The great outdoors has an effect on the soul, like nothing else... except true love. Some cocktails require a little more earthiness than others... perhaps leaning towards the raw and thrill - inducing side. No alcohol needed, just pure adrenalin and passion...
It seemed as though my eyes were being opened for the very first time in The Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Although tired and quite exasperated after a very long journey, I remember the elation and breath - taking joy of looking out at this Jurassic environment. The aroma that filled me with splendour as I breathed in and announced..."I'm here". Furthermore, as the sun was on the verge of setting and we were nearing the end of a long day, something caught my eye in the distance... I couldn't make it out at first, but held the camera in position at its longest focal point and clicked. This turned out to be the first and only sighting of a leopard. A childish grin stretched across my face... my arrival, confirmed, with the blessing of nature.
We set up camp, lit a fire and ate a hearty supper, before retiring. The first night was pretty scary in
the wild. The night was filled with unrecognisable sounds. When I finally began to drift off to sleep - to my own wilderness of dreams, I sensed a strange presence outside the tent. Silencing my breath, I listened intently, then opened my eyes - my body, motionless with fear. A shadow swelled across the canvas... sounds of snuffling, snorting and groaning, likened to an old man clearing his throat, filled my acute ears. I listened and watched as the shadow became smaller and disappeared. We awakened at dawn, only to discover paw prints outside my tent. Apparently, a lion had been curiously sniffing around in the night.
First light painted a scene of tremendous colour and life. The turquoise and orange starlings began twittering and a couple of impala grazed in the morning dew. The sky was clear and a soft blue, and an air balloon drifted over the plains...
We arrived at a watering hole and watched hippos enjoying their cool morning bath. Then, a little further, by a clump of trees, we were brought to an abrupt stop. An elephant appeared in front of the truck, she seemed distressed. She flapped her ears and raised her trunk, in an arresting manner. I was standing on the top deck, face to face with her. Slowly, instinct kicked in, and, lowering myself, I realised that she had felt threatened by my apparent height. I quietly told her that it was alright... Then, she relaxed and gently backed away. We waited. Suddenly, there was movement in the trees and two baby elephants stepped out, followed by four adults. She had just been protecting the young and quite rightfully so. This was their kingdom and their rules.
I love giraffes, with their long eyelashes, huge brown eyes and elegant physique. Gracefully, passing the day munching on acacia and basking in the glorious sunshine. What happened next was mesmerising... We came across a small patch of jungle, and decided to stop for lunch, along the edge. Whilst admiring the luscious view, a giraffe stepped in to the frame. I could not believe my luck. It must have been sheltering or snacking quietly behind the trees and curiously came out to see...
Later, that day, I began to walk along a dusty track, blocking out all distraction from my mind and embracing the wildness that surrounded me. I remember a voice calling, not to go too far. I continued walking. I had an overwhelming desire to keep moving forward. I believe to this day, it was a true sense of touching freedom. It was like remembering a past life, and this took a hold on the very core of my psyche. My heart lifted and a gentle breeze was coaxing me further and further. Unseen danger filled me with with a thrilling surge of energy. Then, something rustled in the bushes. I stopped. My heart pumping... adrenalin rushing. Footsteps were nearing behind me, but I could not move. the bush rustled again. I was breathing rapidly but quietly, as a cold sweat moved across my brow. Turning around slowly, to head back to the guide, a small animal stepped out beside me... Kirk's dik dik... phew! This little fella was a lovely surprise.
That said, perhaps this had been divine intervention. Just a little further along the track, we observed a pride of lions. Perhaps they had been watching and the little dik dik came as a warning. Clearly saving me from a bigger surprise. As I looked on, I noticed a cub playing in the grass. resembling an over sized kitten. He was hiding and seeking, attacking small bushes... Then, he let out a yawn and bounded back to mum.
As each day came to an end, a happy and delirious state of mind would soon disperse in to relaxation and complete wonderment. The meals were hearty and warm, with mango served on the side with every dish. We would light a fire, talk about the days events and swap stories, whilst gazing up at the starlit sky. Shortly, before turning in for the night, everything was locked away, to prevent the hyenas steeling from us. Hyenas are famous for watching unsuspecting campers at night time. All you needed to do, was shine your torch out towards the bush and be amazed by all the reflected eyes peering back... these cheeky hyenas, were known for running off with items of clothing and saucepans. So long as the fire was still alight, we felt safe from prying eyes. Then, we would snuggle down, before the last ember went out.
Each day would bring more delight. The call of the wild was demanding our attention. The road became more rugged and the land more remote. Thick, dense and endless reeds, hanging from branches, perfect for swinging through the trees... Yes, my thought exactly... Tarzan. Every shade of green, luminous and succulent. Intoxicating pure deliciousness...
