I’VE been fortunate to see the world. And in the last six months, I’ve walked back in time more than once — to marvel — at some of the most unforgettable moments.
In 2010, Eyjafjallajökull erupts. I cancel Iceland and turn to Kenya, heading for Amboseli, Samburu and Maasai Mara.
The first time I climb onboard a 10-seater Cessna, I wail, “It’s smaller than a van!” Shortly after takeoff, I start to burn up. I become agitated. My friend turns the air vents towards me. I calm down. A year later, I realize my first airborne anxiety attack was actually my first hot flash.
A couple more times on the Cessna and I get the hang of it. Even on a six-seater.
We spot the coveted Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. But we also see giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, elephants, gazelles, impalas, waterbucks, warthogs, jackals, baboons, buffalos, hippos, hyenas and countless birds.
At Maasai Mara, home to an exceptional population of big cats, lions hide in plain sight, lazily lounging amongst tall, yellow grass. Strange sexual habits. Males thrust for five seconds, pause for 10 then pull out. It’s over in 15 seconds. But they can do it 50 times in 24 hours.
Want to tell a cheetah from a leopard? A cheetah’s coat has single, separate, black spots while a leopard’s has irregular-shaped spots that form rosettes. Cheetahs are slender, leopards, muscular.
Leopards hide in trees, using stealth and strength to capture prey. Cheetahs walk on open spaces, stalk and speed towards prey. Leopards camouflage. Cheetahs chase. When you see black tear marks streaking down from the eyes to the cheeks — that’s a cheetah.
“Isn’t that the fastest animal on Earth?” My niece whispers. I quietly nod. “So, for sure we’re dead if it decides to go for us?” I nod again. It lay 10 feet away from our open vehicle. I hold my breath as the cheetah tears apart the carcass of a wildebeest.
After our guide turns us over to the tribal chief of the Maasai village, he disappears. My sister starts to panic. When the chief and elders put their arms around us, my sister jumps. It’s just for a photo op.
The men in the tribe then begin to chant and jump. As they completely close in on us, my sister’s imagination now runs amok. It’s just the Maasai warrior dance. When the chief invites us to step into a completely dark hut, my sister blurts out, “Are there animals inside?” “It’s just my house,” he tells us.
Some moments are hilarious, some, hair-raising. But all are phenomenally precious.
Hot air ballooning at daybreak. NSFW photos in the wild. My first and last experience with Mefloquine. The start of my four-year African affair with the wild.
It isn’t every day giraffes greet you at the airstrip, zebras walk past you on a stroll or elephants show up at dinner. Savor. Cherish. Marvel.