We had been driving for a while. We had seen many amazing things. Peering across acres of grassland we had spotted a variety of animals – zebra, wildebeest, impala .,, all beautiful in the early morning sunlight.
Travelling west, the countryside ahead of us possessed a clarity after the rains of the previous day, and the light was perfect for photographs. But what we were to witness in the next few moments was too remarkable for us to take photos.
We spotted them about a 500m ahead of us. A herd of giraffe, browsing in the trees, As we exclaimed at the beauty of the sight they all sprang to attention and stared up the hill towards the track on which we were to travel. As one, they turned and began to run through the grassland, stretching out legs and necks they galloped at full speed away from their delicious trees. The large male allowed the smaller animals to run on and stopped and turned to see whether the danger, whatever it was, still threatened them. He stood, tense, ready for action. Fight or flight, we wondered. But his body relaxed and his companions slowed. How had he communicated with them? He turned and walked towards them, and they once again began to browse on the small trees that now surrounded them, their long necks bent to pull the delectable leaves from the short thorny bushes.
We continued on our way. We had a destination in mind – a drive of about five kilometres which, under normal circumstances, would take about ten minutes in this place where the speed limit is so low.
But that was without interruptions. And as we rounded a corner we saw, coming towards us, perhaps the biggest interruption in our world at that time.
For here was the threat the giraffe had detected.
A lioness and her young cub paced towards us along the track. Unperturbed by our presence, she padded along the road, stopping now and again to let her youngster catch up. The little one was taking her time and even sat on the side of the road for a while to rest. With all the patience (and time) in the world, the mother waited until her daughter was ready to move on and they continued their stroll.
As the adult approached our vehicle we stopped breathing. She was magnificent, her coat tawny, her eyes bright, taking in her surroundings. She drew level with us and stopped, looking directly at us, taking in any possible threat we may pose to herself and her cub. No one moved. No one even breathed. The only sound was cameras clicking softly as some recorded the moment. I just sat and watched. She was only five metres away. Much larger than I had imagined. I knew no photo would recall the magic of the moment; the thrill of fear as I looked straight into the eyes of a fully grown lion.
Penetrating and focused.
Was she assessing the possibility of an easy breakfast?
But she is used to seeing people sitting quietly in a vehicle and we did not appear to pose a threat. So she glanced back, checking the progress of her baby, and walked past us, her huge feet leaving pug marks in the mud the size of side plates. The youngster, who had also paused when her mother did, picked up speed and, with a wary eye on us as she passed us, trotted on. Together they went on their way as we strained to watch them until they were hidden from sight.
The wonder of the moment painted our day with colour. We saw other wonderful things. But that second, when I gazed into the eyes of a lioness as she stared at me is one I will never forget. If I had been taking photos I may have missed the thrill of the moment. Some experiences are too exceptional to capture as a picture and have to be felt rather than seen. I am glad I don’t have a picture, for the images in my mind and the emotion I felt will stay forever, captured now in the written word.
I love being a writer!