Mara River Crossing, Northern Serengeti, Tanzania

As we drove farther into the northern Serengeti, we headed toward what would be our most exciting day on the trip. It was probably a good sign that Jack Hanna was staying at our hotel and his vehicles were some of the only cars we saw all day.

The wildebeest migration across the Mara is iconically Tanzanian, and one of the things we’d hoped most to see when we left America. But, our timing wasn’t ideal and most of the wildebeests, who travel with smarter zebra, had already crossed toward the south where they would winter. Our guide thought we should wander that direction just in case, and so we headed off early toward the Mara.

Along the way, we managed to spot our first cheetah of the trip! He wasn’t running, but his curved, sleek back looked like it must always be ready to accelerate (0-75mph in 3 seconds!).
We also found some of the cutest baby elephants, and they did the most enchanting thing.
They raised their trunks to sniff us!
Most of the animals seemed to ignore us, which I’m sure is for the best, but this felt like a moment of magic, these baby elephants and their mamas wanting to interact with us, this moment suspended.

As we progressed, the scenery started to flatten out and get a bit dustier, although still very moderate and comfortable.

As we drove, vultures swooped low over the car, making a fuss over something gross. I can’t even look at these pictures.

Nasty, nasty.

And then, the familiar voices over the radio, but this time a bit more hurried, and our little 4×4 literally starting kicking up the dust. (Warning: slightly graphic photos down the page.)

We picked up speed until we were going so fast that the cooler opened and spilled out sodas, and my head nearly bounced to the ceiling. We held on as the car raced across the dirt for about 15 minutes; Jack Hanna’s cars flew behind us, the only cars in sight. The race to catch the sighting was on!
We came to a bridge and the guide on the radio confused all four cars with the directions, so Ellison, our fearless guide, back tracked until we saw it and our car was in the perfect viewing spot. And look!
Hundreds of wildebeests streamed across the shallow river.

Ellison pointed out the zebras sniffing the water and being more cautious

and only one crossed,
but we didn’t think anything of it
until a spray of river water and a commotion.
I thought wildebeests were just fighting in the river until we saw this.

An 18-20 foot crocodile, the hugest creature, had clamped down on a wildebeest.

It was horrible and adrenaline-pumping, and the wildebeest kept fighting for nearly an hour. We watched as 4 other crocs floated up for their one large meal of the winter. What a wild ride, and so glad Ellison managed to find the one spot on the river with so much happening, despite how hard it was to hear the wildebeests’ cries.

So much of the trip was this balance of the circle of life, the wildebeests feeding the crocodiles, the antelope feeding the vultures. And then we came upon some amorous lions, starting the circle all over again.