Sacred Combe Safari IV
You travel hours and days to get here. You spend two weeks walking, sitting, driving, thinking, looking, listening. And sometimes the thing you came here for – the experience you had been seeking for months, for years, all your life – lasts for perhaps three seconds. Or less. When you tell the story later to your dear ones, it takes 100 times longer to say it than it did to feel it. And yet it’s perfect.
We were walking in North Luangwa National Park, and already a change has come over our guests. They had all found something bigger than the killer-shot, the close-up encounter, the rare sighting. The Valley had claimed them for its own, as it so often does. Now, as we walked, kept safe by the scout Davis Ng’uni, there was something rich to be found in very footfall.
The brief unseasonal rain had washed the air clean, knocked the dust from the sky and created long vistas of dazzling clarity, making every sense more engaged. And then Davis: “Lee-opard!” A fine three syllables that opened every eye to its fullest extent.
Movement. That’s what gives it away, always movement.
I invariably walk at the back of the line, keeping the guests in pole position, better views, closer to our guide Brent Harrison. But even for those at the front, this was a fleeting moment: the leopard flowed down from the tree in the manner of a Slinky toy descending a staircase and vanished into the bush as smoothly as a stone skims across an icy pond.
And that was it. I have seen many leopards plain, for sustained periods of time, and many of these were less vivid than this tiny moment of vivid intimacy: the sensation of movement, the impossible flowing nature of the most elegant beast that has ever existed. I caught not a hint of colour, nor of the gorgeous pattern of the coat: it was just a shadow, frictionless, moving in a way that seemed beyond the limitations imposed by muscles and bones.