My mind was wandering between sleep and consciousness when I heard the zipper of our tent. As I pried my eyes open I coud see a tall lean man dressed in a white gown holding a sterling platter of coffee and muffins. I think I heard him say, "Excuse me sir, it is time for you to awaken." He was a soft spoken man, and his accent was a lyrical mix of British English and Swahili.
We were lying in a plush bed surrounded by mosquito netting in a canvas "tent." However we were not "roughing it" in Africa. Sure we were in a tent, but the tent was supported by fine ebony beams secured to a hardwood floor and porch that overlooked the Western Serengeti. From our nicely furnished tent we could sip on freshly brewed coffee and watch herds of zebra graze on the infinite savannah. The semi-permanent tent had all of the amenities that you might expect from a lodge room. Our canvas home was equipped with electrical outlets, lights, ceiling fan, and full bathroom. At times it felt as if we had stepped into a Jane Austin novel about travel in Africa. It was now 6:00 a.m., and we had thirty minutes to get to breakfast... the game drive begins at 7:00 sharp.
Tamy and I piled into our Land Cruiser with our overly stuffed photo-bags; we prepped the four camera bodies, dug out the bean bags, and smothered ourselves with sunscreen. This ritual became increasingly refined as it was repeated each day for the next two weeks. We shared our roomy chariot with Anne and Bernice, two rather chatty ladies who were on a mission. Unlike us, Anne and Bernice were not in Africa for the photography; they were here to see cats. At first we feared that their goals might impact ours, but by the days' end we found our safari partners to be fine companions. They became increasingly intrigued by the finer details of the African savannah, and were incredibly patient with us as we moved throughout the vehicle with our cameras.
During the day's game drive, we began to discover Joseph's keen eye and knowledge about Africa natural history. Joseph was our safari's lead guide. We had three vehicles with twelve participants, our destination was at the whim of Joseph's prior knowledge and instinct. While it often appeared that we would make random lefts, rights, ups or downs, it was clear that Joseph had a plan. During the day's drive we meandered across the Grumeti River where we photographed crocodiles and marabou stork. The river crossing was a stone bridge that was designed to be flooded. Rather than carrying vehicles over the river, this "bridge" was an extension of the road that went through the water. This allowed us to park in the river and capture a croc's point of view.
As we drove into the endless landscape we encountered a huge herd of elephants that were mudding themselves in the heat. Words cannot describe the apparent ecstasy of their experience. These elephants were bathing in the day spa of their dreams. One after another they would dive into a mud hole, role, thrash, lie and groan. At one point, you could see the intense competition for access to the insect and heat relieving mud. There was this moment of butts... elephant rear ends on line to take a dive.
While I won't recap the entire 10 hours on the road, I would be remiss to leave out our first real encounter with lions. As you can imagine the ladies in our vehicle were all in a flutter when we finally got up close and personal with the pride. While we had seen lion ears and eyes at a distance, this was our first opportunity to be eye-to-eye. Needless to say it was exhilarating to be so close to such a large and dangerous predator. The two lions and a cub were shading themselves by a tree. The heat of the afternoon was stifling and they were seeking some relief. During the approach, Joseph positioned the vehicle to optimize our photographic opportunities. Breaking the silence of the moment were the oohs, aahs, gafahs, and clicking of shutters. Now, as I write this, I am paying the price of over-exuberance. It is challenging to select one or two images from the hundreds taken on this day.
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