Our safari guide referred to the Serengeti as “The Motherland”. He kept saying “You will see” and telling us that he couldn’t wait to show us. I feel a bit of that same excitement as I write this. I can’t wait to show you.
There’s no fence or boundary surrounding the Serengeti. As we drove towards the reserve we saw increasing numbers of grazers, like zebra, wildebeest and antelope, and then there was a simple archway over the road that said “Serengeti”. Visually, nothing changed as we passed underneath the archway, but I definitely experienced a feeling of entering into somewhere sacred. I felt alert, in awe, and overwhelmed that I had the privilege to enter somewhere I thought I would only see on a TV screen. I had to keep reminding myself that this was real and I am here.
Our first “OMG” freak-out sighting was a family of cheetahs napping on top of a hill. I don’t know how our guide spotted them as we drove by, but we were the first ones there and we got to sit and watch them in quiet for quite some time. You could see them panting from the heat and constantly twitching their ears, tail and fur in an attempt to keep the flies away. Like housecats, they yawned, stretched, rolled in the grass and didn’t even seem to notice we were there.
On a high from the cheetah sighting, we were making our way down a dirt road and our very quiet cook, who was sitting in the front seat, quietly said something to our guide. Based on his expression, I gather that our guide said something along the lines of “No way – get out of here!” in Swahili and slammed on the breaks. Thirty seconds later we were staring at the face of a newborn lion cub crying out from the underbrush of a thorny acacia tree. Mama lion was there as well, trying to make a cozy nest in the underbrush. Our guide told us that he could tell by the cub’s eyes that it was less than one day old.
This is basically how our sightings went. We drove around the reserve, someone would see the tiniest movement or shadow, we’d yell to our guide, and he’d slam on the breaks. When he started slowing down without out us yelling, you knew he saw something, and when he slammed on the breaks and put our jeep in reverse, you knew it was going to be good.
A few times, the animals came to us. We saw a massive elephant herd in the distance, at least a hundred elephants, and started driving in that direction. Our guide knew where they were headed and simply parked our vehicle about a quarter of a mile away along their intended route. He turned the jeep off and we sat in silence as all of these elephants made their way towards us. The young ones were play-wrestling one another, the baby elephants were imitating their mothers, adults were finding little holes of water to spray mud on themselves, just going about their normal routine while we were five feet away. It was peaceful and profound and one of my favorite moments on safari.
Christopher’s favorite moment was very different. We were watching a group of lions lie underneath tree much too small for them, jostling for space in the shade and napping with what looked like full bellies, when all of the sudden we hear a cry from behind us. Everyone, including the lions, turned at the same moment to see a lone baby wildebeest running across the plains, crying out for its lost mother. It only took a second for one of the female lions to get up and start walking towards the baby. Spoiler alert: it gets away.
We got to see two lion chases that day, five minutes apart. The first was that previously mentioned wildebeest calf that outran an impatient and slow lioness, belly extended from whatever she had eaten earlier that day. A second wildebeest calf that showed up five minutes later was not so lucky. Maybe there was a bit of a grudge from the first getting away, but the entire group of lions ensured that this second passing snack did not get away.
I remember Christopher and our guide whisper-yelling, narrating the scene as if it were the Bills about to score a touchdown. “Here she goes, here she goes, oh shit, he’s not going to make it, oh shit, ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, GOT ‘EM!, daaaaaaaaammmmmmmnnnnnn” [High-fives our guide and throws his beer in the air] – just kidding on that last part, but that is kind of what it felt like.
These are just a few of the moments that made up our larger, once-in-a-lifetime, amazing safari. I’ve compiled the video that both of us took into our first ever multi-shot video, and I’m super, super excited to share it with you. I have to warn you though, it’s a bit Blair Witch-esque with the shaky cameras and questionable editing, but the only things that die at the end is a baby wildebeest (RIP) and my chances of winning an Oscar.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our virtual safari series and that we’ve helped you escape to the Serengeti, if only for a moment. My favorite motivational mantra, The Holstee Manifesto, ends with “Life is short. Live your dream and share your passion.” I am so grateful to be living my dream and sharing my passion every single day. If I can bring the world to one person who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see it, all of the work that I put into this blog is worth it.
Amore from Venice,
Cathleen & Christopher (who ate pizza for all three meals yesterday)