And speaking of flesh eaters, I mentioned to Olly, our tour leader, that once again I had not heard any lions during the night. I had, however, heard baboons left and right with their deep, guttural grunts sounding as if they were coming from pretty close by. Olly let me do my best baboon grunt impersonation a couple of times before explaining to me that baboons make no such noise. Those were, in fact, lions. I, the viewer of many MGM films, disputed this assertion and even threw in some inspired roaring noises by way of persuasive argument. Well, it turns out that those impressive roars are only one note in the lion repertoire, used mainly to express agression. The grunting I'd been hearing for two nights is the noise they make to communicate with each other. Judging by their proximity, I think they may have been talking about us.
After packing up our still muddy tents, we set off on one final game drive. It was a gorgeous day and all of us opted to stand on the seats, watching the plains roll by from the top of the jeep. I think we were all trying to absorb every moment of both the scenery and the experience. With a rather slow start, wildlife-wise, we were content to just take in the beauty of the park itself. On a number of occasions, we asked Frederick to stop to allow us to take pictures of the vistas, acts which left confused passer-bys scanning the horizon in vain.
We could have ended the day just like that and still rated it a success, but as we neared the exit of the park, Richard, one of our two Brits and part-time Prince William impersonator, made the spot of the century. He was hesitant about it at first. He stared into the distance and mumbled "lion?" but followed that up with pointing and "Lion. Lion! LION!!!!"
Sure enough, we turned down a side road and laying there, mere feet from our jeep was a resplendent lioness. She had her back-turned to us, as we leaned out of the car trying to get the perfect photo, but the moment I gracefully clanged my lens cap on the jeep railing, she was staring right at us (and I was left wondering what the best course of action would be when faced with a lioness jumping into your open-top vehicle).
She was laying alongside a thick bramble of underbrush which we could not really see through but we could hear the unmistakeable purring and mewling of a couple of lion cubs. It was the most spectacular sound I think I have ever heard.
We drove around the brush until we found an opening and were immediately overcome by an intense attack of cuteness.
|This is probably my favorite photo of the entire safari.|
Suddenly, possibly as a result of our imploring "Come out, baby lion. Please come out", one of the cubs ventured into clear view. I lose count if that was the second or third time that I teared up at the thrill of witnessing these spectacular creatures.
|And when I say we were close, we were really close...|
Eventually, the cub tired of us and returned to her hiding spot. We reluctantly continued to make our way to the exit of the park but the Serengeti (and Frederick) had one final parting gift for us. It was a regal male lion lounging alongside a buffalo kill.
I've expressed in an earlier post how difficult it it to put into words the majesty of the Serengeti and I am still at a loss. All that I can say is that I now have a response to the oft asked question, 'what is your favorite place?' and hope with all my heart that I am able to return someday.
Following our safari, we spent a couple of nights in nearby Mto Wa Bu (which translates, I kid you not, to River of Mosquitoes) and did yet another walking tour-slash- school visit before driving back to where my journey had begun, the frenetic city of Nairobi.
After spending two weeks together and the inevitable bonding that comes along with sharing an experience as special as the Crater and the Serengeti, the parting was a bit bittersweet. Looking back on the whole of the experience, I think it would have been possible, although not without hassle, to have done most of the tour on my own, particularly if I had rented a car. The problem is I would have missed out on meeting a really great group of people and for that reason, I am supremely grateful that I finally booked a Dragoman adventure, as opposed to my usual cribbing of their itinerary. They will forever be linked to the memories of time spent in my favorite place.