A crossing is a photographers dream. There is complete chaos with an overriding goal to make the crossing. This was the fourth crossing I had witnessed in the Masai Mara in five days. I was truly privileged.
The first was before lunch under the trees at Rekero Camp on the Talek River. We were having a drink as someone shouted “they’re crossing!’. The river was low and the wildebeest streamed over the steep banks, over the rocky river bed, slashing in the pool that was home for a hippo that was not impressed.
After lunch and some work on pictures, we saw the animals gathering again on the south slope of the Talek. We forced Ines to down her afternoon tea and rushed her to where Onesmus thought they would cross. As we waited they seemed hesitant. We were shooting against the light as they crossed, and once the advance group had set the pace, we drove straight through the turmoil to shoot with the sun on our backs. The dust was everywhere and made for brilliant eerie pictures as the wildebeest streamed over the steep bank , into the water and across. Thick clouds of dust rose and covered us. On each side of the crossing, which was shallow and had rapids, was a deep pool. A lone hippopotamus moved slowly from our left with the flow of the water to the crossing. It hesitated then burst through the moving mass of wildebeest. It was knocked over, stumbled and forced its way to the downstream pool on our right. The crossing continued for ten minutes or so. It was absolutely incredible.
Two days later we finished a balloon ride over the plains, flying over lookout hill and another herd of a million wildebeest. We were stunned by this gathering. We had seen the same amount when we landed at the Mara airstrip a few days before. This was the next group to come up from the Serengeti and join the Mara group that was gathered in the north of the reserve on the Marsh plains. After the balloon ride and a sighting of a cheetah mother with four playful cubs we were exhausted. Onesmus asked us if we wanted to drive to the Serengeti before returning to camp. I was exhausted from the 4 a.m. wake up call for the balloon trip. But I wanted to touch the Serengeti, to tell the endless plains I would be back. So we left the choice up to the Memsahib.
“Let’s go to the Serengeti” she said, and off we drove. As we approached the Sand River, which divides the Serengeti from the Mara, we saw dust and wildebeest moving towards us. Onesmus shouted “they’re crossing the Sand River’ hold on!” We raced over gullies and anthill mounds to reach the banks to see a massive heard banked on the south, crossing the gentle slopes and shallow water. They trotted over the sand without the energy of the first crossing I saw at the Talek. There was a gentle flow with a tinkling sound as they splashed through the water. We watched for about ten minutes before other cars came racing up to the banks and sacred the wildebeest off. We drove away glowing with satisfaction and fulfilment.
But the crossing at the Mara River was impressive. We had waited patiently for over four hours for it to happen. We saw huge crocodiles sunning themselves on the bank. We saw the lone wildebeest get taken in the river. The sun beat down through the open hatches where our cameras rested on sandbags on the roof of the Landcruiser. We sipped warm beer and the moved off to have a fresh spicy lunch of chicken and salads before returning to the theatre of the crossing. I saw young wildebeest launch themselves into the water in three meter arches, slashing the muddy water as if to chase the crocodiles away. There was dust opposite us, and then water spray in front.
The crossings had become like a drug for us, an adrenaline rush. To be there and capture it on film was such a privilege.