Monday, March 12, 2001

Masai Mara, Kenya VII

This place can be so utterly magical when appreciated alone. And then there is the other 90% of the time. In fairness, the majority of the tourists, with their fruit fly attention spans, roll through quickly enough. Stop, gawk, take a snapshot and move on. I watched today as no fewer than 26 vans and safari trucks lined up to view four petrified cheetah hiding in a thick bush.

One load after another looked at the shrub, looked at me, and drove off in disgust. Someone finally shouted, “What are we supposed to be looking at?” I shrug and put on my best clueless face and wish them well as they drive off in a cloud of dust.

Saturday, March 10, 2001

Masai Mara, Kenya VI

An hour after sunset, an orange glow appears on the eastern horizon, like a forest fire one county over. Out of that glow blooms a moon so fat and round and orange that cheese metaphors become hard to ignore. I sit and watch as it climbs straight up into the darkened sky, casting a shadow across the grass, and the evening comes alive.

Frog and cricket song fills the night air like perfume, and I chase after a firefly, laughing and remembering back thirty summers and eight thousand miles distant.

Friday, March 9, 2001

Masai Mara, Kenya V

One eye stares blindly toward the sun, slowly fading gray as life ebbs and the gazelle’s ribs lay open. The cheetahs, still panting from the hunt, plunge their muzzles deep inside. If you’re a gazelle, I can’t imagine a more surpassingly bad end to your morning.

A small herd stood in the tall grass, idly grazing and unaware that death had come calling. Three cubs lay low, hidden as their mother was slinking closer, her movements lost in the swaying yellow grass. She bursts out in a blur, and in five steps the gazelle is down.

The cubs draw near and to my surprise the mother lets the gazelle run free. He stands up a little unsteadily, then tries to bolt. The cubs give quick chase, trying to follow their mother’s example. They succeed in knocking it down, but the lesson comes to an abrupt halt when they plunge in to feed.

Thursday, March 8, 2001

Masai Mara, Kenya IV

Early in the afternoon, the air thickens, and dark clouds build toward critical mass. A lion and lioness nap through the day’s torpid heat, taking what shade the tall savanna grass affords. Lightning crackles and as if a switch has been thrown, the air turns to liquid.

The pair look as happy as any wet house cat and the temperature drops 20 degrees in as many minutes.

As the rain falls, the road system, such as it is, turns into a thick muddy stew. Matatu drivers are no great skill under the best of circumstances, turn the park into a demolition derby, careening in the slick mud and burying themselves to the axle. I make friends for life with a Japanese couple by offering a rope to extricate their driver’s minivan out of a rut. They speed off into the gloom in a spray of mud. I stay with the lions for a few minutes more, watching as lightning spits from the receding storm clouds.