This story starts with two lions mating.
As a third keeps watch. The ultimate wingman.
It was a cub we saw first, from a far. She had too much energy for that time of day, playing with grass as her parents hid from the sun. It had been an uneventful game drive. We’d been to a hot spring and had a picnic in the wild. The most exciting thing we had seen at that point was a hippo’s skull on the side of the road. There was also a warthog that looked suspicious. Like it had skipped school or something.
Then someone spotted the cub.
Lion cubs are deceptively cute. They look like overgrown kittens, and are just as playful. Kevin Hart had this video the other day (Yes, I am on Snapchat. I have no valid reason why). He was in South Africa and had this small cub gnawing on his sneakers and pants. Why would anyone even want to get that close to a wild animal? Even if it’s cute and looks cuddly?
Just a few feet behind this small family, a lone lion lay underneath a tree with one leg up. It looked suspicious too, like the warthog, and we soon knew why. A few feet behind him, a work of art was in progress.
Tour guides call a pair of mating lions “simba harusi.” It’s part of a code actually, and is quite brilliant if you think about it. It’s a secret language they use over the radio and when they meet. It helps them surprise you when you are on a game drive. A male lion is “kichwa” and an elephant is “masikio.”
They were on a break when we got close so we drove up behind them and switched off the engine. As if on cue, he stood up and walked to her. She was sprawled on the ground. She stared at him as he sniffed her belly and licked her. It was surreal. Then he knelt behind her, or rather sat, and she raised her head and looked at him. We were watching nature in its rawest form. Over the radio, the news of a “simba harusi” cackled as Frank gave everyone else directions to this wildlife pornography.
They couldn’t be more bothered. For the hour and a half we sat there, hushed and with cameras on the ready, being weirdos, the couple didn’t even acknowledge our presence. We might as well have been trees. The wingman a few feet away went on sleeping, bidding his time.
We didn’t leave because the party ended. We left because it would be dark soon, and we didn’t want to be driving around at night. So we began the slow journey back to Serena Mivumo River Lodge.
At some point, someone spotted a lone elephant browsing on the edge of a line of trees. He must have seen us see him, because he raised his head, turned back and disappeared into the forest. We hadn’t seen an elephant all day, so we followed him, driving along the line of trees to see if we could spot the rest of the herd. To do that, we had to go off the beaten path. And that’s why we got stuck.
When we missed the herd we drove on. The modified Toyota Landcruiser, a monster I’ve come to respect on these kinds of terrain, roared across the wilderness. Then Frank saw a small stream and tried to speed across it.
When the rear wheels hit the water, the back of the car was already in contact with the ground behind. So the car got suspended right there, held back by its own length. Here we were, stuck probably just a few hundred meters away from a herd of elephants and every other wild animal in this game reserve. Any attempts to use the car’s strength just led to more skidding. So we disembarked, a group of five men and a lone lady.
I’ve been stuck in the wild only once before, in Chalbi Desert during last year’s Capture Kenya. It’s not fun. It doesn’t feel safe at all. History has an uncomfortable number of maulings in situations like this. Many stories of people who got stuck in the wild and ended up as dinner.
In Selous, with Frank looking too calm and everyone walking in different directions to hunt for wood to give the wheels a boost, that feeling came back. It’s not fear. It’s a survival instinct.
“We are the last people on earth.” Someone says as Beewol hangs on a dead branch to try break it off.
“Five men on a mission to protect the last female on earth?”
Everyone laughs, and seems calm. We have ventured about 70 meters away from the car, and this is how we are making light of the situation. A perfect setting for a dystopian movie setting, a Survivor Worldwide script to protect the human species.
Darkness is fast approaching, a perfect Murphy’s law kind of a situation.
Frank has this blank look that makes it hard to know what he’s thinking. He’s been here before, many times in his 20+ years as a tour guide. He radios for help as we feed more wood under the back tyres. She’s too heavy, breaking the branches like small twigs. We keep trying. Pushing is a useless endeavor here, so we try laughter and encouragement.
After an hour, with only half an hour of daylight left, one branch finally holds. The tyres grip on it and jerk out of the deceptively small stream. We all hop in and head towards the comforts of the exquisite chalets of Mivumo. We also make a silent, unspoken deal not to go off the beaten path again.
But then we spot another herd of elephants on our way to the lodge and swiftly go off the beaten path; again.
One story is good,
till Another is told.