We were back in our room after dinner at about nine p.m. on the last night of our stay at Londolozi. As was usual, I was aware that there were animal sounds outside. There was a pond just a short distance from our room and we often heard sounds made by the hippos in the water. They made a variety of sounds, some grunting and some almost growling. But these animal sounds really made me think of lions, roaring over and over again, and it went on through out the night.
We got up each morning at Londolozi to the sound of Jennifer’s Iphone alarm set to 5:15 a.m. Groggy, but enthusiastically we would get up and get into our clothes, which we had out ready to jump into, and at 5:30 we would hear the tap on the door from our butler. Yes, butler. No, I have not had many butlers available to me in my life. Yes, I felt like a princess. : ) Our butler arrived with our preference of coffee or tea, with dainty yogurt parfaits and skewers of fresh fruit.
We would cherish the gift, but did not dare to drink much of the precious morning wake-up drinks, but ate a bit of the food. We would not want him to think we didn’t appreciate the effort but honestly the fear of peeing in the bush loomed as large as the lack of drinking the caffeine.
Still dark, we would make our way up the quiet path to the car park, dressed in approximately five layers of clothes. This clothing included warm hats, neck gators, gloves, thermal underwear – tops and bottoms, various shirts, fleece and a down coat on the top. At the Range Rover, we were given wool blankets and a hot water bottle to finish the preparations for keeping warm in approximately 35 degrees. We were still cold as the vehicles got moving in the open air, as any small remaining exposed skin caught the breeze of the motion. We were on the way to find animals. That particular morning Boyd, our guide, asked if anyone had heard the lion roaring all night. Indeed I had and some others of us had too. Now we knew what we were looking for, but had no idea of exactly what it was we would find.
After several minutes went by we received calls from other guides, who thought they knew where to find the lion. In my mind I had an idea of where the sound might have come from. At camp, there was a large deck where we had our breakfast and lunch, which overhangs a large bank going down to the Sand River, behind the lodge. I thought the sound had come from that direction, across the river. That was where we were going. We stopped by the river once we were on the other side and began looking for tracks of the lion. No luck. We tried two other places, enjoying other animal sightings, but still, no luck. Boyd felt we were running out of time and we would have to go back to camp soon if we did not find him because it was our last meal as a group and we had a lot to get done to complete our time together. Boyd gave it one, last try. As we headed in this new direction, there were more calls on the radio, giving us the information about exactly where to go. We would see the lion.
We arrived to find two other vehicles in place already and we were looking in the direction of the gazes of the people snapping pictures from two other Range Rovers. Boyd put our vehicle at an angle from the other vehicles, putting us close, very close to not one lion, but two mating lions. We were so very close to the lions that Boyd was obviously uncomfortable and was backing up the vehicle and as he did they just came closer. We were told that during the roughly 72 hours of estrus, mating occurs every 15 minutes. The female looked exhausted. We sheepishly watched two cycles of mating, and while resting between the them the male stood and gazed into Boyd’s eyes. I swear I could feel the uncertainty in Boyd’s posture, but he remained completely still. My thought was as these two young males looked at each other was that I hoped this close moment won’t end with a show of dominance. Boyd again moved slowly to back away and this time the lions just stayed where they were. I was grateful for the calm, self-assured young males, both of them. The male lion met the gaze of several of us in the vehicle as we backed out of their path. Once we were safely away Boyd let out a large sigh of relief, as did we all. My roommate had been very stressed, being on the lion side of the vehicle, which was completely open and if an animal wanted to charge and leap into the Range Rover, there was nothing protecting us. I had not felt threatened as I watched the beautiful animal gaze into our eyes but of being observed. I felt a bit odd watching the lions mate. I felt intrusive, like a voyeur (Erin’s thought). If nothing else, thinking of absolutely nothing else, I was certainly living in the moment. Home concerns did not exist, feeling cold, having to pee, feeling hungry all disappeared while in the presence of these lions, in this shared experience with our group. I get to revisit that experience again and again in my mind and think I will always hold onto a sense of wonder when remembering it.