaenas.

We continued going down the track and passed a Crested Guineafowl in some woods along the side of the road which didn’t stay long enough to photograph, and there were many birds around too of species that I had seen yesterday. A bit further down we reached some Lions in a small patch of woodland with a few lying under some trees and two going up a small hill and walking stealthily through the grass. It seemed like they may have been stalking something, but they then lay down and seemed to go to sleep. Lions seemed to be surprisingly common overall in the Maasai Mara, and we had seen probably about a dozen individuals.

Continuing on, we then reached the same large herd of Cape Buffalo that we had passed through yesterday, with the many Yellow-billed Oxpeckers as there had been yesterday. A little past the buffalos, we saw three Black-backed Jackals that were possibly young ones and were running along the road ahead of us and seemed to be playing and jumping around.

Also at the same spot, there was a very pale bird of prey that perched on a tree stump and was flying over looking for some prey. I think it was a Pallid Harrier, however it could have been Montagu’s. The tracks that we were driving along were very muddy with puddles all over the place. There were quite a few African Wattled Lapwings around along the sides of the tracks, as well as Egyptian Geese and many swallows swooped low and landing by the water, including two very interesting looking Lesser Striped Swallows. We then spotted a pair of Grey Crowned-cranes that were pecking around in the long grass, and while we were watching them noticed they had three little chicks that were just about visible in the grass. A great thing to see particularly as the species is classified as Endangered. I think this was probably the same pair that we stopped at for a very short time while we raced to the Cheetah on the first evening drive in the Maasai Mara, and I think they may have had chicks then as well.

After a couple of hours, we headed back, passing two Bateleurs perched regally in a dead tree – these were the first ones that I had seen that weren’t in flight – and just as we neared the gate, we got one more mammal to add to the Maasai Mara totals, a single Cavendish's Dik-dik that ran across the road and then into the undergrowth by the side of the road.

After leaving the Maasai Mara, we had already got our stuff packed and loaded up so we didn’t go back to the camp and just headed on the drive to Nakuru. I hadn’t actually thought about it during the night whilst it was raining, but upon reaching the ‘road’ it soon dawned on me the effect that the rains would have had on the tracks that were difficult enough to get across in the dry. At first, we slipped and slid along some muddy tracks, but very soon the inevitable happened and we got stuck. We all got out and walked across the mud, but luckily around here there were enough other tourist cars including some big off-road Landcruisers to tow everyone out. We continued at a very slow pace, regularly getting stuck briefly, towing each other out, then continuing on, but the one advantage of all this stopping was that I got to get out and look for birds in the surrounding landscape. There were lots of D’Arnaud’s Barbets around, and other birds too including a Common Rock Thrush, Von Der Decken’s Hornbills, and various other things.
A little further on, we reached the first of the little streams that we had to ford. This one was the more difficult of the two, and it formerly had a bridge, but this seemed to have broken long ago. We drove down the first steep muddy bank, into and out of the stream, and then when we tried to get out again the other side we got stuck and wedged onto a tree. This took a long time to get out with many men helping, and we probably wouldn’t have got out if it wasn’t for two Landcruisers to tow us, but even they struggled and it probably didn’t do any good to their engines. We also smashed one of our minibus’ mirrors in the process, and all of the noise meant there were no birds around.

After this point though, it seemed like we had passed the worst of it. We did have to drive over some areas around the sides of the road to avoid particularly muddy bits, and it did take some careful driving to get across the second stream, but we had a very good driver so we managed it. We were then driving along a section of road that was very muddy but didn’t seem too bad – by this point we were by ourselves and all of the other vehicles had left – and we slid around a bit and - as you can probably guess by my build up - got stuck on a huge bank of mud on the side of the road. And I mean properly stuck. The wheels just spun and did absolutely nothing, and even with everyone out and at the back or the front of the car pushing, we were stuck. The car was also wedged onto the mud on the bottom, so the wheels were slightly up off the ground and the drive shaft and stuff like that seemed to be wedged in place with extremely sticky mud, the kind that sucks your feet in and then holds onto your shoes when you lift your feet up again. We had a shovel, so we tried to dig the car out a bit, and we tried standing on the front bumper and rocking to try and get the car out, but it didn’t seem to do much. We also gathered some rocks from the surrounding ground to get under the wheels for traction but we still couldn’t get out. We had called for help, and eventually several local guys came to help us out (for a fee of course) with some more shovels and things, but we were stuck for nearly four hours in this spot, in the hot sun, and it was even worse when the nearby school had a lunch break and loads of children came to see what we were doing and ask for sweets. Eventually though, we got the car out, and about five hours and a lot of mud later, we made it to a real road.

I saw many birds in the fields along the road too while we drove along, especially birds of prey and lots of Storks, mainly White and Marabou, with a few groups of Abdim’s here and there, and with a group of White Storks I saw a single African Woolly-necked Stork – a lifer. A Hamerkop also landed in the middle of the road and nearly got run over, but took off just in time.

After a late lunch, we still had a lot further to drive, and after darkness fell we were still driving. It wasn’t until 14 hours after we left our camp in the morning that we reached our hotel in Nakuru, exhausted. We were supposed to have a game drive around Lake Nakuru that evening, but there was no time so we had to settle for just having the morning drive the next day. I was really exhausted and not feeling too great either so I skipped dinner and just had some snacks from my bag before going straight to bed, after having a shower to get the mud off of course.

Because we were so late, we wouldn’t make it to the lunch stop until very late, so we stopped at a little souvenir shop that had a little snack section and also some toilets where we could get the worst of the mud of. The toilets were very clean, at least they were very clean before we arrived… At this point it also started to rain very heavily again, which was good for cleaning some mud off the car. Also at this stop, in the car park there was a fairly large tree that was packed full of Speke’s Weavers and their nests, and there were two Grey-headed Sparrows around as well.


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