While on safari in Africa, my guides never put me in an unsafe situation, although I had several close encounters with the animals that brought chills all the way up my spine.
For once I wasn’t behind the fence at the zoo looking in at the sleepy lion – “Look alive, will you?” - barely raising his head acknowledging my presence.
This was the real deal – up close and personal - as I like to say when I refer to the tent camping part of my African stay. Each of us had our own private tent powered by solar with a shower and toilet. There wasn’t much to “roughing it” in that sense.
One late afternoon on a safari trek, our guide, Oris mentioned that there had been sightings earlier of the male lion in a particular section of the park. His plan was to take the 9 of us there by following the lion’s tracks in hopes that he would be on the move to the watering hole.
Off we drove. The lustrous ball of sun threw golden hues on the landscape painting it in a rich texture.
After about two miles, we sat waiting in the middle of a dusty unpaved road in the savannah. And waiting. You learn to pay attention since you don’t know what to expect at any moment. It might be an African Black-Cheeked Lovebird landing on a branch, an eavesdropping giraffe peeking over the trees or more impalas – they’re everywhere.
Suddenly 50 yards away, the aged male lion made a right angle turn out of the dense brush and headed straight in our direction.
No one could believe it.
Oris told us to slowly get our cameras in position and not move an inch.
The lion traveled at a regular slow pace putting one paw in front of the other. The Lion King came within inches of our safari truck as if he owned the world.
My guide whispered, "Take it, Kay," when the lion passed right next to me.
Even though I had my camera ready, I froze and missed the photograph of a lifetime. I couldn't fathom what I was seeing let alone hold my camera steady.
The lion looked neither left nor right. Oh, he knew we were there all right, and he sauntered regally in his precise gait. As for me, I immediately sunk into a funk depressed that I lost the shot. There’s nothing like beating yourself up. “You should have…”
However, to this day I want to think that the lion felt my misery.
His Majesty sauntered all the way around the vehicle and passed by a second time. This time I took his picture and you will find it with the column.
Second chances happen once in a while.
Even Oris took out his camera and shot a few pictures, so I surmised that it would be talked about among the staff way after the guests were asleep.
Our vehicle followed the lion to his watering hole and he gulped water for several minutes before sitting down exhausted. His labored breathing showed that his age was getting the better of him. Eventually he walked down a path and left us.
In the stillness of the night many hours later, I heard the lion’s territorial roar pierce the solitude from quite a distance.
The next morning the camp cook remarked nonchalantly that the older male, his younger brother and a female visited the bbq pit area, where only hours before, we had had our campfire dinner.
Sometimes it is best not to know something until later.