Up before dawn we crawled into our safari van. The night sky, illuminated by the light of a full moon, hang overhead. And beyond those hills, was Africa!

A full day game drive was before me and I couldn’t wait!! It was freezing though. No one told me it gets cold in Africa. I was wearing every article of clothing I brought. I looked like I just shoplifted a Goodwill store, but I was cool with it. Soon the sun would be out to warm the earth and bring life back to the savanna.

The timeless transition of night to days, seemed to me, to mimic an expand and contrast rhythm, as if the earth were breathing.

I and 10 other tourists all fought for window seats on the 4X4 bus, and before I knew it, we were bouncing up and down, tearing through the grass off road. Our driver held a radio to listen for other drivers and their conversations, hoping to lead us to a wildlife spotting. We waited for the telltale scratchy hiss of an incoming signal to break the silence. Soon, some radio chatter came through, we heard mumbling in Swahili and our driver said, “The lions made a kill this morning.” And he peeled off to the right.

Moments later we were upon a dozen other safari vehicles, all packed with tourists, parked and viewing a sight I had only ever seen on television. A pride of lions lay before me, finishing their breakfast! The tall grass was stained red in an area the size of a kitchen. The carcass was nearly indiscernible, but for the black and white striped tail a young cub was toting about in his mouth. Ah, they got a zebra.

DSC01559The rest of the pride laid around napping with bellies fit to bust! As lions do. I could have stayed watching this all day.

The drama of African wildlife plays out in such a relatable, tangible way. #Africa #Safari… Click To Tweet

Just then a small jackal crested a hill behind them. A few lions lifted their heads but fell asleep uninterested. Not a second later, a hyena approached and the mood of the pride shifted. Two of them got up, their tails snapping with eyes glued to that trespasser. With only a few intimidating steps forward, the lone hyena thought better of it and ran the other way. I felt privileged to not only observe, but understand the behavior and emotions involved here. Animals are just like us!

maasai mara3We spent ten hours out on a game drive that day. I saw two lions mating out in a field, a river full of hippopotamus, a herd of elephants, buffalo, secretary birds, zebra, wildebeest, Topi, Thomson’s gazelle, antelope, giraffe and hyenas. My mind was so overwhelmed and awestruck, later in the afternoon, I fell asleep in the car. On safari! I can’t believe I fell asleep!maasai mara2

When I woke up, it was late afternoon, everyone was quiet as we tumbled down the brown fields of Kenya, exhausted but content. Still groggy eyed, I opened my camera to look at the photos I had taken when suddenly I was hit in the face!

What hit me had then landed in my lap. A giant freaking grasshopper! Before I could mention it to anyone, another flew in the window and hit the seat next to me, then another, and another. We were under attack!!

We were driving through a field filled with grasshoppers. To get out of the way, these insects were leaping right in through the open windows. Dozens of them! The next five minutes was filled with uncontrollable laughter, you know the kind where your cheeks and stomach hurt and you can’t catch your breath?

DSC01525A bombardment of bugs hit everyone in their head, their face, got stuck in their hair, crawled into our clothes… it was quite the scene. Our driver just smiled and kept on rolling. I’ll never forget that.

One of the calls we got was for a cheetah chasing a gazelle. We sprinted to the location as fast as lighting, or like a cheetah, which ever, but came seconds too late. The chase had just ended and there in the grass before us was the big cat, panting heavily with a gazelle fawn gripped in its mouth.

As the sun set behind us, I thanked the heavens for a beautiful day, I couldn’t have asked for better. There was that African sunset again…

DSC01546My camera was full, my heart overjoyed but my stomach was on empty! Feeling overly excited really takes it out of you!

After an enormous diner, we made our way back to the tent in the dark, chatting with the Maasai tribesmen along the way. We went to bed immediately that night.

The next morning, our time on safari was coming to an end. We had one short game drive to do in the morning, before driving back to Nairobi and “reality”.

Part of me was so exhausted, I was ready to go, but mostly, I wanted the chance to find a leopard. They are such elusive creatures however, our driver warned us not to get our hopes up.

While parked and watching a few wildebeest though, my friend Katie shouted, “There, in the trees!”

We all looked at her finger, pointing up and followed it with our eyes to find a leopard sitting in the crotch of a tree!! Oh My God!!!

I have lived! Now, I could say I’ve been on safari. I saw a leopard!

DSC01567The ride back to civilization was content but a long one. I slept the whole way.

 

Now on to the drama of being, “Back in the real world”.

With the way our safari was booked, we only had 24 hours left before we had to report for work back on the coast. That evening however we got word that there was a really bad train accident outside of Nairobi and the track was closed. This was bad news considering it was the only train to Mombasa. We were stuck!

With no money to afford a flight, the next option was a bus. And none of us were looking forward to this. Bus rides in Africa are grueling with infrequent bathroom breaks, roads filled with potholes and cramped, uncomfortable seats. We had no choice.

At the ticket office, we were kept waiting for 2 hours, in the middle of the night, for the bus to show up. This is Africa.

Inside where we purchased our tickets, a slender, well-dressed man behind a desk took our money and hand wrote each ticket.

He asked me to spell my name so he could write it down, and handed me my ticket. I was yawning with dreary eyes, I was so tired.

As Katie, Kerry and I walked back in line, they remarked at his spelling and penmanship and we smirked a little. Then I read my ticket outload, and we exploded into laughter!

I spelled my name for him, but I guess something got lost in translation, because my ticket said, “Acorn” not Aaron.

I was dubbed Acorningi, the Swahili pronunciation thank you very much, for weeks to come!

Back in our little fishing village on the Kenya coast, the 2nd expedition of my wildlife conservation internship was about to start. I was placed as a staff member to lead groups through the forest and teach biodiversity to new volunteers. And I was stoked!

Leave a Reply