Once we had decided to ‘go on safari,’ and we had sent our money to Shai Bar Ilan Geographical Tours, I decided to look at an on-line map to find out exactly where we would be heading. Don’t ask me why, but looking at a map gives me a sense of security, as if I would learn something I didn’t know before.
It looked as if all the places we were scheduled to visit were in close proximity. Of course, there’s ‘close,’ and then there’s ‘close.’ I could mean ‘close,’ as in it takes us twenty minutes to walk to the mall, as opposed to the folks who live down the hill, who need a bus ride to get to the same destination. I wouldn’t consider ourselves ‘close’ to Tel Aviv, although it’s now only a half an hour train ride from Jerusalem.
In Tanzania, a country much larger than Israel, ‘close’ is…..not so ‘close.’ Not within walking distance; not a hop-ski-and-jump on a train. The second and third night of our trip, we stayed at the aforementioned Oldeana Mountain Lodge, as we would the last three nights (which included Shabbat). Why would we pick up and go somewhere else for just two night? Location, location, location. Wed. and Thurs. we were deep in the heart of the Serengeti, several hours away from our luxury accommodations, too far to commute back and forth. And so we packed two days’ worth of belongings and made our way to the ‘Luxury Camp’ at Turner Springs, smack dab in the middle of the national park. ‘Luxury’ is a bit of a stretch. It is part of the same Wellworth chain of accommodations, and the furnishing are startlingly similar, but there are some obvious differences. In the Mountain Lodge, the ‘wildlife’ looks like this.
The Luxury Camp? Remember I wrote that it’s ‘smack dab in the middle of the national park,’ and unlike the Lodge, which is a gated community, here the animals, having no sense of private property, wander about as they please. In the Mountain Lodge, there’s always a staff person with a flashlight to walk you back to your cottage, more as a courtesy in case you lose your way in the dark. Here, when you check in, you’re given the key to your tent, a flashlight, and a walkie-talkie. A walkie talkie? That got your attention, if you even remember what that device is. If we’re in our tent, and we’re ready to go to the dining room or for Yigal’s nightly briefing, just call on our little device and someone with a monster flashlight will come and get us and return us afterwards to our tent. What’s all the fuss about?
A day or so before we arrived, two female lionesses had ambushed a buffalo in the area between tents 8 and 9 and dragged the dead animal to a nearby pit. (We were staying in tent 8, just so you know.) For the next several nights, the lions returned to feast on the carcass. After several days, the jackals would take their turn scavenging, and then the vultures would show up to consume anything that was left over. Waste not, want not.
We were in our tent at about 10PM the first night we were there, and then it started: the lions roaring and making other loud, scary noises. We couldn’t be certain, because of how sounds travel in the quiet of the Serengeti, but it sounded as if the lions were prowling directly outside our tent, maybe on our porch. Neither of us was going to stick our noses outside to find out where the growling and the snorting were actually coming from.
I hadn’t bargained for this. If I know anything at all in this life, it’s that I hadn’t bargained for this. And if that wasn’t enough, the next morning, when someone came to get us and escort us to the dining room, using his oversized flashlight to lead the way, there were two eyes staring at us right by tent #9. And then the lioness got up and slinked away. Gevalt!
(Oversized cats were not the only thing worrying us that first morning. The pump bringing water to our tents had broken during the night, and we had to use our bottled supply judiciously. As Ellie put it, we have wi-fi but no water. By the time we returned from our day’s excursion, everything was back to normal, at least concerning the water.)
The second night it occurred to me to record the hullabaloo on my phone for the folks back home, just in case some scoffer didn’t believe me. Unfortunately, what we were hearing loud and clear in our tent didn’t come out audibly enough on my phone app to give you a demonstration. But almost everyone reading this is familiar with the MGM lion. (And the logo, Ars Gratia Artis, Art for Art’s Sake.) Now imagine that regal beast and several of his buddies twenty feet away, separated from you only by a canvas wall. Barbara asked several of the employees, who had only an electric torch to protect them and us, if they weren’t a bit nervous with lions and other critters around. Some of them admitted to a wee bit of apprehension, but I guess it’s their job.
No, we were not in mortal danger. Not then, at least. For starters, the lions were far from hungry. Unless they’ve savored human blood, this species does not consider humans as part of their regular diet. Flashing a bright light at them is enough to get them moving. And how do they know who’s behind the canvas barrier, reciting prayers of supplication?
The second morning, before we left the Camp, we got to see the lions up close and personal. They were having their breakfast in the same spot, which was a thirty second car ride away from where we had assembled to get back in our regular Land Cruisers. One of the staff took us in shifts in another car to the scene of the action. The ones who had first crack got to see all three lions wolfing down their meal (assuming you can say that lions wolf down anything). By the time it was our turn, two of the beasts had gorged themselves and were already taking a post-prandial nap. We were told that the night the lions were attacking the buffalo, some brave soul stood on his porch and filmed the epic battle. I can’t find that clip on YouTube, but there are other such confrontations – if that’s your cup of tea. Maybe I’m too squeamish.
Next time, you’ll get to meet some African tribes up close and personal. Rest assured, it’s a lot less gory. And, as far as I know, no one in these tribes has been infected by you-know-what. Stay tuned.