January 3, 2009.
Our jeep veered right and tipped. We were half off-road, driving through the bush in Pilanesberg National Park. It was nearly pitch black out, the sky indigo fading to black. Bushes scraped metal and everyone on the right pulled in and ducked before the thorny branches from the acacias hit them. Our driver steered back onto the road and glared at the other jeep who forced us into the bush. We sped up and kept pace with another jeep run by the national park-our ally against the 3 private tour company jeeps who were very aggressive.
Lauren and I stood up, trying to see over the people in front of us. The two male lions were still walking next to the road. Their gaits were slow- swanking and effortless. They were completely disinterested in the fact 5 jeeps were fighting to be near them, that several spot lights shone on them and cameras flashed like crazy.
“Shhh!!! Can you hear them?” asked Lauren.
Our jeep fell silent as we strained to hear the lions grumbling back and forth. It was a low rumbling that I could feel in my chest. I shivered, both awed at the beauty and instinctively terrified. Then something smacked our jeep. Lauren and I whipped around and looked below us. A driver was shouting something in an unfamiliar language and had pulled up alongside us, bumper to bumper with our ally. He was hitting our jeep with his hand in an attempt to get us to relinquish our spot. Safari road rage.
Our driver maintained his position until the lions strutted onto the road and caused a greater frenzy. Our driver floored it, cut in front of our ally as he gave us the best view while he tried to protect our position. Lauren and I were hanging out the windows, trying to get good pictures.
“Your mother would kill us if she saw.” I said to Lauren.
“Why?” Lauren asked.
Lauren laughed and rolled her eyes, “Oh yes!”
“Get more in the jeep before one of these idiots forces us off the road completely.” I ordered.
“One of them walked into the bush!” Lauren exclaimed and pointed. We both pulled back into the jeep and strained our eyes to see. It was pitch black and we could see grass immediately next to the road, but nothing else. My heart was racing- both thrilled and nervous. I would be a bit more comfortable if I could actually see.
I kept reminding myself, “I AM IN AFRICA, ON A SAFARI CHASING LIONS” and “I AM INHALING SOUTH AFRICAN SAFARI EXHAUST AND DIRT.” My soul delighted in these thoughts. The jeep behind us shined a spotlight and the lion was about 15 feet away from us.
“It’s so beautiful,” Lauren said.
We kept pace with the lions for about 10 minutes, and slowly the other jeeps fell away and headed back to the lodges. We continued on, indifferent to the fact the park closed. Lauren and I watched in wonderment, commenting on their grace and beauty. The lions reunited on the road in front of us and we followed in reverent silence. Finally our jeep slowed, turned around and headed back.