ON THE SERENGETI, AFRICA -- I’ve gotten flat tires from hitting a pot hole, had a few fender benders, have run out of gas, had my car stolen and have gotten stuck in traffic, mud and snow. But this was the first time my vehicle got stuck in … a big hole dug by an aardvark.
We were an hour away from camp, on the Serengeti plains in Tanzania. There was no AAA to dig us out.
The three of us, the driver, my guide Kennedy and me, got out of the pop-top Land Rover and scratched our heads. It was sun up on the Serengeti, when lions are hiding in the brush, waiting to chase and kill something for breakfast. Zebras and antelopes and waterbucks and buffaloes grazing on the brush. To a lion, this is Golden Corral. Warthogs aren’t particularly attractive, but lions find them delicious.
While the driver and Kennedy shoved tree limbs under the back tire, I stood sentry, on the lookout for an animal that might be thinking, “Don’t these fools know the rules? Humans are supposed to stay inside the Land Rover.”
Kennedy was in good shape, but the driver was an older guy. I thought about that joke, “I don’t have to outrun the lion, I just have to outrun you.”
I recently spent a week in Kenya and Tanzania on safari, a Swahili word that means journey. It doesn’t mean hunting animals, especially now, because hunting is illegal in all of Kenya and most of Tanzania.
I went with Micato Safaris, a Kenya-based tour operator with offices in New York and Los Angeles. Talk about your once-in-a-lifetime adventure, this is it. Every step of the way is first class, from the moment your plane touches down in Nairobi, Kenya, to your face-to-face encounter with a lion born free in the Serengeti, to Micato owners Felix and Jane Pinto’s farewell hug.
At Amboseli National Park in Kenya, I checked into Tawi Lodge, which has 12 thatch-roofed cottages. The eco-friendly lodge is powered by wind energy and a solar generator. The teenager who carried my bags (they will not let you carry your own) gave me a quick tour of the cottage. The four-poster bed had mosquito netting around it. There was a deck wrapped all the way around. Every cottage faces Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa.
My bathroom had a small window near the toilet, at eye level sitting down. It provided a perfect view of Kilimanjaro. I sat on my deck and watched elephants and zebras and gazelles. At night, I heard hyenas. It’s a little more cause for concern than your neighbor’s mutt barking in the backyard.
We saw our first zebras when the plane touched down on the dirt runway at Amboseli. Fellow tourists whipped out their cameras like paparazzi climbing over each other for photos of Kim and Kanye. Wild zebras! Horses with stripes!
Five safari days later, “Zebras?” Yawn. “Let us know when there’s a lion nearby.”
Micato provides an animal watching book, where you check off each different animal you see. Wildebeest, check. Giraffe, check. Impala, check. The park looks like a real-life Jungle Book.
Each morning, around 6 a.m., guests go for a game run in a Land Rover or Jeep. The Land Rover can pull up right next to a sleeping lion, barely 5 feet away. The lion pokes its head up, sees tourist paparazzi, and goes back to sleep. The lion is thinking, wake me when something I can eat walks by.