A Moment that Lasted Forever

I got a strange sense of danger.

A number of years ago I was invited to South Africa to lead a 3-day technology seminar. As part of the deal, I asked to have my hosts arrange for a 1-day trip into a wildlife game reserve in South Africa and also a trip to the north side of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I was not looking for a group safari, just a personal guide that was trustworthy.

Everything was arranged and I left on a Saturday night, stopped in London and Nairobi, finally arriving in Johannesburg on Monday morning. In general I do not sleep on airplanes, this time I did get a few hours sleep over the course of 2 red eye flights. Needless to say I as a bit tired, however Monday was my day for some exploring in the game reserve.

The game reserve was fairly small, certainly not as big as Kruger (which is probably the most recognized reserve in South Africa). Being a privately managed game reserve I expected it to be just a little more wild than a zoo but still no potential contact between humans and animals.

We traveled on a dirt road through the park and saw some interesting animals, guinea fowl, an ostrich and other small animals. We did get out of the car a number of times to take pictures or just look around, never in areas where any larger animals could be hiding and always had the car close by.

At one point we stopped to get out of the car once again, this time the visibility was more limited. It was early afternoon, and we had not seen any large game at that point. It was interesting seeing the variety of plants, flowers and animals, but I was also tired at that point and was ready to go back to my hotel.

I continued to walk around until I got a strange sense of danger. I looked at my guide and he motioned with his eyes to look to my left. It was a lion’s pride about 100 yards away. The male was about a bit further away and all of them were laying down, sort of chilling out.

I slowly took my camera out and started to take some pictures. I turned toward my guide and realized he had gone back to the car without me. As I turned toward the car, something caught the corner of my eye. A lone lioness prowling around and about 15 yards up wind from me. The breeze was mildly strong so I suspected that she had not realized I was there, at least would not have caught my scent.

Naturally the first thing I did was freeze and think about what I should do. My guide was smart enough not to start the car or make any sudden moves or noises. My second reaction was to get at least one picture as I still had the camera ready.

I took one picture and hoped it would come out. I slowly backed away to the car, not turning my back on the lioness, who either did not realize I was there or figured a 500-pound wildebeest was a better meal than a 170-pound human.

In either case it didn’t matter to me as after what it seemed like an eternity, I finally got to the car and jumped in. As I closed the car door, the lioness turned her head to look at us and then walked away.

An interesting experience, though would not recommend trying it. The seriousness of this hit home to me when I returned to the hotel. The local news reported that someone was killed by a lion that day in another park while hiking. For the remaining days I spent in South Africa I politely declined offers to take me on additional trips outside the city. I began to have doubts about the entire trip.

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