Excerpt from the chapter “The Serengeti”:
Being in the Serengeti with local residents, both large and small, from carnivores to scorpions, who like to bite, made it a dangerous place to pull over if we needed a pit stop. With that in mind, I avoided drinking too much water if the ride would be long because I didn’t want to have to relieve myself next to the door of the Land Rover, along the road, with the guide as lookout. My water consumption on the Serengeti was significantly less than what it was on Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Walking every day on Kilimanjaro was delightful, and always with purpose. I can’t tell you what Zanzibar is like, but I can tell you that spending all day, every day in a Land Rover, after being allowed to walk so much, is not easy. On the Serengeti, I couldn’t walk anywhere of much distance because it was just too dangerous.
The grounds at the first hotel had long, winding paved walkways, and a guide with a flashlight to escort visitors after dark. The best walk I had was around the small paved driveway of the hotel, on my final morning in Africa. The guard there let me walk a few hundred feet beyond the gate, but I was called back quickly; he told me that a black leopard had been spotted in the area, meaning I wasn’t safe going too far beyond his view. It was in this hotel, on the edge of Ngorongoro Crater, that I was woken up in the middle of the night by the sounds of something just outside my window. I heard contented munching and the splat of elimination. Whatever it was, it was outside my room, on the other side of the low-to-the-ground, open but screened
window, and literally six feet from where I lay. It was dark, I had no idea what time it was, and I didn’t want to check my watch because as soon as the animal came into my awareness, I obviously came into his or hers, and it stopped munching. I turned my head to look out the window and the animal moved along on its way. Without my glasses I couldn’t get a good look (I’m nearsighted); I only knew that whatever it was, it was as big as a cow and very dark. Suah told me the next day that it was probably a cape buffalo, quite harmless and clearly enjoying the cool hillside grasses at night.
I remembered an evening in South Africa, on a trip with Alan, where we’d been instructed never to walk back to our room without a guide, who always carried a gun and a flashlight. Ready early one morning, I stepped outside to walk to breakfast while Alan showered, and was immediately greeted by the roar of a lion, “I am the king of the jungle! Huh, huh, huh, huh.” When you hear the roar, you can hear the lion saying this. Seriously.
Regaining my intelligence, I quickly turned on my heel and took the three or four steps back into our room and shut the door. I waited until Alan was ready, and then called for an escort to take us both to breakfast. I found out later that the lion I’d heard was over a mile away but the sound of that roar, the feel of it, came through the air and the ground in deep, palpable waves; so strong, it could have been right next to me.
Back on the Serengeti, we were on a game drive and the Land Rover was stopped on the side of the road. I was standing on the backseat with my head popped out of the roof. It was an exceptional stop—I was delighted to be watching lion cubs jumping like kittens in the tall grass. Truly delight-full. In that moment of watching pure, carefree joy, I felt and heard an out of place, low, deep rumble. I looked at my guide and asked quietly, “Was that you?” Sotto voce, he replied, “No, it is the Mama, she is beneath the car.”