Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Masai Mara, Kenya VI

Waves of zebra and wildebeest crashed over the dry stream’s steep banks. A lioness rested in the brush, unperturbed. Young zebra foals walked with meters of her, followed by the full force of the migration. She struck quickly, taking down a wildebeest calf on the fly and gripping it by the throat. Panic only magnified the rush of animals, and she lay crouched as hundreds of animals flew past, some actually leaping over her.

This was a bit much, and she finally reached up and grabbed another in middair, bringing another struggling calf to the ground with a thud.

Her first victim began to twitch, fighting its way back to life. It stood up unsteadily and tried to make a run for it, but she dropped the new catch and dispatched her original prize. And then the second one sprang back to life.

It was all a bit confusing, but eventually they were all thorouoghly dead and she went off to take a nap in the shade.


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Masai Mara, Kenya IV

She waited, and watched, and bided her time. The wildebeest herd walked past warily, skittish, sometimes within 20 feet of her. Eventually, though, there were no more wildebeest to contemplate. They’d all moved along.

We sat for hours, broiling in the sun, peering through binoculars at the leopard’s elusive form. Then she popped out into the sun, strolled right past the assembled safari and film trucks, then vanished into thick brush, casually disappearing from 50 sets of eyes.

She reappeared a mile away, moving silent as death through tall grass 300 meters toward the herd. I saw a flurry of motion, saw the leopard’s shape being lifted off the ground by a struggling wildebeest calf. The calf didn’t rise a second time.

The leopard held it in a death grip, then slowly dragged 80 pounds of dead weight back to the forest’s edge. She straddled the carcass, pulled with muscles straining a dozen steps, then stopped to rest.


Sunday, September 12, 2004

Masai Mara, Kenya III

The stalking lioness made a run at the herd of zebra. Then she stopped short, as if she suddenly couldn’t decide when she pulled up to the deli counter. The lunch meats all took off running for dear life.

She settled in to sulk in the shade.


Saturday, September 11, 2004

Masai Mara, Kenya II

I made straight for the leopard, watching the last thin crescent of moon drowning in a brilliant pink dawn.

I spotted her silhouette before sunrise, saw the zebra foal still hanging like a slab of beef in the tree, spotted her cub on the limb. She eventually tried to carry mom’s kill down the tree, losing it halfway. it fell with the sound of an enormous wet rag.

Things went a little pear-shaped in the afternoon though. I somehow got the bright idea of inching down the steep river bank for a better look. Instead, I found myself on a steep side slope, with the rear wheels losing traction and inches away from toppling over the bank into the Telek River.

This all suddenly seemed like a very bad idea. I finally got the BBC’s tracker’s attention, convinced him to lash a rope to his bumper, and help pull me out. I thought that right up to the time my rear wheels slid another six inches toward the edge. It was like a bad movie, but with him pulling, an Indian minivan driver encouraging and me swearing, I somehow backed out.


But not without a good soaking in the sweat of raw fear.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Masai Mara, Kenya I

Spent an uneventful afternoon watching a leopard and cub chew over a baby zebra, covered in dense foliage. Skipping the long drive back to my authorized ‘camp,’ I found a lovely spot hidden from view. It sat in a beautiful glade with the grass cropped as close as a croquet lawn, only with elephant poo.

I settled in, set up my roof top tent and sat down with a cold beer, altogether pleased with myself, watching the sunset colors fade from salmon to blue to starlit black.

Then I saw the lights. Two trucks, coming from the north along the Telek River. My lantern shone just bright enough to write by, and my camp was dark. Still, they drove right at me. I ducked down and held my breath, but they shone a brilliant spotlight right at me.

My heart stopped, but they didn’t. Their engines raced as they headed for a river crossing. There were no good options. I emptied my wallet of all but a few thousand shillings. I hid the cameras as best I could. I stood by the hood and practiced smiling in the face of at best a tongue lashing (camping out of bounds is prohibited in the strictest terms) and likely worse.

But they didn’t come. And then I got really scared.

I had no good options. Stay out and lie sleepless, terrorized by every sound through the long night. Wait for the rangers or poachers or locals to come and beat the shit out of me, or run.

I opted for C.


Friday, January 2, 2004

Puerto Williams, Chile

We sail out of Ushuaia in spitting drizzle and fog. It’s only four hours to Puerto Williams, and we celebrate our departure with a bottle of champagne. The boat’s strict no drinking while underway policy is already falling by the wayside. I quickly discover that Spirt of Sydney, built as a solo around-the-world racer, offers almost nowhere to sit out on deck. We eat our chicken curry dinner while standing, trying to keep out of the rain.

Trying to avoid getting stuck cleaning dishes, I grab my cameras and head back on deck, photographing the warm glow from down below as the midnight sun fades.