“Once I saw a lion right there between those huts”

On my About Me page, I alluded to the possibility of writing about my experience traveling in Africa – to add an entertaining counterweight to my more analytical rants and musings on the events unfolding on the continent. The following is a story about the first time I went on safari and realized that quite little stood between myself and nature:

I was shopping at Forever 21 a few months ago (don’t judge – it was a one-time thing and it didn’t mean anything) and I saw this pretty accurate depiction of Africa… which caused me to have a flashback about my first safari.

Africa – according to Forever 21

A few years ago, I had to travel to Kenya for a two-day conference, so I figured I’d extend my trip a few days and go on this safari thing people are always raving about when they talk about Africa. So I consulted some subject matter experts on the best park to visit with such limited time, and they recommended the Maasai Mara.

Kenya’s Rift Valley

I chose to drive (or rather be driven) to Maasai Mara because I was poor wanted to see the beauty of the Rift Valley and actually get a sense of a part of Kenya that wasn’t my hotel room in Nairobi or a safari lodge. Along the way, I saw some pretty cool landscapes, lots of cattle, and several groups of Maasai boys running to their circumcision ceremonies (Emuratta).

Once we reached Maasai Mara, we (I had attached myself to a Scottish mother and son safari) went on safari drives at dawn and dusk, where I saw lions, zebras, elephants, giraffes, wildebeests, and hippos. It was low season and many animals had not yet made the Great Migration back from Tanzania, but I think I still saw enough to check “safari” off my bucket list.

Every night around 9 or 10, one of the kitchen staff would take leftovers from dinner and toss them to hyenas that would gather some distance below the patio where the tourists would gather to watch these beasts get fed. As the cameras flashed, all we could see were their beady little eyes, which added another level of mystique to the event.

After dinner, I’d make my way back to my hut in the dark. The safari lodge had these night watchmen who were armed only with batons and would offer to escort people back to their huts. Being a fiercely independent person, I scoffed at the weaklings that needed such assistance and made do with my LED flashlight.

On my last night there, I caught up with one of the guards and started to chat him up:

Me: So how do the hyenas get through the gate for food every night?

Him: What gate? It’s wide open.

Me: You mean, there’s nothing separating us from the wild animals you lure here with food every night?

Him: No. In fact, I once saw a lion right there between those huts. (points to an area further off the paths nestled between multiple huts where unsuspecting tourists slept)

Me: (taking all this in and realizing all that’s standing between me and becoming some wild animal’s dinner is this 150-pound guy and his baton) Huh. Let’s walk a little faster then.

And I am proud to say that I did not get eaten that night.

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