Paul really enjoyed camping, although he did appreciate a few comforts from home, like this solar powered cell phone charger Chris rigged up!
We had lovely weather, a campfire under the stars, good food and drink and no run-ins with wild animals! But trouble was on the horizon...
On our third night, we headed down to the New Mara Bridge, right where the Mara flows across the border from Kenya into Tanzania. This is also on the border between the Maasai Mara Reserve and the Mara Conservancy, two different management agencies for the park, so there is a guard station there. This is a spectacular section of river, and it becomes even more spectacular during the migration. For some reason, many of the wildebeest that die while crossing the Mara float down to this point and then recirculate in stagnant eddies for a while, hesitant to cross back into Tanzania without the rest of the herd. While this makes for a pretty bad smell, it also makes for a huge feast for African White-backed Vultures, Ruppel's Griffin Vultures, Lappet-faced Vultures, Sacred Ibis, Maribou Storks and others, not to mention the gigantic crocodiles!
Unfortunately, it wasn't only the vultures and the crocodiles hanging out in the putrid water. This is also one of the sites where we conduct intensive macroinvertebrate sampling, so we got to spend a couple hours hanging out with the wildebeest carcasses, too! In the picture below, you can see a few of them washed up on the rocks in the background.
As usual, though, we took a lot of precautionary measures, and we were always accompanied by an armed guard, although I think the crocodiles were too full of wildebeest to even think about us! With some ominous clouds on the horizon, the guard brought along his leopard-spotted umbrella.
Just as we finished sampling late in the afternoon, the dark clouds had really begun to gather. "It's going to rain cats and dogs," the guard told us, and I laughed, wondering where he had picked up that saying. As we headed back to the little guard shelter to process our samples, the guard gestured towards our campsite and suggested, for a second time, "You may want to move your tents. When it rains, a river sometimes forms there."
Now, I have a decent amount of camping under my belt, and looking at this flat, arid plain, it didn't look like a river had ever formed there. Plus, we had other things to do than move our tents around, so I figured we'd be alright for this one, little storm. But when the skies finally opened up, it was clear this was no ordinary rainstorm.
We were able to get some great data showing how turbidity levels and sediment load rose dramatically, while the concentration of solutes in the water fell.
By the next morning, though, the river was almost back to the levels it had been before the storms. If we hadn't been camping there that night, we never would have known!
Fortunately, Paul was able to sleep inside the guard's shelter for the night, and he was able to laugh about the whole thing. He's even still enthusiastic about camping! All in all, it really was a gift from the river to get to witness this event, even if it did cost us a few tent poles:)