It’s 6 am and still pitch dark but to enjoy prime game viewing, the vehicle should be on the road by 6.30 am. Jonathan, dressed in branded uniform of khaki slacks, collared shirt and matching fleece jacket, waits patiently. He checks his watch.
At 6.50 am his clients, a motley family group, shamble toward the car half asleep, spilling cups of hot chocolate and wrapped in Masai blankets. Dad has a camera, his son is armed with a smart-phone and mum carries a heavily stuffed bag and sports a red, broad brimmed hat.
The family climbs aboard. Little Sammy complains about having to sit at the back, so swaps with mum. The sun is now up and the radio message that Jonathan received an hour ago about a leopard sighting down by the river is a distant memory.
Jonathan smiles resignedly. “Everybody set?” He turns in the ignition and the car engine bursts to life in a cloud of diesel fumes.
Once out on the plain and when mum has finished distributing packets of biscuits and extra warm layers from her bag with the professionalism of a Red Cross volunteer, Jonathan slows the car to point out some wildlife.
“Ah, a lilac breasted roller,” he gestures to an iridescent blue bird perched on the branch of dead tree.
“So when will we see the big stuff?” Dad asks, shifting forward in his seat. “The Big Five?” Little Sammy does not look up from his digital game. Mum is moisturising her arms.
“There’s a place a couple of K’s from here where we may spot a pride of lion if we are lucky.” Jonathan says.
“Right well if we could get over there asap then that would be great.” Dad says, “I have an important business call to take in an hour and Sammy will want breakfast.
In order to stick to the schedule, Jonathan speeds past a pack of hunting dogs with their young, decides not to point out a rare Martial Eagle nor the unusual herd of long necked gerenuk.
“So Sammy, do you know what the correct collective noun for a herd of zebra is?” Jonathan tried to engage with his clients. No answer. “Anyone? Well, it’s a dazzle.”
“Oh how fancy!” Mum says. “I like that.”
Meanwhile Dad mutters, “I’m not sure that’s right”.
The vehicle starts to pitch and roll as it heads off road. Sammy complains because he can’t focus on his tiny screen. Jonathan spots a magnificent male lion on a grassy mound and edges the car as close as he dares. A mother with three cubs approach from behind the car then settle down to doze next to the male while the young play.
There is an initial ripple of excitement while photographs are taken but the visitors’ attention is not held for long.
“Are there any more lion?” Asks Sammy before stating, “I’m thirsty.”
With a clatter, Mum reaches into the cool box, helping herself to two bottles of Fanta and removes the caps. Sammy drops his glass bottle, sending sticky liquid across the car. Dad, splattered from the spill, rises from his seat and shouts, “for goodness sake, stupid child.” Mum starts dabbing at the spill with her Masai blanket.
The male lion lifts his head and fixes the car’s occupants with a steely, yellow stare. Jonathan indicates with his hand for the family to sit down but it’s no use. Dad’s phone starts ringing.
“Sorry, I’ve got to take this.”
By now the male lion is on his feet and squaring up to the car. Jonathan turns on the engine and decides to reverse away to safety.
“I think it’s probably time that we headed back anyway,” suggests Mum helpfully as Dad bellows down the phone above noise from the car engine.
Half way home and Jonathan encounters a colleague passing in the opposite direction. They pause to enjoy a short exchange in Maa.
“Looks like you have your hands full there mate,” says the guide. Passengers in both open sided cars are eyeballing one another with more interest than they’ve shown in any wildlife.
“Definitely going to try to swerve the evening drive with this lot. Mum’s scaring the animals with her red hat and the little one’s a handful.”
The other guide laughs. The vehicles go their separate ways.
“What did he say?” Asks Mum, “has he spotted a leopard, or cheetah?”
“No” says Jonathan, “he was looking for the lion. Oh and he’d spotted a family of buffoons. ”
Frances is author of The Africa Expat Wives Club blog.
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