Circa 2015 – Stuck in the Mara River

Circa 2015

The bush is where i have lived all my life and its here that i wish to die. Life and death in the wilderness is a continuing process. Some have to die for others to live and this is quite apparent when the great migration herds consisting of wildebeest, zebra, elands and tommies decide to get to the other side of a crocodile infested Mara River.

One cool August morning,  one of our guides decided to head for the Mara River. We are in Tanzania and with us, normally on safari, one gets maybe 10% or less of the vehicles that you would on a normal Mara River crossing in Kenya. On any crossing with us, one needs to play it by the rules. The guide will always sit back a few hundred yards as the wildebeest gather, preparing to cross. He will allow them to play out their pre-crossing ritual as the river is infested with crocodiles. They do a few mock approaches to test the waters and gather courage. They approach the river time and time again but do not cross. And then suddenly it’s on. Once the crossing starts you could go up close and take your pictures.

This particular morning had been slow. Though thousands of wildebeest were around, they just weren’t gathering as they normally would before they start to move. It was the clients last day at camp and they wanted to film another crossing before departure. He decided to drive along the river and drove past Kogatende onto a side road that swings in close to the Mara. He saw a large gathering across a small brook and just as they started to cross, he came upon a small drying out rivulet; another of the thousand tiny streams that make the Mara such a grand perennial river.

He realized he would have to get across this little two meter hurdle if his clients were to see their last river crossing on their safari. When one is driving in the bush, especially when the road is wet, one gets a second at best to decide which decision to take. Go left, right, go back or go through. He chose the latter and asked everyone to hold on as he descended into the nondescript nullah. The guests had come on a safari and a safari is what they would get. He heard a squelching sound as his 4×4 sunk deep and he was stuck. The vehicle slipped down to the chassis.

Normally when one is on a game drive, you would see the odd vehicle around but this side road was completely barren. Not a single safari vehicle could be seen nor heard.

This is what the guests wrote to us, when they returned.

“We were stuck. We could hear the migration crossing ahead and when we looked to our left we saw torpedo shaped monster crocodiles gliding past, a mere 20 meters from us, towards the crossing wildebeest and zebra. One stopped and came into the little channel and sat back in the water, staring at us with unblinking eyes.

There was nothing we could do. We wanted to get to the top of the bank and see the crossing but the guide forbade us saying lions could be around. And then he pointed to the prehistoric monster. Let me tell you a story he said even as he continued to toy with the wireless, which was not picking up any chatter. Luckily he had a bar on his cell and dialed the camp.

Crocodiles are the perfect killing machines. They have honed their skills over millions of years. They predate dinosaurs. They can run faster than you on foot but will at most times jump out and smash the bank of the river with their tail trying to drag you in. If the tail doesn’t get you the crumbling bank will ensure you fall into the water.

It took them an hour to locate us. We spent that time staring the crocodile down. We had to climb out of the top and onto the bonnet to step onto dry land. When the reptile saw the rescue vehicle coming, it slipped back into the murky water, never to be seen again.

Whilst another vehicle picked us up and we continued with them on safari, it took them over six hours to bring home the stuck vehicle. Stuck so close to a river filled with crocodiles, hearing the ruckus of the migration to us was the defining moment in our safari. It was an amazing experience handled professionally by the camp staff.”

Photo credit Shaaz Jung – Backwater Blues – In the beauty of blue lies a killer in its darkness.