To this day, the greatest highlight of my life, has been standing in The Ngorongoro Crater. Over two million years a go, the top of a volcano fell away, creating a crater floor around one hundred square miles. Over the years, life evolved. The rains formed watering holes and the land became nourishing grassland to hundreds of animals. The wildlife thrives within this natural phenomenon. Mother Nature's amphitheatre of the most abundant, exotic and marvellous animals on earth. This was one of the very few places where black rhinos were free to roam safely from poachers. Sadly, there were only nine counted. I am not sure of the numbers presently, but this trip was taken a good ten years a go. Although distant, I was blessed with a sighting of the endangered black rhino...
Critically Endangered, The Black Rhino
Still water ran deep with activity. Wildebeest roamed across the terrain in many numbers, uttering grunting sounds as though chatting amongst themselves. Zebras casually walked by like extras on a film set. There was no centre stage, the whole terrain was performing - no rehearsal, just evolution. My heart was racing consistently at the entirety of this all consuming production. Sienna - coloured landscapes, with brush strokes of yellow and green... A stunning backdrop to the greatest show on earth. Glorious!
Time for a light snack. We parked up, but were quickly warned to keep an eye out for black kites. Very large birds, which, like the hyenas, were on the constant look out for innocent munchers. Sure enough, someone popped open a sandwich, only to have it snatched from their hand in a split moment. After the initial shock, we laughed, a lot. Later, that same day, we witnessed a little monkey doing the same. He snatched a bar of chocolate off the dashboard in the jeep. He then proceeded to find a comfortable position on an out - of - reach branch and, intelligently, unwrapped the foil from the bar and tucked in.
Twilight brought a heavenly sky. As I remember, looking out over the crater, it was like heaven's brush had painted subtle tones of green and lilac. The soft colours were mixed from the sky's palette, enhancing the beautiful sight which had been bestowed upon me.
The glow of the camp fire was inviting, and during supper, we exchanged conversations about a new - found knowledge, concerning the Masai Tribe. The men, dressed in red, walked a long side the wild animals, in the crater, with only spears to protect their best asset - their cattle. Lions had learnt, over time, to leave well alone. A herdsman would not hesitate to use his spear to protect his herd ( I believe now, they are protecting lions from poachers in Kenya). His wealth and status was measured by how many cattle he owned. We were also informed that if a spear were to pierce the canvas, at night, do not challenge. Hand over any possessions that you may have with you. However, this was a considerably rare occurrence. But, they were not afraid of using a spear to get what they wanted. Ironically, I had more comfort with the memory of the lion sniffing outside my tent, on the first night in The Serengeti.
The Olduvai Gorge was an important archaeological site, where our ancestors had lived in small hunting communities. It was a magical place, where, in fact, the first man stood. A volcano had fossilised this former life, yet now it resembled a forgotten garden of Eden, holding many secrets of a previous civilisation. Secrets of survival and evolution. A beautiful and peaceful landscape, which I found both evocative and humbling. A yellow bird sang mellifluously and provided the enchanting soundtrack to this thought provoking moment. To stand on this pure earth was a privilege. This was the 'Mother' earth.
This place, in Africa, had me feeling emotionally saturated. I had always dreamt of visiting and this had been a dream realised. I have a passion for animals and gravitate towards natural spaces. I wanted to understand what it felt like to be in a completely, unspoiled and raw environment. With the untamed. Upon realising this dream, I had a taste of completion and nourishment like never before. These animals, and this experience, helped me to find something within my self. Furthermore, It showed me a world that needs to be considered, preserved and respected. These animals are the most awe inspiring and incredible creatures.
Where else in the world, or in a life time, could you watch a lion walk across the plains with a sure purpose. His eyes fixed in front, as he pursues and pounces effortlessly... although, this particular lion had merely rumbled a stork. He took a swipe with his paw, missing by inches, as the stork launched itself in to the air... The lion composed himself and continued forward, in pursuit of another snack.
The plains stretched out for as far as the eyes could see. Buffaloes were observed by a lioness, taking shade under a tree. A warm breeze gently rustled the leaves and there was a calmness in the atmosphere. Then, by a small watering hole, there was a splash of commotion. Whereupon a crocodile was crawling out of the water to bask and take in a little sunshine. He lent himself well to this Jurassic vision. This truly was a place that time had, thankfully, forgotten.
Recently, there has been disheartening amounts of press, related to the declining numbers of wild animals. Species which will never be replaced. These animals have become endangered because of humans. Poachers and hunters encroaching on their territory and flushing them out... blaming them for killing the livestock, hitting them with bullets and cars. Stripping them of their fur, their horns and tusks. Crowding them with selfish endeavours and destroying their natural world. The list goes on and on. However, if we do not stop the killing of our beautiful wildlife, they will cease to go on and on.
I mentioned at the beginning, that the effect of the great outdoors, nurtures the soul and that true love was the only equal comparison. Well, needless to say, I did, indeed, fall in love. Yet, no romantic experience has ever moved me in the way that these animals in their natural habitat did. Perhaps some of you may be saddened by that comment. Don't be. I have experienced one of the greatest loves. A part of my heart will always be devoted to preserving wildlife. I will always cherish the wild moments I had, in the presence of such magnificence and grace. May these animals continue to live on... for it is their right and our privilege.
To be continued... one day.