No, he’s not smiling, and we’re not on a Disney tram ride.
Our safari guide in South Africa was very quietly talking to us as he looped our open jeep off the road and turned off the engine. Calmly he said, “I have a treat for you. Look to your left.” Wait for it — mamma mia! — as we now saw the three napping lionesses, their relaxed bodies blending into the dirt. My brain raced… They’re so very large and so very close. Should we really be that close to really big animals? Shouldn’t our guide know better? But before I could compose a respectful, (quiet! for heaven’s sakes – they’re sleeping!) question, he said, ”Now look to your right.”
This guy above was peacefully dozing on the ground to our right at that moment, flies buzzing around his head, and the proof that lions are much bigger than lionesses was about 15 feet away from us. I had started deep breathing to calm my galloping heartbeat, when a minute later the jeep horn alarm inexplicably sounded – piercing, repeated blasts. Did I mention piercing?
That’s when Mr. Lion and his three lionesses awoke, all four heads whipping up to assess our idiocy. A tracker always accompanies the guide, so his hand moved smoothly to his rifle while the guide pushed every button and lever possible to stop the alarm. Did the alarm stop quickly? No.
In fight or flight mode, one’s brainstem makes lightning survival calculations: 4 of us, 4 of them; we’re in an open jeep, surrounded by them; the lion might be hangry; the tracker is 2 feet closer to the lion than we are.
Obviously we got away safely because I’m writing this, but my heartbeat still races when I see this photo and have no memory of taking it. Would I go on safari again? Oh, mamma mia, yes.