The short flight from Nairobi was without incident and provided an excellent opportunity for an eagle’s view of Africa from only a few thousand feet above the sweeping plains. I was hoping the ride to Camp IL Moran and my first safari would be similarly uneventful; it was not to be.
We were about five miles from the Camp when the right front tire of our 20-year-old jeep jolted its passengers with the unmistakable “pop” of a blowout. The sun was setting as we jumped onto the dusty road abandoning our wounded vehicle. We knew we had to get underway before dark. Nightfall turns control of the grasslands over to the predators. There were enough hands to mount the spare so I sat quietly in the fading heat and enjoyed my first view of Africa. It was a magnificent vista I will never forget; I could see a hundred miles.
The sea of straw brown tall grass is interrupted by dark images of grazing antelope and spreading canopy trees. At first glance, the shadows beneath resemble lions seeking shade, but given the nonchalant attitude of the nearby animals, I know this must be a mirage. Like so many things in this strange continent, you must train your mind to see.
The sand colored smooth blanket of grass disappears into a deep ravine. I can sense the Mara River there, quiet, hiding from view. Then, inexplicably, as if washed by the river, the ground suddenly arises on the other side of the river magically transformed into a soft hazy shade of blue. The land rolls on reaching for the horizon before being abruptly interrupted by the 3,000 foot high Sari Plateau that draws a too perfect straight line against the troubled red sky. Far to the North the scarlet brilliance gives way to the stippled sky of an evening’s thunderstorm as relief comes to the thirsty plains.
I was totally into the view, unaware until the silence caught my attention. Conversation had stopped; even the sound of the spare getting mounted had suddenly ceased. It was then I heard the deep breathing from the road.
The male lion had a regal aura about him with his dark brown mane thrust around his shoulders. Mouth open, with a nonchalant gate he simply ignored our presence and strolled by the Jeep. I looked into those eyes and saw sadness and a certain indifferent attitude that had never known fear. His shadow was long in the setting sun.
We were frozen for an instant then quickly snapped to action, our adrenalin pumping. Quickly we slapped on the spare and piled into the vehicle, hearts pounding. No one spoke. We glanced at each other and at the rifle propped between the front seats. It had been left in the Jeep. We all knew it could have been very bad. With a “Hey, Less go”, I enthusiastically reboarded for our ride to safety from the sounds of the descending darkness.